Module 1 :Introduction to Sociology

Lecture 1 : Origin of Sociology as a Discipline


The Development of the Discipline

The first book with the term Sociology in its title was written in the mid-19th century by the English philosopher Herbert Spencer. In the United States, the first Sociology course was taught at the University of Kansas, Lawrence in 1890 under the title Elements of Sociology (the oldest continuing sociology course in America). The first full-fledged university department of sociology in the United States was established in 1892 at the University of Chicago by Albion W. Small, who in 1895 founded the American Journal of Sociology. The first European department of sociology was founded in 1895 at the University of Bordeaux by Emile Durkheim (1896). In 1919 a sociology department was established in Germany at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich by Max Weber and in 1920 in Poland by Florian Znaniecki. The first sociology departments in the United Kingdom were founded after the World War II.

International cooperation in sociology began in 1893 when Rene Worms founded the small Institut International de Sociologie that was eclipsed by the much larger International Sociologist Association starting in 1949. In 1905 the American Sociological Association, the world's largest association of professional sociologists, was founded.

Early Sociological Studies

Early sociological studies considered the field to be similar to the natural sciences like physics or biology. As a result, many researchers argued that the methodology used in the natural sciences were perfectly suited for use in the social sciences, including Sociology. The effect of employing the scientific method and stressing empiricism was the distinction of sociology from theology, philosophy and metaphysics. This also resulted in sociology being recognized as an empirical science. This early sociological approach, supported by August Comte, led to positivism, a methodological approach based on sociological naturalism.

However, as early as the 19th century, positivist and naturalist approaches to the study of social life were questioned by scientists like Wilhelm Dilthey and Heinrich Rickert, who argued that the natural world differs from the social world, as human society has culture, unlike the societies of other animals (e.g., ants, dolphins, etc. operate from nature or ecology as opposed to that of civilisation). This view was further developed by Max Weber, who introduced the concept of verstehen. Verstehen is a research approach in which outside observers of a culture relate to an indigenous people on the observer’s own terms.
The positivist and verstehen approaches have modern counterparts in sociological methodologies: quantitative and qualitative sociology. Quantitative sociology focuses on measuring social phenomena using numbers and quantities while qualitative sociology focuses on understanding social phenomena. It is disingenuous to claim these two approaches must be or are generally distinct; many sociologists employ both methods in trying to understand the social world.