Seven Areas of Sociology
The term “sociology” was coined by August Comte in the nineteenth century from the Latin word “socios” (companion with others) and the Greek word “logos” (reason) to describe the new science of social life.
While sociology has changed a lot since Comte’s day, it is still an important discipline that helps us understand the world we live and how we live in it. Currently, there are seven major areas of sociology. This article will briefly discuss these areas and why sociologists are interested in them.
1. Social Organization
Social organization refers to a pattern of relationships between and among different groups and individual people. Social organization could be said to the fundamental basis of modern society, as it allows for the carrying out of very complex activities that other members of society either participate in or are affected by.
Identifying and classifying different groupings of people is a crucial job for sociologists. Typically, sociologists define a group as consisting of at least two members who:
- interact with each other,
- have a sense of identity or belonging,
- share norms or expectations that those outside the group do not.
While the larger society of a particular nation is itself an example of social organization, that society is in turn made up of a collection of organized groups of interacting individuals. It is precisely how those groups interact and organize that sociologists study.
Typically, when sociologists discuss social organizations, they are referring to:
- Social institutions, such as the family or school.
- Social groups, such as professional associations, or voluntary organizations like the Kiwanis Club or neighborhood associations.
- Social inequality, which groups people according to class, such as the middle-class, working class, underclass, upper class, etc.
- Religious groups, such as churches and affiliated charities.
- Bureaucracies, including government agencies administrative units.
2. Sociological Social Psychology
Sociological social psychology emphasizes the relationship between individual people and the larger social structures and processes in which they participate. While the study of social organization and structure is the defining core of sociology, all social structure comes out of interactions between individuals. So, to understand the significance, nature, and effects of social structure, we need to understand the the people whose behavior constitutes that structure.
Major areas of study include deviance, socialization, group dynamics, health, race and ethnicity, and gender. Sociologists in this field have studied some really interesting subjects, such as obedience and disobedience during the Holocaust, the psychological consequences of work and family life, and the attitudes of minority groups to the cultural mainstream.
3. Social Change
Sociologists are interested in studying both “what is” and “what changes.” In this sense, social change refers to any alteration in how a society is organized. Sociologists thus seek to explain the causes and affects of these social changes.
Some theories of social change emphasize evolutionary explanations. These theories hold that society develops from simple to increasingly complex forms of organization. Social change, then, is linear and progressive.
Sociologists typically identify a few key factors that influence social change:
- The physical environment. Changes in the environment, such as climate change, may require different forms of social organization in order for humans to survive. Very rapid changes in the physical environment can cause severe disruptions to social and cultural life.
- Population changes. Migrations and conquest bring new people into new places, which in turn can lead to forms of social change.
- Isolation and contact. Societies that are cut off from the larger world may change very quickly once they come into contact with outside cultures and peoples.
- Technology. Advances in technology, such as the car or airplane, can dramatically change social organization as these new technologies offer new ways for people to interact.
Major topics of study for this field include: ecological changes, population, migration, technological change, new production techniques, culture change, political processes, social transformation, modernization, mass communication, and the impact of natural disaster.
4. Human Ecology
This is the study of the nature and behavior of a given population and its interaction with the surrounding environment. Specifically, it focuses on how social structures adapt to the quality and quantity of natural resources and to the existence of other human groups
Studies of this kind have shown the prevalence of mental illness, criminality, delinquency, prostitution, and drug addiction in urban centers and other modern, developed locales.
5. Population and Demographics
This area of study is concerned with the study of population number, composition, change, and quality and how these factors influence the larger economic, social, and political systems.
This area also focuses on things such as fertility and mortality rates, the impact of migration on the distribution of certain populations. Examples of topics that sociologists in this field study include trends in population growth and how those trends are affected by fertility, mortality, and migration rates, how population is distributed over a particular area (for example, segregation), poverty and inequality.
6. Applied Sociology
This field is concerned with using sociological problems to solve social problems. For instance, some of the main social problems where I live include squatters, prostitution, too-large families, nurse shortages, and poor nutrition. An applied sociologist would bring his or her knowledge to bear on how to solve these problems.
Let’s take a look and see what that might look like:
Squatters are usually newcomers to urban areas who live on land or in buildings that don’t belong to them. An applied sociologist would wonder why squatters came to the city in the first place. The research variables to analyze would include the squatters’ background, their employment and educational history, their occupation and sources of income.
The sociologist might discover that squatters migrate to the city to find gainful employment but can’t find a job that suits their educational qualifications. They are usually farmers, fishermen, laborers on unskilled workers. Lack of income is the primary reason squatters can’t afford to buy their own house and land.
An applied sociologist might learn that prostitution and squatting have many of the same causes. Usually, squatter areas are breeding grounds for prostitution, drug abuse, and illegal gambling. The research variables may still focus on low income and unemployment.
Migration of Nurses
Why might nurses prefer to work in other countries? Likely because of the high salary that nurses can earn in the US, Europe, and Canada. Compared to a staff nurse in a government hospital, nurses working abroad can make 10 times as much.
The research variables to study the migration of nurses include salary, overtime pay, the exchange rate, and the country that they want to work.
Since children are typically the ones most affected by poor nutrition, the research variables for this social problem would include: the family income, food intake, and family employment. Low income and unemployment is usually the cause of poor nutrition.
7. Sociological Methods & Research
This field is concerned with the applicability of sociological principles and insights to study and regulate peoples’ social environment. It represents an effort to build and develop theories that can explain people’s actions and behaviors.