Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Acronyms, Wikipedia.


sociology, scientific study of human social behavior. As the study of humans in their collective aspect, sociology is concerned with all group activities—economic, social, political, and religious. Sociologists study such areas as bureaucracy, community, deviant behavior, family, public opinion, social change, social mobility, social stratification, and such specific problems as crime, divorce, child abuse, and substance addiction. Sociology tries to determine the laws governing human behavior in social contexts; it is sometimes distinguished as a general social science from the special social sciences, such as economics and political science, which confine themselves to a selected group of social facts or relations.

The Evolution of Sociology

A number of Western political theorists and philosophers, including Plato, Polybius, Machiavelli, Vico, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, have treated political problems in a broader social context. Thus Montesquieu regarded the political forms of different states as a consequence of the working of deep underlying climatic, geographic, economic, and psychological factors. In the 18th cent., Scottish thinkers made inquiries into the nature of society; scholars like Adam Smith explored the economic causes of social organization and social change, while Adam Ferguson considered the noneconomic causes of social cohesion.

It was not until the 19th cent., however, when the concept of society was finally separated from that of the state, that sociology developed into an independent study. The term sociology was coined (1838) by Auguste Comte. He attempted to analyze all aspects of cultural, political, and economic life and to identify the unifying principles of society at each stage of human social development. Herbert Spencer applied the principles of Darwinian evolution to the development of human society in his popular and controversial Principles of Sociology (1876–96). An important stimulus to sociological thought came from the work of Karl Marx, who emphasized the economic basis of the organization of society and its division into classes and saw in the class struggle the main agent of social progress.

The founders of the modern study of sociology were Émile Durkheim and Max Weber. Durkheim pioneered in the use of empirical evidence and statistical material in the study of society. Weber's major contribution was as a theorist, and his generalizations about social organization and the relation of belief systems, including religion, to social action are still influential. He developed the use of the ideal type—a working model, based on the selective combination of certain elements of historical fact or current reality—as a tool of sociological analysis. In the United States the study of sociology was pioneered and developed by Lester Frank Ward and William Graham Sumner.

The most important theoretical sociology in the 20th cent. moved in three directions: conflict theory, structural-functional theory, and symbolic interaction theory. Conflict theory draws heavily on the work of Karl Marx and emphasizes the role of conflict in explaining social change; prominent conflict theorists include Ralf Dahrendorf and C. Wright Mills. Structural-functional theory, developed by Talcott Parsons and advanced by Robert Merton, assumes that large social systems are characterized by homeostasis, or “steady states.” The theory is now often called “conservative” in its orientation. Symbolic interaction, begun by George Herbert Mead and further developed by Herbert Blumer and others, focuses on subjective perceptions or other symbolic processes of communication.


See P. Sorokin, Contemporary Sociological Theories (1928, repr. 1964); R. Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition (1966); R. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (enl. ed. 1968); G. D. Mitchell, A Hundred Years of Sociology (1968); H. Blumer, Symbolic Interactionism (1969); J. H. Abraham, The Origins and Growth of Sociology (1973); J. E. Goldthorpe, An Introduction to Sociology (1974); L. Broom et al., Essentials of Sociology (3d ed. 1984); W. Feigelman, Sociology Full Circle (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


A term coined by COMTE to describe the scientific and, more particularly, the positivistic, study of SOCIETY (see POSITIVISM). Since then, however, the term has gained a far wider currency to refer to the systematic study of the functioning, organization, development, and types of human societies, without this implying any particular model of'science’. In some usage, the term can also encompass approaches which explicitly repudiate the relevance of a ‘physical science’ orientation to social study.

One problem immediately emerges about such a definition:

  1. it fails to distinguish sociology from SOCIAL SCIENCE in general;
  2. it fails to distinguish sociology from other, less generalist, social sciences.

Since no aspect of society is excluded from consideration by sociology, no simple distinction can be drawn between sociology and social science; in some usages the two terms are simply synonymous. More usually, however, whereas sociology necessarily overlaps with the subject matter of more specialist social sciences (e.g. ECONOMICS, POLITICAL SCIENCE), the discipline is conceived of by its practitioners as distinguished from these more focused social science disciplines by an avowedly ‘holistic’ perspective in social analysis, a commitment to analysis which studies the interrelation of social parts. This said, however, it has to be noted that sociology does not exist as a tightly integrated discipline; not only does the subject encompass many competing paradigms and approaches, it has also remained uniquely open to ideas imported from other disciplines, from PHILOSOPHY, from HISTORY, and so on, as well as from other social sciences, and from more general social and political discourse.

A further implication of such a view of sociology is that it does not begin with the work of Comte, but can also be regarded as embracing earlier systematic study of societies, including the plainly sociological thinking (although not so-called) of major classical philosophers such as PLATO or ARISTOTLE, or, closer to modern times, SCOTTISH ENLIGHTENMENT thinkers, such as SMITH or FERGUSON. There is a viewpoint in sociology, that sociology's concern as a discipline is with the distinctive problems of modern INDUSTRIAL SOCIETIES (GIDDENS, 1981). However, though this draws attention to an undoubted central emphasis within modern sociology, seen not least in the classical works of the giants of the discipline, such as MARX, WEBER, and DURKHEIM, it understates the range of the subject, which is a concern with all aspects and all types of society.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the study of society as an integrated system and of individual social institutions, processes, and groups viewed in their connection with society as a whole. An essential precondition of sociological knowledge is the view of society as an interconnected entity “and not as something mechanically concatenated and therefore permitting all sorts of arbitrary combinations of separate social elements” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. l,p. 165).

In contrast to Utopian theories, which construct abstract models of an ideal society, sociology scientifically studies actual social relationships and predicts their development in order to utilize the knowledge obtained for the management of social processes. However, an understanding of social systems and of their elements, structure, and the laws under which they function and develop, differ in Marxist and bourgeois sociology. These differences are philosophic, based on specific class interests; they influence the selection of the subjects and methods of research and the relationships between sociology and other sciences dealing with man and society.

Sociology (the term was introducd by A. Comte) became an independent branch of learning in the 19th century owing to the differentiation of problems of traditional social philosophy, the specialization of and cooperation between the social sciences, and the development of empirical social research. Even the oldest philosophical systems generally included social philosophy, which, in one way or another, analyzed the life of society and the tendencies of historical development. In the 18th century the philosophy of history appeared as an independent discipline; it studied the laws and motive forces governing the development of society and culture. Its concepts, however, were speculative in nature.

In the early 19th century, the needs of society changed, and the social sciences were becoming differentiated into such disciplines as economics, history, ethnography, and law. Consequently, it became necessary to supplant the abstract philosophy of history with a new science of society that would base its generalizations on data obtained by strictly scientific methods. It was Saint-Simon who wrote that previously the science of man had been only a conjectural science and that the task was to elevate it to the level of the sciences based on observations (hbr. soch., vol. 1, Moscow-Leningrad, 1948, pp. 166–67, note). However, Saint-Simon, the other Utopian socialists, and Comte could not free themselves from idealism and a priori reasoning in their understanding of society.

Marxist sociology. A revolution inaugurating a genuinely scientific sociology was carried out by K. Marx. “Just as Darwin put an end to the view of animal and plant species being unconnected, fortuitous, ’created by God’ and immutable, and was the first to put biology on an absolutely scientific basis by establishing the mutability and the succession of species, so Marx put an end to the view of society being a mechanical aggregation of individuals which allows of all sorts of modification at the will of the authorities (or, if you like, at the will of society and the government) and which emerges and changes casually, and was the first to put sociology on a scientific basis by establishing the concept of the economic formation of society as the sum-total of given productive relations, by establishing the fact that the development of such formations is a process of natural history” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 139).

According to the materialist conception of history, as people engage in social and productive activities they enter into certain material relationships that do not depend on their will and that determine social consciousness. As an integrated social system, every socioeconomic formation is based on a historically determined mode of commodity production to which correspond a specific class structure, political superstructure, culture, and forms of social consciousness. Each of these phenomena is relatively independent and has its own structure and laws of development and functioning. This differentiation underlies the differentiation of sociological research into specific branches, such as the sociology of labor, of the family, and of education. However, individual social phenomena may be understood only by considering their functions and places within a society as a whole. Every social formation has contradictions and motive forces of its own. Consequently, Marxist sociology is closely related to history and is itself historical, since it studies the patterns of change of social formations.

Lenin called the materialist conception of history “a synonym for social science” and pointed out that “this hypothesis for the first time made a scientific sociology possible” (ibid., p. 140). The philosophical and methodological principles of the materialist concept of history were brilliantly applied by Marx and Engels to the study of world history and of capitalist society in particular. Lenin wrote: “Now—since the appearance of Capital—the materialist conception of history is no longer a hypothesis, but a scientifically proven proposition (ibid., p. 139–140). The founders of Marxism, implacable foes of abstract speculations and of a priori reasoning, utilized in their works all methods of scientific research, existing at the time—statistical analysis, questionnaires, census data, comparative historical generalizations and theoretical simulations of processes under study. A forecast of future development and a program of revolutionary transformation (the theory of scientific communism) were constructed on the basis of this research.

Aspects of Marx’ and Engels’ sociological concepts were developed and concretized in the works of G. V. Plekhanov, A. Bebel, the early K. Kautsky, A. Labriola, P. Lafargue, F. Mehring, and R. Luxemburg.

Under the new conditions of the era of imperialism, Marxist sociology was thoroughly developed theoretically and in concrete terms by Lenin, who analyzed the role of the subjective factor in history, defined the concept of class, created the theory of imperialism as the highest and final stage of capitalism, and enriched the Marxist theory of the state. Lenin’s doctrine on the two tendencies in the national question provided a key to the decisive processes in the contemporary development of nations. Of the greatest methodological importance were Lenin’s critiques of the subjective sociology of Narodnichestvo (Populism), of P. Struve’s objectivism, and of the philosophical and sociological concepts of the Machists and neo-Kantians. Such works of Lenin as The Development of Capitalism in Russia and “Statistics and Sociology” are models of scientific statistical research on social processes.

The Leninist theory of socialist revolution and of the building of socialism creatively develops the most important problems of socialist society. These problems include the levels of socialist development and the correlation of the national and the international in this development, the laws of socialist industrialization and of the collectivization of agriculture, classes and social structure, attitudes toward labor and socialist emulation, the nature of socialist democracy, the political activity of the working people, cultural revolution, and the formation of the new man. The CPSU and other Marxist-Leninist parties base themselves on Lenin’s theses concerning these problems and adapt them to new conditions.

The development of Marxist sociology in the USSR after the Great October Socialist Revolution was linked with socialist construction and with the requirements of the international workers’ and communist movement.

As early as May 1918, in preparing the resolution of the Council of People’s Commissars On the Socialist Academy of Social Sciences, Lenin noted: “a series of social investigations to be made one of the primary tasks” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 36, p. 372). The systematic construction of a new society is impossible without extensive information on social processes, exhaustive social experiments, and long-term forecasts. At the same time, socialist transformations open unusually broad vistas for sociology as a science. Sociologists can observe spontaneous social processes and can also participate in socialist and communist construction themselves. This is predicated upon a correct combining of theory and empirical research.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Soviet scholars wrote many philosophical works and did research on such aspects of the life of society as changes in working and living conditions engendered by the revolution (A. I. Todorskii, E. O. Kabo, VI. Zaitsev), workers’ allocation of income and free time (S. G. Strumilin, L. E. Mints, V. Mikheev, la. V. Vidrevich), marriage and the family (S. Ia. Vol’fson), social psychology (V. M. Bekhterev, L. S. Vy-gotskii), and social medicine (N. A. Semashko, B. Ia. Smule-vich). Sociological research developed in close connection with philosophical, economic, statistical, demographic, and ethnographic research.

A period of intensive development in sociology began in the USSR and the other socialist countries in the 1950’s and especially in the 1960’s. This resulted from the growing requirements of planning and management and from the necessity of basing political decisions on scientific information and the forecasting of social processes. Other factors were the progress of socialist society itelf, the increased participation of the masses in the life of society, and the increased role of the “human factor,” which demonstrated the inadequacy of a narrowly economic approach to economic phenomena, not to mention politics, and culture. Marxist sociology developed both by concretizing and enriching the fundamental issues of historical materialism and by sociolo-gizing the related social sciences, primarily economics.

Equally alien to Marxist sociology are “the endeavor to look for answers to concrete questions in the simple logical development of the general truth” (V. I. Lenin, ibid., vol. 3, p. 14) and the positivist absolutization of an individual fact.

Three interrelated levels are generally distinguished within Marxist sociology, whose fundamental principles are partiinost’ (party spirit) and historicism. These are general theory (historical materialism, which is also a component of Marxist philosophy), specialized theories, and empirical studies. Studies of social relationships seek to clarify the leading trends of their development in order to find the optimal ways and means of building a communist society. Hence, Marxist sociology performs both constructive and critical functions.

To promote sociological studies, a number of specialized research institutions have been established in the USSR, including the Institute of Sociological Research and the Institute of Socioeconomic Problems of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, the Scientific Research Institute of Complex Social Research of Leningrad University, and laboratories and departments of sociology in many academic institutes and higher educational institutions. Important research is conducted at the Siberian Division and Urals Branch of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR as well as in the Union republics. Soviet sociologists are united by the Soviet Sociological Association (founded 1958). The journal Sotsio-logicheskie issledovaniia (Sociological Studies) has been published since 1974.

Sociology retains close ties with the social sciences from which it evolved. Many sociological studies in the USSR are conducted in institutions of economics, law, ethnography, psychology, or medicine or with the participation of specialists in these fields. The strengthening of ties with the natural sciences is also of great importance for sociology.

Soviet sociology is resolving numerous problems of theoretical and practical importance. The study of the social structure of developed socialist society illuminates ways of overcoming class differences, defines the position and activities of the working class, peasantry, and intelligentsia, and clarifies interclass and intra-class differences. Important research studies have been devoted to numerous aspects of sociology. Studies on the scientific and technological revolution and its social consequences focus on the general laws of this revolution, their manifestation in the context of socialism, the social aspects of scientific and technical creativity, the sociology of science, and the influence of the scientific and technological revolution on society. Studies on the sociology of labor deal with the nature and content of labor, motives for selecting a profession, the correlation of various stimuli and factors leading to satisfaction with one’s work, socialist emulation, the effectiveness of various types of material and moral incentives, and the social aspects of the rational organization of labor. Studies on urbanization are devoted to the rate and characteristics of urbanization in various regions, the nature of the urban way of life, and urban working and living conditions and ways of improving them.

Studies of ethnic processes focus on national differences and the internationalization of the life of society, the laws of development of national cultures, the Soviet people as a new form of historical community, and problems of ethnic psychology. Studies on marriage and the family are devoted to the dynamics of marriage and divorce, changes in the structure and functions of the family, the status of women, and the correlation of familial and extrafamilial upbringing of children. Educational studies deal with the social functions and the structure of education during the scientific and technological revolution, the social composition of students at various stages of instruction, and problems of continuous education. Research on youth focuses on the place of youth in society, the status and interests of different categories and groups of young people, and methods of communist upbringing and of increasing the involvement of young people in the life of society. Further studies are devoted to population migrations, public opinion, the theory of the personality, leisure and the budgeting of time, and the social aspects of administration and management, mass communication, and ecology.

Soviet sociologists devote much attention to the comprehensive study of the socialist way of life. Research also focuses on the methodology and methods of sociological research, particularly the application of mathematical methods, and on the history of sociology as a science. Many works by Soviet sociologists have won international recognition and have also helped resolve social problems, especially that of the development of social planning.

Marxist sociology has developed in other socialist countries as well. In Bulgaria, a major study of the process of overcoming religious beliefs has been completed, and sociological research on the Bulgarian village and on problems of youth is being conducted. In Hungary, topics under study include the structure of socialist society, sociological problems of administration and management, man’s attitudes toward work, and problems of free time and cultural development. Topics studied in the German Democratic Republic include work motivation, scientific and technological progress, and sociological theory. In Poland, research has focused on industrialization, changes in the social structure, cultural transformations, the sociology of labor, and political attitudes. Rumanian sociologists are studying the political consciousness of the working class, the social aspects of technological progress, the influence of technological modernization on the personality of the worker, and the sociology of the village. Social consequences of the scientific and technological revolution, the structure of society, and the cultural revolution are being studied in Czechoslovakia. Yugoslav sociologists are focusing on the structure of self-government and on man’s relations to the social environment.

The cooperation of scholars in the socialist countries creates extensive opportunities for conducting comparative studies, The first example of this type of study was the Soviet-Polish Social Problems of Labor and Production, edited by G. V. Osipov and J. Szczepafiski (Moscow, 1969). Marxist sociologists participate in the work of the International Sociological Association and in major international sociological studies.

Bourgeois sociology. Nineteenth-century bourgeois sociology developed under the influence of the positivism of Comte and H. Spencer in two parallel and virtually unconnected directions—theoretical sociology and empirical research. Theoretical sociology attempted to reconstruct the main phases of historical evolution and describe the structure of society. The development of society, however, was regarded by the positivist sociologists as a linear process of evolution, whereas the structure of society was reduced to a mechanical coordination of various factors. Several different schools of sociology emerged in the 19th century, each reflecting the primary importance attached to a specific aspect of society.

The geographic school (C. Ritter, H. Buckle, F. Le Play, E. Demolins, F. Ratzel, P. Mougeolle, L. Mechnikov, and later E. Huntington and E. Semple) emphasized the influence of the geographic environment and of such factors as climate and landscape. The demographic school (A. Coste, L. Winiarski, and to some extent M. M. Kovalevskii) regarded population growth as the chief factor in social development. The racist anthropological school (J. A. Gobineau, H. Chamberlain, G. de Lapouge, and O. Ammon), whose biométric branch was represented by F. Galton and K. Pearson, stressed heredity, “racial selection,” and the struggle of the “higher” and “lower” races. The organismic school (P. Lilienfel’d, A. Schâffle, R. Worms, M. Novikov, and A. Fouillée) viewed society as something like a living organism and considered the divisions within society to be analogous to the division of functions among different organs. Social Darwinism (L. Gumplowicz, W. Bagehot, G. Ratzenhofer, A. Small, and W. Sumner) placed stress on the struggle for existence.

Several schools of psychological sociology became prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They included instinctivism (W. McDougall and S. Freud and his followers), behaviorism, and introspectionist interpretations of society in terms of desires, feelings, interests, ideas, and beliefs (G. Tarde, L. Ward, E. Ross, W. Thomas, R. Park, and N. Mikhailovskii). Along with attempts to interpret the life of society in terms of individual psychology, there appeared theories that stressed the collective consciousness (E. Durkheim, E. V. Roberti, F. Giddings, and C. Cooley). Other theories emphasized the processes and forms of social interaction (F. Tónnies, G. Simmel, A. Vierkandt, and C. Bougie).

Psychological sociology contributed to the emergence of social psychology and the study of public opinion, collective psychology, the correlation of rational and emotional elements in social consciousness, the transmission of social experience, and the psychological foundations of the social self-awareness of the individual and the group. However, the reduction of sociology to psychology led to neglect of the structure and dynamics of material social relations.

The second line of sociological development during the 19th century was that of empirical research. The requirements of governments for information on population and on material resources resulted in the conducting of periodic censuses and in government-sponsored research. Capitalist urbanization and industrialization also engendered such social problems as poverty and inadequate housing, whose study had been initiated in the 18th century by public organizations, social reformers, and philanthropists. The first empirical social studies, which included works by 17th-century English political arithmeticians and French government-sponsored studies of the 17th and 18th centuries, were not systematic. The number of studies grew rapidly in the 19th century. They included A. Guerry’s Moral Statistics, works by A.-J.-B. Parent-Duchâtelet on prostitution in Paris and by L. Villermé on French textile workers, C. Booth’s multi-volume study of living and working conditions in London, and P. Gôhre’s study of German industrial workers. These studies presented new information and also improved the existing methods of collecting and analyzing data. L. A. J. Quételet laid the foundations of sociological statistics, and F. Le Play worked out a monographic method of studying family budgets. The first centers of social research appeared, including the Royal Statistical Society (London) in Great Britain and the Sociopolitical Society in Germany. It was becoming clear that empirical research needed to be supplemented by theory, and theory by empirical verification.

Sociology had originated from several disciplines and lacked a clearly defined subject matter of its own. Consequently, it initially encountered strong opposition from representatives of the older disciplines, particularly from philosophers and historians, and fell out of the conservative system of classical education in the humanities. However, this situation gradually changed. In the late 19th century, sociology became a university discipline. The first chair of sociology was established in 1892, at the University of Chicago, the International Institute of Sociology was founded in 1893 in Paris, and specialized journals appeared. In the early 20th century, the first national sociological societies and associations were founded, and instruction in sociology was introduced in many European and American universities. However, despite this growth, the status of sociology remained uncertain. The discipline was becoming influenced by a number of factors, including the ideological crisis associated with the development of premonopolistic capitalism into imperialism, the revolution in physics and the crisis of mechanical determinism in the scientific world view, and the growing interest in methodology associated with the further differentiation and specialization of the social sciences. Other factors were the methodological crisis of positivist evolutionism, which had been the dominant trend in 19th-century social science, and the growth of antipositivist trends in philosophy. The oversimplified and distorted mechanism and naturalism of positivist sociology were sharply criticized by neoidealist philosophers, some of whom, including W. Dilthey and B. Croce, even denied sociology’s right to exist as a discipline. Acute theoretical and methodological polemics developed within sociology itself.

The most prominent Western European and American sociologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries—F. Tônnies, G. Simmel, E. Durkheim, M. Weber, V. Pareto, and T. Veblen—posed the same basic questions. All clearly understood that bourgeois society was experiencing a crisis, and all were concerned with society’s problems, to which they could find no solutions. They sought to raise sociology to the level of objective, scientific knowledge, but they realized that the methods of natural science were inadequate for social science. These thinkers demanded the independence of sociology and its separation from philosophy, economics, and law, but at the same time they analyzed such philosophical problems as the nature of social reality, the gnoseological character of social cognition, and the relation between science and a given world view. Perceiving the crisis of bourgeois society as primarily a crisis of the society’s systems of values, these sociologists devoted much attention to studying the norms and values of culture and particularly of religion.

At about this time the historical and evolutionary approach to sociology gradually gave way to a structural and analytical approach, and theory became more closely linked to empirical research, as seen in Durkheim’s Suicide. However, different theoretical orientations were taking shape, although their subject matter was basically the same. Durkheim’s sociologism, which sought to view social facts “as things,” continued the line of positivist objectivism. The “understanding sociology” of M. Weber, which attempted to decipher the inner meaning of social actions, was linked with neo-Kantianism and the philosophy of life. Durkheim’s functionalism was in contrast to the historical orientation of Weber, who regarded sociological concepts to be “ideal types” essential to the systematization of complex historical reality; it was also in contrast to the approach of Simmel, who believed that the initial, basic social process was the interaction among individuals. Finally, and of particular importance, an ideological and theoretical confrontation between bourgeois sociology and Marxism developed in the last third of the 19th century.

Some positivist sociologists of this period recognized historical materialism as sociological theory. However, the reduction of historical materialism to distorted and oversimplified “economic materialism” debased Marxism, weakened its dialectical spirit, and facilitated the subsequent “criticism” and later the neglect of Marxism as something allegedly long “disproved.” The ideological confrontation between bourgeois sociology and Marxism particularly intensified after the Great October Socialist Revolution. However, the process of confrontation has been very complex.

It must be taken into account that Western non-Marxist sociology is not ideologically uniform. Western non-Marxist sociologists include overt apologists for capitalism, who develop capitalism’s political, ideological, and military strategy (Z. Brzezinski and H. Kahn) or theories opposing Marxism and communism. These include the convergence theory and the theories of the stages of economic growth (W. Rostow), of industrial society (R. Aron), and of postindustrial society (D. Bell). Many other Western non-Marxist sociologists attempt to separate their research from politics, limiting themselves to the study of individual problems. Ideologically, these scholars are generally bourgeois liberal reformists. Finally, radical or critical sociology criticizes the capitalist system and its institutions from left liberal and petit bourgeois standpoints. The relations between these currents vary in different countries.

It is also necessary to keep in mind the nature of sociological knowledge itself and the multiplicity of its functions. Owing to intensive professionalization and specialization, which began in the 1920’s, sociology has become a major social science; it is studied and taught throughout most of the world and includes more than 40 specialized branches, the number of which continues to grow. Sociology assembles and interprets empirical data. It performs prognostic and applied functions in analyzing macro-social processes and systems, for example, the social aspects of change in the natural environment, as well as processes and systems on the micro-social level, for example, within the framework of a single enterprise. Methods of research have greatly improved with the use of the systems approach, of mathematical modeling of social processes, and of quantitative methods of processing and generalizing data. The boundaries between sociology and such continuous disciplines as social psychology are not distinct because sociology utilizes the methods of other disciplines and because the other social sciences are becoming increasingly sociologized and are attempting to view their subject matter in a broader social context.

Sociology became an empirical field of study owing to the demands of social practice. However, capitalist society as a whole develops spontaneously, and consequently the practical application of sociology as “social engineering” is inevitably restricted to individual processes. Capitalist society is permeated with class antagonisms; the ruling class seeks to improve the existing system, whereas revolutionary forces strive to transform that system fundamentally. In the social sciences, including sociology, this engenders a conflict between constructive tasks and social criticism and between apologetics and a search for knowledge. This contradiction may be observed both in theory and in empirical research.

The empirical research of Western sociologists, irrespective of their philosophical views, has provided valuable information on the economics, politics, and culture of capitalist society. Applied sociology helps resolve certain practical problems in the interests of the ruling classes. The study of mass communications and of public opinion facilitates the development of more effective methods of bourgeois propaganda. Sociologists employed by corporations study workers’ attitudes in order to help management “settle” conflicts with the workers.

However, empirical sociologists depend on finance capital even more than the early theoretical sociologists did. To carry out large-scale empirical studies, special research centers and large appropriations are needed, and these can be provided only by the government or by large corporations. The sociologist thus becomes dependent on the capitalist corporations or the governmental bureaucracy. He works for the customer or client and is merely a source of practical information, which is used to resolve the immediate problems of a firm or organization. As a result, a new type of sociologist is appearing, on the order of a social technician. He often refuses to pose general questions and seeks only to solve the specific task facing him. However—and here the class orientation of such studies is expressed—the thinking of such sociologists remains within the bounds of the social system being studied; it seeks to preserve the system and is devoid of social criticism. In this sense it fulfills the function of conservative ideology, by instilling in people the idea that the existing system cannot be changed.

Sociology in the West is not limited to particular and applied studies based on various theories. Several different theoretical and methodological orientations exist in Western sociology. Functionalism (T. Parsons and R. Merton) emphasizes the integrity and integration of the social system and interprets specific phenomena in terms of the functions they fulfill within this whole. The interactional theory (G. Homans and E. Goffman) stresses the interaction between individuals and groups, during the course of which relatively stable social structures and institutions become established and altered.

Sociological theory in the West has been strongly influenced by neopositivism, phenomenology, neo-Freudianism (E. Fromm and others), and French structuralism. Although a large gap exists between general theoretical orientations and middle-level theories, not to mention empirical research, the basic concepts of various theories greatly influence topics studied as well as methods of research used. Exponents of the interactional theory study primarily interpersonal relations, neglecting general problems of the structure of society. Positivist sociologists attempt to reduce social values and norms to data on overt, observable behavior, for example, to statistics on participation and nonparticipation in elections. Phenomenologists, on the other hand, are interested in the inner meaning that social actions have for those taking part in them.

The contradictions and difficulties of the development of Western sociology became particularly evident during a crisis of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Ideologically, this crisis was related to the increasing contradictions in capitalist society and the growth of the democratic movement. The disillusionment of some members of the Western intelligentsia with bourgeois ideology also involved a disillusionment with sociology, which has proved incapable of predicting capitalism’s social upheavals and which itself substantiates and justifies the status quo. On the level of theory and methodology, the crisis of bourgeois sociology is manifested as a crisis of the positivist and scientist illusions regarding the possibility of a nonpartisan sociology. The general crisis is also evident in a crisis within empiricism and functionalism, which make an absolute of the unity and stability of the social system and which ignore the system’s internal contradictions. Criticism of these trends was prominent at the Eighth World Congress of Sociology (Toronto, 1974).

The crisis of the theoretical foundations of bourgeois sociology has aroused interest in new topics of research. In particular, increased attention is being paid to processes of change at the macro-social level. The crisis has also necessitated a methodological reorientation; however, the situation remains in a state of flux. Proposed theoretical alternatives to positivism and functionalism include phenomenology (A. Schutz and P. Berger), ethnometho-dology (H. Garfinkel), new variants of psychological reduction-ism (J. Atkinson), the concepts of the Frankfurt school (T. Adorno and J. Habermas), and other variants of neo-Marx-ism (A. Gouldner).

Especially important is the increased interest in Marxism, which attracts sociologists by its investigation of fundamental, objective social processes and relationships on the level of the society as a whole, dialectical approach and historicism, its revolutionary critical tendency, and its striving not only to study the world but to renew it. However, although some Western sociologists have a genuine interest in Marxism-Leninism, others falsely interpret Marxism in a romantic, anarchistic, or Maoist spirit. Efforts have also been made to substantiate the idea of a plurality of “Marxisms.” Some young leftist sociologists have a distorted, oversimplified, and nihilistic attitude toward the techniques of sociological research. They groundlessly equate empirical methods with apologetics, and counterpose partiinosi’ (party spirit) to scientific objectivity. These attitudes demand a thorough critical analysis on the part of Marxist sociologists.


General works and sociological theory
Marksistskaia i burzhuaznaia sotsiologiia segodnia. Moscow, 1964.
Istoriia isotsiologiia. Moscow, 1964.
Sotsiologiia v SSSR, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1966.
Chesnokov, D.I. lstoricheskii materializm i sotsial’nye issledovaniia. Moscow, 1967.
Szczepañski, J. Elementarnye poniatiia sotsiologii. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from Polish.)
Sotsiologiia i ideologiia: [Sb. st.J. Moscow, 1969.
Hahn, E. Istoricheskii materializm i marksistskaia sotsiologiia. Moscow, 1971. (Translated from German.)
Fedoseev, P. N. Marksizm v XX v. Moscow, 1972.
O strukture marksistskoisotsiologicheskoi teorii. Moscow, 1970.
Istoricheskii materializm kak teoriia sotsial’nogo poznaniia i deiatel’nosti. Moscow, 1972.
Becker, H., and A. Boskoff (compilers). Sovremennaia sotsiologi-cheskaia teoriia. Moscow, 1961. (Translated from English.)
Sotsiologiia segodnia: Problemy i perspektivy. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.)
Amerikanskaia sotsiologiia. Moscow, 1972. (Translated from English.)
Szczepañski, J. Socjologia: Rozwoj problematyki i metod. Warsaw, 1967.
Traité de sociologie, 3rd ed., vols. 1–2. Edited by G. Gurvitch. Paris, 1967–68.
Mills, C. W. The Sociological Imagination. New York, 1959.
Merton, R. K. Social Theory and Social Structure. New York, 1968.
Crisis and Contention in Sociology. Edited by T. Bottomore. London, 1975.
Methodology and techniques
Kolichestvennye melody vsotsiologii. Moscow, 1966.
Matematicheskie metody v sovremennoi burzhuaznoi sotsiologii: Sb. st. Moscow, 1966.
Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia; Voprosy metodologii i metodiki: [Sb.]. Novosibirsk, 1966.
Maslov, P. P. Sotsiologiia istatistika. Moscow, 1967.
Zdravomyslov, A. G. Metodologiia i protsedura sotsiologicheskikh issledovanii. Moscow, 1969.
Shubkin, V. N. Sotsiologicheskie opyty. Moscow, 1970.
Shliapentokh, V. E. Sotsiologiia dlia vsekh. Moscow, 1970.
Iadov, V. A. Sotsiologicheskoe issledovanie. Moscow, 1972.
Mikhailov, S. Empiricheskoe sotsiologicheskoe issledovanie. Moscow, 1975. (Translated from Bulgarian.)
Protsess sotsial’nogo issledovaniia. Moscow, 1975.
Goode, W. J., and P. K. Hatt. Methods in Social Research. New York, 1952.
Handbuch der empirischen Sozialforschung, vols. 1–2. Edited by R. Kônig. Stuttgart, 1962–69.
The Language of Social Research. Edited by P. F. Lazarsfeld and M. Rosenberg. Glencoe, 111., 1962.
The Uses of Sociology. Edited by P. Lazarsfeld. New York, 1967.
History of sociology and the contemporary state of sociology abroad
Kon, I. S. Pozitivizm v sotsiologii. Leningrad, 1964.
Osipov, G. V. Sovremennaia burzhuaznaia sotsiologiia: Kriticheskii ocherk. Moscow, 1964.
Sovremennyi kapitalizm i burzhuaznaia sotsiologiia: [Sb. st.]. Moscow, 1965.
Frantsov, G. P. Istoricheskieputisotsial’noi mysli. Moscow, 1965.
Andreeva, G. M. Sovremennaia burzhuaznaia empiricheskaia sotsiologiia: Kriticheskii ocherk. Moscow, 1965.
Zamoshkin, lu. A. Krizis burzhuaznogo individualizma i lichnost’: Sotsiologicheskii analiz nekotorykh tendentsii v obshchestvennoi psikhologii SShA. Moscow, 1966.
Novikov, N. V. Kritika sovremennoi burzhuaznoi “nauki o sotsiaT-nom povedenii. “ Moscow, 1966.
Sovremennaia filosofiia i sotsiologiia v FRG. Moscow, 1971.
Chagin, B. A. Ocherk istorii sotsiologicheskoi mysli v SSSR. Leningrad, 1971.
Sotsial’naia filosofiia frankfurtskoi shkoly. Moscow-Prague, 1975.
Becker, H., and H. E. Barnes. Social Thought From Lore to Science, 3rd ed., vols. 1–3. New York, 1961.
Madge, J. H. The Origins of Scientific Sociology. Glencoe, 111., 1962.
Aron, R. Les Etapes de la pensée sociologique. Paris, 1967.
Nisbet, R. A. The Sociological Tradition, 3rd ed. New York, 1966.
Timasheff, N. S. Sociological Theory: Its Nature and Growth, 3rd ed. New York, 1967.
Lazarsfeld, P. F. La Sociologie: Tendances principales de la recherche dans les sciences sociales et humaines. Paris, 1970.
Friedrichs, R. W. A Sociology of Sociology. New York, 1970.
Gouldner, A. W. The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology. New York-London, 1970.
Coser, L. A. Masters of Sociological Thought. New York, 1971.
Oberschall, A. The Establishment of Empirical Sociology. New York, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
This perspective is employed to counter metrocentrism and push postcolonial thought into the sphere of the sociology. By bringing forth the subaltern standpoint approach--which recaptures subjugated views and knowledges of the colonized and intersect them within sociology's main theories, concepts, and categories--the purpose becomes not merely to illustrate that these knowledges exist, but to use them to categorically shift our sociological understanding of the social and infuse an intellectual reorientation of sociology: he is advocating for a pluralism in terms of how we theoretically analyze the social.
Literature is one of the institutions of society and sociology is the study of this institution (Albrecht and Wellek) that has been defined by different critics in the sociological perspective: literature is a record of men's experiences, thoughts and feelings; what they have seen in social life (Hadson, 1998); literature is the reproduction of life because it represents life (Wellek and Warren, 1949); literature should play an interventionist role in serving society(Ushie, 2008); literature should not be created in vacuum but in a particular time and space, and it should be written for a particular community (Oshin quotes Ngugi, 1990).Sociology of literature is one of the branches of sociology.
There are many disciplines in sociology on which a scholar may need an assignment help.
He hopes to create a bank of virtual tips and to encourage people to learn sociology through Welsh at university.
Ultimately, the book advances synthesis of previous theory with new observations on the possibilities of empirical analysis in the sociology of knowledge.
The second weakness to Liberation Sociology is that it almost exclusively focuses on the individual acts of 'great sociologists' or other individuals.
Poe's psychological explorations of crime, Sinclair and Dreiser's stories of class dynamics, along with Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, formed much of the intellectual context in which sociology noir was written and read.
Ray disagrees with the view that globalization has put an end to 'the social' and therefore to sociology. As the experiment of modernity becomes worldwide, new social structures, cultures and forms of power have come into the arena of sociology.
Beavers making the second team were sophomore receiver Taylor Kavanaugh (3.16 construction engineering), junior offensive tackle Andy Levitre (3.25, sociology), junior defensive lineman Pernell Booth (3.13, sociology) and junior defensive back Austin Hall (3.01, business).
The fourteenth edition of James Henslin's Down to Earth Sociology includes new articles on our changing world while also retaining its classic must-read essays.
The greatest challenge in teaching qualitative methods in sociology is deceptively complex: teachers must find an appropriate balance between teaching qualitative research methods and teaching sociology.