Sociology is the study of human social relationships and institutions. Sociologists examine the way people interact with each other and how social institutions shape our lives.
Thinking sociologically means understanding that our individual behavior is shaped by the larger social forces around us. It means seeing the world through a sociological lens and recognizing that our personal experiences are connected to larger societal patterns.
When we think sociologically, we can better understand the challenges we face in our own lives and in society as a whole. We can see how our individual choices are constrained by social structures and how collective action can lead to social change.
So, what does it mean to “think sociologically”? It means understanding that our individual behavior is shaped by the larger social forces around us. It means recognizing that our personal experiences are connected to larger societal patterns. And it means seeing the potential for collective action to create social change.
To think sociologically, it’s important to adopt a sociological perspective or “think sociologically.” Etymologically, sociology is the study of society, but this does not distinguish sociology from other types of social study. As a result, many people use what it isn’t – such as thinking politically, anthropologically, historically, or psychologically – to define thinking sociologically.
These disciplines all have their own ways of looking at the social world and, while they may inform Sociology, they are not Sociology.
So what is thinking sociologically? A good definition comes from Sociologist Harriet Friedmann who said that to think sociologically is to: “view the doings of everyday life as embodied in concrete actors and specific situations, and subject to regularities, rules, or laws which can be specified empirically” (Friedmann 1986: 606). In other words, it is to look for the patterns in social life and try to explain them. It is about understanding how the social world works and how people interact within it.
Thinking sociologically can help us to make sense of the social world and our place within it. It can help us to see the connections between different aspects of social life and to understand how they interact with each other. It can also help us to see the potential for change in the social world, and to think about how we might bring about that change.
So, next time you’re trying to make sense of something happening in the world around you, ask yourself “what would a sociologist say about this?” And give it a go! You might be surprised at what you find.
Others try to figure out what sociological thinking is about by looking at real-world things that may be considered, such as social systems and their subsystems, social institutions and social structure, and social aggregates, interactions, groups, and organizations (Reiss 1968: 1). Others pursue this approach.
Still others have concentrated on identifying the fundamental principles that guide sociological thinking, such as those of holism, generalisation, or purposive action. These various conceptions of what it means to think sociologically share a common core idea: that there is something distinctive about the way in which sociologists go about trying to understand and explain social phenomena. But what that something is, and whether it is indeed distinctive, has been a matter of much debate.
One way of approaching the question is to consider how sociology differs from other disciplines which also seek to understand and explain social phenomena, such as history, psychology or economics. Sociology shares with these disciplines a basic interest in understanding human behaviour. But it differs from them in a number of important respects.
Sociology is distinguished from history by its concern with the study of contemporary societies and social change. Sociologists are interested in understanding how societies have come to be organised in the way they are, and how they might be different in the future. This focus on change means that sociologists also tend to be interested in social processes at a variety of levels, from global processes of economic and political change, to more localised changes in the way people interact with each other on a daily basis.
Sociology is also distinguished from psychology by its focus on behaviour in social contexts. Psychologists may study individuals, but they do so primarily in order to understand universal principles of human behaviour. Sociologists, by contrast, are interested in understanding how behaviour is shaped by the social contexts within which it takes place. Sociologists therefore tend to be interested in studying behaviour in a wide range of social contexts, from families and workplaces to entire societies.
Finally, sociology is distinguished from economics by its focus on non-market forms of social interaction. Sociologists are interested in understanding how people interact with each other in a variety of settings, including those which are not primarily driven by economic motives. This focus on non-economic forms of social interaction means that sociologists often study phenomena which economists would consider to be ‘irrational’, such as crime or altruism.
These distinctions between sociology and other disciplines suggest that there is indeed something distinctive about sociological thinking. But what exactly is it that makes Sociology different?
One way of thinking about this question is to consider the goals of Sociology. Sociologists typically seek to explain social phenomena in terms of the underlying social processes which give rise to them. This focus on explanation distinguishes Sociology from disciplines like history or anthropology, which are primarily concerned with description. But it also suggests that there is something more to Sociology than simply the study of social phenomena. Sociologists are interested in understanding how and why these phenomena come about.
This focus on explanation also has important implications for the way in which sociologists go about their work. In order to explain social phenomena, sociologists need to be able to identify the patterns and regularities which exist within them. This requires a systematic and objective approach to data collection and analysis. Sociologists therefore tend to use scientific methods, such as surveys and experiments, to gather data about social phenomena.
The use of scientific methods is one of the things which makes Sociology distinctive. But it is not the only thing. Sociologists also make use of a number of theoretical perspectives, or ways of looking at social phenomena. These perspectives provide different lenses through which to view social phenomena, and can sometimes lead to very different explanations of the same phenomenon.
Some of the most important theoretical perspectives in Sociology include Functionalism, Conflict Theory, Symbolic Interactionism and Social Constructionism. Each of these perspectives offers a unique way of understanding social phenomena, and has its own strengths and weaknesses. Sociologists make use of all of these perspectives in order to gain a more complete understanding of the social world.
So, to sum up, Sociology is distinctive because of its focus on explanation, its use of scientific methods, and its commitment to theoretical pluralism. These features of Sociology make it an important and valuable way of thinking about the social world.