Sociological Learning Experience
Published 27 Mar 2017
The increasing interest of academicians and the public at large in the study of social life has opened many possibilities in sociology. Fields of specialization in the said field are continuously being developed in order to suit this academic trend. More importantly, though, the greatest contribution of sociology to an individual is its unique learning experience (Mills,1959/2000). Sociology offers a wide variety of experiences necessary to attain what social scientists call “social knowledge.” This type of knowledge can be procured by direct, indirect, actual, hypothetical calibration of existing theoretical strands in the field.
Origin of Social Theory
The development of social theory can be attributed to two revolutions: the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution. The Industrial Revolution provided the avenue for the development of a socio-economic theory, based essentially on mercantilism or free market system. The French Revolution provided the foundation of socio-political theory grounded on the principles of democracy and liberalism.
The old socio-economic system of Europe prior to the two Revolutions was essentially based on economic conservatism. The Industrial and French Revolution was seen by conservative thinkers as a slack approach to socio-economic development. “This policy appears to me to be the result of profound reflection; or rather the effect of following nature … A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper, and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors” (Conservatism in Curtis, 1981:53). The conservatives criticized these Revolutions as the epitome of a backward philosophy. Their criticism created the basic premise in sociology: society affects the individual. The same thing can be said of the radicals: those who advocated the Industrial Revolution. These radicals believed that the individual can affect the society (innovation is the product of individual effort). Thus, the maxim of sociology was developed: society affects man, man affects social structure.
The development of a sociological theory can be attributed to three social scientists: Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. Using the dialectical historical materialism, Marx developed the superstructure-substructure argument. Basing largely from historical data, he argued that the substructure of a society is dependent on the current economic system in use. This economic system directly influences the outcome of superstructure, that is, the institutions of society. “The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life – and, next to production, the exchange of things produced – is the basis of social structure” (Marx in Curtis, 1981:173). Once these institutions are in place, it will reinforce the current economic system.
Emile Durkheim is often given the title as “the first sociologist.” He was the first to examine social life in a vast spectrum. Using suicide data from all over Europe, he concluded that single men are more prone to suicide than single women. Protestants are more prone to suicide than Catholics. He was able to identify social integration as the primary determinant of suicide (Henslin, 2007). He argued that social integration is critical to maintaining harmony among groups or individuals. Social integration, therefore, gives the individual the opportunity to be part of a group; a functioning individual in a functioning organization (Henslin, 2007).
Max Weber developed a more comprehensive theory about the development of an ideology. He argued that the development of capitalism was essentially due to the development of Protestantism. In addition, he also argued that Protestantism provided the right ideology to maintain and spread capitalism in the Western hemisphere. Here, Weber expanded the concept and classified the concept of leadership. According to him, there are three types of authority: charismatic, traditional, and rational authority (Weber in Curtis, 1981:433). Charismatic leaders are obeyed based on his/her innate qualities. Traditional leaders base their authority on written or unwritten cultural traditions. Rational leaders ground their authority on rational principles: principles resulting from modern bureaucracies.
Theories on Gender and Family
Theories on gender and family life were developed out of the shortcomings of the Structuralist-functionalist perspective (this perspective assumes that the society is composed of functional structures). Feminists in the West argued that the society is controlled or governed by masculine objects or qualities (Henslin, 2007). Hence, they argued that the early theories about social life were influenced by masculine qualities – theories that were deemed biased and compromising. Thus, they proposed new theoretical strands based on feminists principles. The same thing can be said about the development of theories on family life. Earlier, theories on family life were based essentially on Structuralist-Functionalist Perspective. Today, several schools of thought compound on this subject matter: a sign of knowledge expansion
Several methods were developed to suit the different theories and perspective in sociology. Surveys, ethnography (used primarily in anthropology), case studies, focus group discussions, and interviews are some of the methods currently used in the subject.
- Curtis, Michael. 1981. The Great Political Theories. V.II. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
- Henslin, James. 2007. Sociology: A Down-To-Earth Approach. 8th ed. New York: Allyn and Bacon.
- Mills, C. Wright. 1959/2000. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.