What Is Sociology?

Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.

- C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination

Podcast of the Day

If anyone can lay claim to be the father of sociology, it’s Émile Durkheim. By the time of the French academic’s death in 1917, he’d produced an extraordinary body of work on an eclectic range of topics, and had become a major contributor to French intellectual life. Above all, his ambition was to establish sociology as a legitimate science.

Steven Lukes, a political and social theorist at New York University, was transfixed by Durkheim from early in his academic career — his first major book was 1972’s Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work. A Historical and Critical Study — and has gone on to become one of the world’s leading Durkheim scholars. Of course, that’s almost a sidelight to Lukes’ own sociological theorizing, in particular his “radical” view of power that examines power in three dimensions – the overt, the covert and the power to shape desires and beliefs.”

Listen to Steven Lukes on Durkheim on the Social Science Bites podcast

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

...They say when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And the risk is that when every policy adviser is an economist, every problem looks like inadequate per-capita gross domestic product.

Another academic discipline may not have the ear of presidents but may actually do a better job of explaining what has gone wrong in large swaths of the United States and other advanced nations in recent years.

Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work. And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to....

Continue reading Neil Irwin's article: What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?

Further Reading

The philosophy of social science can be described broadly as having two aims. First, it seeks to produce a rational reconstruction of social science. This entails describing the philosophical assumptions that underpin the practice of social inquiry, just as the philosophy of natural science seeks to lay bare the methodological and ontological assumptions that guide scientific investigation of natural phenomena. Second, the philosophy of social science seeks to critique the social sciences with the aim of enhancing their ability to explain the social world or otherwise improve our understanding of it. Thus philosophy of social science is both descriptive and prescriptive. As such, it concerns a number of interrelated questions. These include: What is the method (or methods) of social science? Does social science use the same methods as natural science? If not, should it aspire to? Or are the methods appropriate to social inquiry fundamentally different from those of natural science? Is scientific investigation of the social world even possible – or desirable? What type of knowledge does social inquiry produce? Can the social sciences be objective and value neutral? Should they strive to be? Does the social world represent a unique realm of inquiry with its own properties and laws? Or can the regularities and other properties of the social world be reduced to facts about individuals?...

Continue reading the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on The Philosophy of Social Science by William A. Gorton

Related Topics

Anthropology | Capitalism | Critical Theory | Culture | Power

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.

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