Practice Question  –  Sociology without History is rootless and History without Sociology is fruitless.” Elaborate. [UPSC 2010]

Approach  – Introduction, Essentially the answer should revolve around how both History and Sociology render relevance to each other, Explore the interrelationships between the two disciplines, Mention thinkers, Contemporary relevance and Conclusion. 



Sociology is a social science that studies human societies, their interactions, and the processes that preserve and change them. It does this by examining the dynamics of constituent parts of societies such as institutions, communities, populations, and gender, racial, or age groups. Sociology also studies social status or stratification, social movements, and social change, as well as societal disorder in the form of crime, deviance, and revolution.

“History is a narration of the events which have happened among mankind, including an account of the rise and fall of nations, as well as of other great changes which have affected the political and social condition of the human race.” (John Jacob Anderson).



Sociology is the study of human social relationships and institutions. Sociology’s subject matter is diverse, ranging from crime to religion, from the family to the state, from the divisions of race and social class to the shared beliefs of a common culture, and from social stability to radical change in whole societies. Unifying the study of these diverse subjects of study is sociology’s purpose of understanding how human action and consciousness both shape and are shaped by surrounding cultural and social structures.

Sociology is an exciting and illuminating field of study that analyzes and explains important matters in our personal lives, our communities, and the world. At the personal level, sociology investigates the social causes and consequences of such things as romantic love, racial and gender identity, family conflict, deviant behavior, aging, and religious faith. At the societal level, sociology examines and explains matters like crime and law, poverty and wealth, prejudice and discrimination, schools and education, business firms, urban community, and social movements. At the global level, sociology studies such phenomena as population growth and migration, war and peace, and economic development.



History is the study of the past – specifically the people, societies, events and problems of the past – as well as our attempts to understand them. It is a pursuit common to all human societies. Historians, who study history, do study cause and effects of past events and circumstances leading to social change and development. To Mallari (2013), the term, ‘history’, is embedded into numerous interrelated aspects; firstly, history as the past or things happened in the past, secondly, history as narrative that tells events happened in the past. Various
thinkers describe history as the study of human’s past based on archaeological evidences. It is important to understand that this so called past has its own social, cultural, political and economic aspects. Historians look types of societies, their structure, culture, civilisation and politics human societies had, and developed over the period of time. 



Historical sociology is a branch or sub-discipline of sociology. It emerged, during the twentieth century, primarily as a result of intersection between sociology and history. Historical sociology as a sub-field of sociology is likely to make two major contributions to the discipline. First, it can fruitfully historicise sociological analysis helping to situate any sociological analysis historically. Secondly, it will help to draw on important social issues which critically required historical analysis but somehow avoided or remain neglected in sociological analysis.

Sociologists often talk of the, ‘context’, while studying or explaining society in terms of its structure, functions and changes. Here, time and space are two important factors which inherit and explain the contextual aspects of social reality. Time is crucial factors in explaining the evolution of social reality as social realities get shaped over period of time. Since, history take care of factors such as time or periodical evolution of societies, it essentially helps sociologist to study society in much more systematic fashion. It helps sociologists in providing rationale to articulate present status and developmental trajectory of a society.

Various sociologists such as Comte in his law of three stages, Spencer in his analysis of evolution of societies, Weber in his elaboration of ideal types and growth of city, and Marx in his analysis of class conflict and social changes, have used historical dimension in their sociological analysis. Hence, history and sociology are closely related to each other. However, we may also note that both the disciplines differ in their nature and approaches, nevertheless intersect or criss-cross each other on many points. Resultantly, historical sociology emerged as an off- shoot such intersection between the two disciplines.



  • Sociologists often refer to history to explain social changes, developments and changing face of society over period of time. Similarly history also needs social aspects (sociological concepts) to explain past.
  • Social change is a reality. It has to happen. History shows mirror or truer way to analyse it with respect to time and space. History, in fact, said to be the constant reminder of the fact that change, even though permanent, is irregular and unpredictable. History thus provides a frame of reference and contextual tool to examine and analyse change carefully. Both sociology and history thus depends on each other to take complete stoke of reality.
  • Sociology is also concerned with the study of historical developments of society. Sociologist studies ancients or old traditions, culture, growth of civilisations, groups and institutions through historical analysis and interpretations.
  • The development of sociological theories is traced in 19th and 20th century historical developments at the level of philosophy, epistemology and progressive thinking. Specifically, sociological theories have been product of intellectual, social, cultural and political climate within which they were developed. For instance, enlightenment was a period of remarkable intellectual development.



  • Historians emphasise their findings as time–space localised whereas sociologists believe their understanding transcends space-time dimension. Thus, the major difference between sociology and history is with regard to the nature of data or evidences put for analysis.
  • Goldthorpe  argues that history and sociology are two significantly different intellectual enterprises. He concludes that it is wrong to conclude to consider sociology and history as one. History in no sense is a natural science like sociology. It does not seek colourless units. It is said that history interprets whereas natural science explains.
  • Historians collect the concrete and interpret it as unique phenomenon whereas sociologists work on hypotheses, classify and arrange data in relevant and different categories to explore and formulate the typical propositions.
  • It is said that sociologists have crave for numbers, historian for dates and words; sociologists recognise rules and ignore variations whereas historians stress on the individuals and specific. 
  • Many scholars called history as concrete and descriptive science of society. History attempts to construct a picture of social past. On the other side, sociology said to be abstract and theoretical science of society. Scope of sociology in this respect considered broader than the history. Sociology is not only concerned with the social present, but with the social past too.



Historical sociology as an outcome of intersection of the both the disciplines have emerged. It is also described that the historical sociology as branch of sociology has critically contributed to the growth of an interdisciplinary scholarship. Many sociologists, from the beginning of sociology as major discipline, such as Marx, Weber, Durkheim, later on Castells, Amin, Frank, Blaut as discussed, have elaborately contributed in this field. In nutshell, both sociology and history, though being two different disciplines in the domain
of social sciences, are very much closely interrelated and supplements each other’s field of studies.

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