Practice Question: Discuss the historical antecedents of the emergence of Sociology as a discipline.(10 Marks) (Paper 1 Socio 2019)

Approach: Introduction; Outline genesis of Sociology, emergence of Socio as a discipline and its reasons; Conclusion



Sociology is a social scientific discipline that became established only relatively recently. This occurred in the wake of the university revolution that took off in Germany in the nineteenth century and was later vigorously continued in the United States. After an abortive attempt in France between the 1830s and 1850s, the first department of sociology was created in the United States in 1892, followed by similar developments in France in 1913 and Austria in 1918. The next step was the establishment of research institutes in Germany, Austria and the United States in the 1920s and 1930s.



The origin of sociology is associated with the evolution of man. However the roots of sociological understanding go back to the ancient Greek and Roman literature. But the systematic study of society emerged in the West. Besides, we do find references of law, the state and the society in Plato’s Republic  and in Aristotle’s Ethics and politics. Similarly, Roman philosopher Cicero’s book De Officiis (on justice) was a treasure of insights in philosophy, law, polities and sociology. St.Augustine’s De civitate Dei deals with social concepts and questions.

Later on significant works of subsequent ages like the summa theological and de regimine prnicipum of Thomas Aquinas , De Monarchia of Dante  deals with social concepts and questions of their time. Another notable author of this period was Sir Thomas Moore (1477-1535) who, in his book “Utopia” published in 1515, dealt with day to day social problems.on. Montesquieu in his famous work “The Spirit of Laws” had analysed the role of external factors in life of human societies French scholar Saint Simon tried to develop a new science which would study social life like physics studies the physical world.

But the origin of sociology is attributed to the numerous developments in the 18th and 19th century especially  the Industrial revolution and the French revolution. These two epoch-making events changed the entire history of human society. It resulted in metamorphic changes in the realm of economy, polity, culture and religiosity of mankind. This altered reality attracted the attention of the scholars like Saint Simon, Auguste Comte and others. They attempted to explain this social transition thereby envisioning their ideas on social reconstruction. Sociology owes its birth to this intellectual endeavour. Comte is rightly called as the founder of sociology because he coined the term and also its theme and methodology. Study of the social institutions was special significance for him. In his famous work “Positive Philosophy”, Comte pointed out the need for the creation of a distinct science of society which he first called “social physics” and later “sociology” that showed concern for analysis and explanation of social phenomena.



The core of the discipline is occupied by what may be referred to as general sociology. It embraces the philosophical, epistemological, methodological, theoretical and conceptual dimensions of sociology. In turn, the core is surrounded by substantive areas which are virtually as numerous as the concerns of social life itself. They form the focal points of a large variety of sub-disciplinary specializations dealing with economics, religion, law, politics, education, organisations, culture, knowledge, art and literature, medicine, deviance and social control, science and technology, social movements, development, and so forth. New specializations are continually being added as society undergoes change under the impact of new problems, interests or developments. Recent examples include sub-disciplines focusing on gender, work and unemployment, the new media, the environment, and so forth.



The importance of considering sociology as a discourse is that it helps us to understand both the intrinsic connection between sociology and modern society and
the role that sociology plays in the latter. Sociology is a thoroughly and exclusively modern phenomenon that emerged for the first time together with modern society, forming an inalienable part of it and fulfilling the role of reflecting upon and articulating the self-description, self-analysis, and self-critique of modern society. Sociology is thus not just an expert culture, an academic discipline in an ivory tower potentially serving the needs of the state and those with more or less direct access to culture and power, but it is also an intellectual culture with close ties to ordinary everyday life, the citizenry, and the voluntary associations and movements growing out of the public and lending it a certain degree of organization.



We find the growth of sociology as a discipline is a product of Western intellectual discourse. However, writings about society can be traced back to the ancient Indian mythological, religious and spiritual texts such as the Veda, Upanishads, Puranas, Smritis, writings of Kautilya and Sukracharya that talk volumes about rites, laws, customs, economy, polity, culture, morality, aesthetics and science. All these writings are replete with insights concerning social order and stability, mobility, human interrelationship and social governance. For instance, Kautilya’s Artha Shastra is a monumental treatise on political economy and Shukracharya’s Niti Shastra offers vast wisdom on morality, social customs, ethics, folkways and mores.

During British period, the rapid acquisition of knowledge of Indian Society and the intensification of missionary activities began to develop from 1760 onward. Missionaries and  British officials made earnest effort to study the social life and culture of people of India. Dr. François Buchanan conducted an ethnographic survey of Bengal in 1807 which is still
considered as a brilliant work of sociological importance.

Sociology emerged as a separate academic discipline in Indian universities in the 1st half of 20th century. At the beginning it was associated with Anthropology.The beginning of studies in sociology in Calcutta University was first started in 1907. But there was no separate department of sociology. Later on in 1914 Social Philosophy and Sociology were introduced in Mysore University. The first department of sociology started in Bombay University in 1919 followed by the University of Lucknow in 1920s. 



Sociology forms an inalienable part of modern society or, rather, as a discursive practice it is an integral part of the discourse of modernity. As such, it has the role or function of reflecting upon the self-creation and self-organization of modern society. In so doing, it articulates the self-description, self-analysis, and self-critique of modern society. It is the means through which modern society maintains a reflexive relation with itself and describes, analyses and criticizes itself.



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