Friday, 12 June 2015

Sociology: A Discipline Part 2/3


There are two schools of thought with different viewpoints regarding scope and subject matter of sociology- formal school and synthetic school. According to formal school sociology was conceived to be a social science with a specifically defined field. This school had George Simmel, Ferdinand Tonnies, Alfred Vierkandt and Leopord Von Wiese as its main advocates. On the other hand the synthetic school with Durkheim, Hobhouse and Sorokin advocated a synthesis in form of coordination among all social sciences.

Formal School of Sociology

Formal school argued in favor of giving sociology a definite subject matter to make it a distinct discipline. It emphasized upon the study of forms of social relationships and regarded sociology as independent.

According to Simmel sociology is a specific social science which describes, classifies, analyses and delineates the forms of social relationships or in other words social interactions should be classified into various forms or types and analyzed. He argued that social interactions have various forms. He carried out studies of such formal relationships as cooperation, competition, sub and super ordinate relationships and so forth. He said however diverse the interests are that give rise to these associations; the forms in which the interests are realized may yet be identical. He emphasized on the process of abstraction (generalized) of these forms from human relationship which are common to diverse situations.

Vierkandt maintained that sociology should be concerned with ultimate forms of mental or psychic relationship which knit the people together in a society. According to Von Wiese there are two kinds of fundamental social processes in human society. Firstly the associative process concerning contact, approach, adaptation etc and secondly disassociate processes like competition and conflict. Apart from these two processes a mixed form of the associative and dis-associative also exists. Each of these processes has sub-classes which in totality give approximately 650 forms of human relationships. Sociology should confine itself to the discovery of the fundamental force of change and persistence and should abstain from a historical study of concrete societies.

Tonnies divided societies into two categories namely Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (association) on the basis of degree of intimacy among the members of the society. He has on the basis of forms of relationship tried to differentiate between community and society.

Max Weber also makes out a definite field for sociology. According to him the aim of sociology is to interpret or understand social behaviour. But social behavior does not cover the whole field of human relations. Indeed not all human interactions are social. Sociology is concerned with the analysis and classification of types of social relationships.

Criticism of formal School

Formal school has been criticized on the issue that it has emphasized on merely abstract forms and neglected the concrete contents of social life. Abstract forms separated from concrete relations cannot be studied. Ginsberg says that a study of social relationships would remain barren if it is conducted in the abstract without the full knowledge of the terms to which in concrete life they relate. Sociology doesn't alone study the forms of social relationship. Political science, International law also studies forms of social relationship. The conception of pure sociology is not practical as no social science can be studied in isolation from other social sciences.

Synthetic School of Sociology

Synthetic school wanted sociology to be synthesis of the social sciences and thus wanted to widen the scope of sociology.

According to Durkheim, sociology has three principal divisions' namely-Social morphology, social physiology and general sociology. Social morphology is concerned with geographical or territorial basis of life of people such as population, its size, density and distribution etc. This can be done at two levels -analysis of size and quality of population which affects the quality of social relationship and social groups. Secondly, the study of social structure or description of the main forms of social groups and institutions with their classification. Social physiology deals with the genesis and nature
of various social institutions namely religion, morals, law and economic institutions etc. In general sociology the main aim is to formulate general social laws. Attempt is made to find out if there are links among various institutions which would be treated independently in social physiology and in the course to discover general social laws.

Hobhouse perceived sociology as a science which has the whole social life of man as its sphere. Its relations with the other social sciences are considered to be one of mutual exchange and mutual stimulation.

Karl Mannheim's divides sociology into two main sections-systematic and general sociology and historical sociology. Systematic sociology describes one by one the main factors of living together as far as they may be found in every kind of society. The historical sociology deals with the historical variety and actuality of the general forms of society. It falls into two sections-comparative sociology and social dynamics.
Comparative sociology deals mainly with the historical variations of the same phenomenon and tries to find by comparison general features as separated from industrial features. Social dynamics deals with the interrelations between the various social factors and institutions in a certain given society for example in a primitive society.

Ginsberg has summed up the chief functions of sociology as it seeks to provide a classification of types and forms of social relationships especially of those which have come to be defined institutions and associations. It tries to determine the relation between different parts of factors of social life for example the economic and political, the moral and the legal, the intellectual and the social elements. It endeavors to disentangle the fundamental conditions of social change and persistence and to discover sociological principles governing social life.


Thus on the basis of viewpoints of different sociologists we can get a general outline of the scope of sociology. Firstly the analysis of various institutions, associations and social groups which are results of social relationships of individuals should be the concern of sociology. Secondly the links among different parts of society should be studied. This objective is dealt with justice by functionalist school of sociology and Marxist school also gives importance to this viewpoint. Thus social structure should be given adequate importance in subject matter of sociology. Thirdly sociology addresses itself to the factors which contribute to social stability and social change. Fourthly sociology should also explain the trend of the changing pattern and the aftermath of the changes in the society. Contemporary sociology is making an attempt to liberate itself from the bondage of synthetic and general approach. It believes that sociology should liberate itself from bondage of methods and approach. A sociologist should be given freedom to develop a reflexive understanding of reality on the basis of his own choice. Therefore, many sociologists today are developing reflexive understanding about the reality by writing novels, poetry or through art.

Therefore, practicing socio today is bringing discipline closer to other branches of knowledge like history, literature, economics and political science and that is glorification of interdisciplinary in the field of social science.


The relationship between sociology and other subjects have been discussed and debated by various scholars. However, there is a general pattern among the relationships. That I will discuss later. First of all one should know the type of disciplines that were related to sociology

  1. Political science
  2. History
  3. Economics
  4. Psychology
  5. Philosophy
  6. Anthropology 

With regard to first three disciplines, viz a viz  political science, history, economics, the basic flow should be that sociology initially gained substance from these disciplines. The aforesaid disciplines used to study the specific aspect of polity like type of governments, or chronological depiction of historical events in history, or the economics policy in economics.

However, when sociology developed, it induced dynamism in studying these aspects. That is how a special kind of government is impacting the overall social climate and development of the society. It analysed the various events of history and its impact on social development. When history confined to only description of such events.

Similarly, when economics as a discipline emerged, it dealt with the material life, production and material prosperity of human history. However these factors largely influenced the social life of man by making him more utilitarian and rational human being investing his mind and productive labour. This led to prosperity of society and progress of mankind which led to the development to relationship between economics and sociology.

With regard to philosophy, it should be noted that their relationship is very strong. This is because most of early sociologists were philosophers from the kind of society they envisaged. However the methods they adopted and areas they choose were different. Sociology studied society on generalised and abstract level while philosophy went to understanding society in totality. Doing philosophy and pursuing philosophy within the domain of sociology is qualitatively different. When the great philosophers are developing philosophy about the cosmic realities or philosophy in the form of existentialism, Dualism, they are largely driven by abstract orientation. To its contrast, most of social philosophers like Marxism, feminism, post modernism or critical theory, intend to transform the quality of life of people in a big way through philosophical interventions like protest, revolution.

On the same lines, anthropology and sociology can be discussed. Social anthropology and sociology were marked by times of convergence and divergence initially. The methods adopted, areas of interest were quite different. But Malinowski brought the two disciplines together by introducing field study method. This field study method was taken, later, by Radcliff Brown. One can also mention about village study tradition in India and Africa which has brought the two disciplines together.

Psychology and Sociology was brought together mainly by interactional and phenomenological school of thought that include C.H. Cooley, G.H.Mead, Husserl and Schultz and Weber. Every social reality according to them is the creation of human mind and thus one must study the motives behind action.


  1. i got interest after reading your posts on sociology sir

  2. hi, could you tell the sources you are referring to

  3. really helpful sir..........great initiative sir............hungry for more