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You will bear with me that the world today is characterised by high levels of worry, concern and anxiety, for the future and yet full of promises that the future holds. In reality, the world nowadays is known to be characterised by tensions, social divisions, day by day conflicts, international terrorism, assassinations, including the destructive operations of modem technology on the existing natural environment. Despite all these concerns, the people still have the assurance and possibilities of controlling their destiny and ensuring that their lives are shaped for the better, which might have been unachievable to the earlier generations. Why this obvious difference? In what directions will change take in the future? These questions and more are the major focus of Sociology. It is in the interest of Sociology to ensure playing a significant role in these modem times (i.e. understanding why people change from a particular way to another). This is what actually makes the field of Sociology to be much concerned with people’s actions over time.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
define extensively what Sociology is
 explain the origins of Sociology
explain the scope of Sociology
 express the methods used by Sociologist in their study of human. behaviour
demonstrate the practical significance of Sociology
describe social issues that are of interest to Sociology.


3.1 Definition of Sociology

Sociology is like every other social science such as Psychology, Economics, Geography, Political Science, etc., but its approach, assumptions and methods are to some extent different from others.
Sociology is the systematic study of the groups and societies in which people live, how social structures and cultures are created and maintained or changed, and how they affect our behaviour.

As we noted earlier on, Sociology is part of the family of social sciences that includes psychology, anthropology, geography, political science and parts of history. All Social Sciences are concerned with human behaviour. Although they share the same basic subject matter, each Social Science focuses on a different aspect of behaviour, for example, psychologist are most interested in the internal sources of behaviour; sociologist in the external sources of behaviour. Psychologists study the workings of the nervous system and the effects of neurotransmitters, hormones, or stress on individual. Sociologists look at the workings of society and the effects that social class, gender roles, age, new technologies, changing attitude towards reckless behaviour, or political revolutions have on people. Psychologists focus on personality -on the behaviour and attitudes that are characteristics of person regardless of the situations. Sociologist focus on roles -on the behaviour and attitudes that are characteristic of people in a given social position or situation regardless of their individual personalities. Anthropology shares Sociology’s interest in the impact of social structure and culture on behaviour; but anthropologists usually study non-western societies, pre-literate societies, local communities, or small groups. Sociologist, too, study communities and small groups, but they also examine modem industrial societies and large-scale. Economists and political scientists single out particular kinds of social activity; sociologists look at the nature of social action itself and at the manner in which different kinds of activities fit together to create the larger pattern of society.

Sociologists are primarily interested in areas where social structure and culture intersect. One of these is social institutions. Social institutions are established patterns of action and thought that organize important social activities -the family, education, religion, the political and economic systems. These institutions provide ready-made answers to the recurring problems of life; how to make community decisions (the political system), how to produce and distribute goods and services (the economic system), how to arrange house-holds and provide child-care (the family), and so on.


Define sociology and relate it to other social sciences.

3.2 Origin of Sociology

Considering the origins of sociology, one would then have to look at the contributions made by some founding fathers. The contributions of Max Weber, and August Compe shall be considered. 

Max Weber (1864-1920) Max Weber was one of the founding fathers of Sociology whose work has been a great influence on the study of Sociology. In his own contribution, sociology is a science of social action. He made a clear distinction between action and social action.
To him, action has to do with all human behaviour in so far as the actor attaches a subjective meaning to it; but for that of social action, the actor does not only and usually attach a subjective meaning, the action itself must also be seen to take account of the behaviour of others (1968: 1,4).

Emily Durkheim (1858 – 19l7) This is one of the early Sociologists. Emily Durkheim dealt with two types of social solidarity. By ‘Solidarity’, Durkheim meant the moral beliefs and ideas which formed the ‘common-sense’ underlying social life. Mechanical solidarity (characteristic of pre-industrial societies) was said to be based on agreement and identity between people; organic solidarity derived from agreement to tolerate a range of differences, conflict being moderated through a variety of institutional arrangements, such as courts, political parties, etc.


Describe the contributions of Max Weber and Emily Durkheim to Sociology.

3.3 Scope of Sociology

The scope of study of sociology is extremely wide beginning from studying and understanding interactions among individuals up to the scientific analysis of global social processes such as globalisation and information technology; globalisation and sustainable economic development.

3.4 Methods of Sociology

In understanding human behaviour, Sociologists use methods which are mainly scientific in discovering facts about human beings. The major scientific tools usually being used in sociological research are:

  1.  Survey 
  2.  Archival research 
  3. Participant observation 
  4. Surveys 

The survey is a method of systematically collecting data from people about their behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. Subjects for surveys are carefully selected to represent the group of people about whom the investigator intends to draw conclusions. The subjects in a survey can be interviewed in persons, as they were or on the telephone; or they might complete a self-administered paper and pencil or computerised questionnaire. Whatever the mode of data collection, the questions in a survey are carefully constructed to yield the precise information that the investigator is seeking. Usually, surveys require respondents to choose between response alternatives that are supplied by the researchers.

Archival Research The questions and results of some comprehensive national surveys are published so that other researchers, not involved in the study can conduct their own analyses of the data. Results published in this manner are said to be archived, and research using these results are called archival research. Archival research in actual fact, uses existing records, gathered originally for some other purpose, as data. An archival study might examine census figures; birth records; scores on tests administered in schools, clinics or businesses; criminal records; or personal documents such as diaries or letters.

Participant Observation The term “participant observer” was coined by Eduard Linteman (1924), a University of Chicago Sociologist, to refer to individuals who belong to a group and report on that group to investigators. Today, the term is still used, but now it refers to a researcher who interacts with group members for the purpose of studying them. The extent of participants observers’ involvement with their subjects varies from study to study, as do the means they use to gain entry into their subject’s worlds. Researchers may spend extended periods of time with the people they study, sharing many life experiences with them, or the data may be gathered over a relatively short time by means of one or a few intensive interviews. Some investigators have gained access to groups deceptively, by passing themselves off as regular group members. Others identify themselves as researchers from the outset, hoping that those they plan to study will grant them access to information usually reserved for insiders.


Explain the methods of Sociology.

3.5 Practical Significance of Sociology

The practical significance of Sociology is stated below:

  1. It provides more adequate and clearer understanding of social situations. 
  2.  It gives practical implications in terms of assessing the results of policy initiatives. 
  3. It makes possible the promotion of cultural awareness on the different groups in society. 
  4.  It promotes deep self-understanding, etc. 


State the practical significance of Sociology.

3.6 Social Issues in Sociology

There are many social issues that are of great interest to Sociology. Some of these social issues do result into problems, and they are stated below:

  1. Rape 
  2.  Armed Robbery, Assassination 
  3. AIDS/HIV 
  4. Terrorism 
  5. Prostitution 
  6. War 
  7. Conflicts 
  8.  Area boys’ syndrome, etc. 


It is essential to note that Sociology developed as a result of attempts to understand the far-reaching changes that took place in human societies which followed the growth of industries and large cities. You should now know that the distinctive feature of Sociology is its focus on how Society influences human behaviour and vice-versa. Some Sociologists study human behaviour in relation a more general behaviour (why do fishing communities worship gods of the sea?), crime (why do some young people steal from shops?), and family problems (are all modem societies associated with the breakdown of the pattern of large families?). Others are interested in human behaviour of a more specific nature such as the response of audiences at pop song concerts, or queuing for buses or the shopping behaviour of people of a particular income group.


In this unit, we have dealt with the definition of Sociology, its origins, scope, uses, methods and some of the social issues Sociologists are interested in.


What do you understand by the term “Sociology” and what is the relationship to other social sciences?

2(a) Describe the scope of Sociology.

  1.  Explain the methods of Sociology. 
  2. Describe the practical significance of Sociology. 


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