What Is the Nature and Scope of Sociology?

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Sociology is the study of human society, including its origins, development, functioning and organization. Considered the youngest of the sciences, the term “sociology” was coined in 1838 by Auguste Comte. A philosopher and scientist by training, Comte believed that sociology should be based on observation and classification rather than speculation and authority. There are two schools of study in the discipline, the formal and the synthetic (from synthesis).

Followers of the formal school believed in restricting the scope of their work to factors that could be clearly defined. George Simmel believed social interactions take various forms, such as cooperative, competitive and subordinate relationships. Other members of the formal school argued that relationship types and their sub-categories represented about 650 forms of human interaction. One famous member of the formal school, Max Weber, believed that sociology should concern itself with political systems as manifestations of social behavior.

Followers of the synthetic school favored a blend, or synthesis, of various areas of study. The three principal divisions of the synthetic school were social morphology, which was concerned with population size, density and distribution; social structure of groups and institutions; and social physiology, which analyzes institutions such as religion, law and economics. Karl Mannheim, a leader of the synthetic school, worked on the issues of leadership and consensus in modern societies.