Modernity and Social Changes in Europe and Emergence of Sociology | Sociology for CUET by Vikash Ranjan | Sociology Guru

Modernity and Social Changes in Europe and Emergence of Sociology

(Relevant for Sociology optional for UPSC CSE)
Paper-1 ,Unit-1 : Modernity and Social Changes in Europe and Emergence of Sociology

Modernity and Social Changes in Europe and Emergence of Sociology

Modernity And Modernization

Modernity is associated with the sweeping changes that took place in the society-particularly social, economic and cultural changes.

Modernity involves values and norms that are universal in nature. This is the outcome of the Process of ModernizationIt represents substantial break with traditional society.

Modernization is an idea before it is a process. As it is an idea, there is no agreement among social scientists on its meaning and interpretation. The concept of modernization emerged as an explanation of how Western countries/ societies developed through enlightenment, industrialisation and capitalism.

According to this approach, modernization depends primarily on introduction of technology and the
knowledge required making use of it
. Besides, several social and political prerequisites have been identified to make modernization possible. Some of these prerequisites are:

  1. Inventions and Discoveries & Innovation.
  2. Industrialization and urbanization.
  3. Capitalism
  4. Free Market
  5. Optimism
  6. The search for absolute knowledge in science, technology, society and politics.
  7. The idea that gaining knowledge of the true self was the only foundation for all other knowledge.
  8. Rationality.
  9. Increased levels of education.
  10. Development of mass media.
  11. Accessible transport and communication.
  12. Democratic political institutions.
  13. More urban and mobile population.
  14. Nuclear family in place of extended family.
  15. Complex division of labour.
  16. Declining public influence of religion, and;
  17. Developed markets for exchange of goods and services in place of traditional ways of meeting such needs.

Modernization is, thus, supposed to be the result of the presence of these prerequisites in the social system.

Thinkers on Modernity

  1. Karl Marx’s concern with modernity was in terms of production relations. It was the objective of the capitalist class to increase its production. More production means more profit. Capitalism, for him, was ultimately profiteering. Marx, therefore, argued that for capitalism everything is a commodity. Dance, drama, literature, religion, in fact, everything in society is a commodity. It is manufactured and sold in the market.
  2. Max Weber scans a huge literature on domination, religion and other wider areas of life and comes to the conclusion that rationality is the pervading theme, which characterises human actions. He has, therefore, defined modernity as rationality. For him, in one word, modernity is synonymous with rationality.
  3. Emile Durkheim had a very intimate encounter with industrialization and urbanization. He was scared of the impact of modernization. His studies of modern society brought out very interesting and exciting data. He was a functionalist. He very strongly believed in the cohesion of society. For him, society is above everything else. It is par excellence. It is God. Despite all this, society is never static.
  4. Ferdinand Tonnies  characterized key characteristics of simple and modern societies with the German words Gemeinschaft and  Gesellschaft. Gemeinschaft means human community, and Tonnies said that a sense of community characterizes simple societies, where  family , kin, and community ties are quite strong. As societies grew and industrialized and as people moved to cities, Tonnies said, social ties weakened and became more impersonal. Tonnies called this situation a  Gesellschaft  and found it dismaying.
  5. George Simmel is seen as investigating modernity primarily in two major interrelated sites: the city and the money economy. The city is where modernity is concentrated or intensified, whereas the money economy involves the diffusion of modernity, its extension. Thus, for Simmel, modernity consists of city life and the diffusion of money.

Modernity and Social Changes In Europe

The Emergence of Sociology as a scientific Discipline is traced to the period of European History characterised by tremendous Social, Political, Economic and Cultural changes. These changes were result of Modernity embodied in French revolution and Industrial Revolution influenced by Commercial Revolution and Scientific Revolution. Modernity received ideological content from these revolutions. These revolutions came up with ideology of profiteeringmass production-new markets, desire for building capital empires in other countries and industrialism-development of technology, rationality, capitalism and progress. This period of Modernity and change in European society is known as enlightenment period. It embodies the spirit of new awakening in the French philosophers of the Eighteenth century.

The Enlightenment Period

  1. The roots of the ideas developed by the early sociologists are grounded in the social conditions that prevailed in Europe. The emergence of sociology as a scientific discipline can be traced to that period of European history, which saw such tremendous social, political and economic changes as embodied in the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution.
  2. The Enlightenment Period marked a radical change from the traditional thinking of feudal Europe. It introduced the new way of thinking and looking at reality. Individuals started questioning each and every aspect of life and nothing was considered sacrosanct – from the church to the state to the authority of the monarch and so on.
  3. The roots of the ideas, such as the belief that both nature and society can be studied scientifically, that human beings are essentially rational and that a society built on rational principles will make human beings realise their infinite potentials, can be traced in the development of science and commerce in Europe. The new outlook developed as a result of the commercial revolution and the scientific revolution and crystallized during the French and the industrial revolutions gave birth to sociology as a discipline.
  4. Old Europe was traditional. Land was central to its economic system. There were owners of land, the feudal lords and the peasants who worked on the lands. The classes were distinct and clearly demarcated. Religion formed the corner stone of society. The religious heads decided what was moral, what was not. Family and kinship were central to the lives of the people. Monarchy was firmly rooted in society. The king was believed to be divinely ordained to rule over his people.
  5. The new Europe ushered in by the two Revolutions, the French and the industrial, challenged each and every central feature of old Europe Classes.

The Commercial Revolution and Modernity and Social Changes In Europe

  1. The “Commercial Revolution” refers to a series of events between 1450 to approximately 1800. These events signaled to a shift from the largely subsistence and stagnant economy of medieval Europe to a more dynamic and worldwide system.
  2. The Commercial Revolution in this sense, signified the expansion of trade and commerce that took place from the fifteenth century onwards. It was of such a large scale and organised manner that we call it a Revolution. This expansion was as a result of the initiative taken by certain European countries to develop and consolidate their economic and political power. These countries were Portugal, Spain, Holland and England.
  3. Europe’s trade with the Oriental or Eastern countries like India and China was transacted by land routes. The northern Italian cities of Venice and Genoa were the major centers of trade. The result of the Italian monopoly was that the prices of goods like spices and silks imported from the East were extremely high. Portugal and Spain therefore, wanted to discover a route to the Orient that would be independent of Italian control.
  4. Thus began a shift from land routes to sea-routes. The Portuguese were the pioneers in adventurous navigation and exploration, you probably know of the historic voyage of Vasco da Gama who, in 1498 landed on the Indian coast after having sailed around the southern tip of Africa. Christopher Columbus, an Italian under the patronage of the Spanish King and Queen, set sail for India. However, he landed on the shores of North America. This accidental discovery of America was to prove very beneficial to Spain. It laid the foundations of what was to become a Spanish empire in America. Britain, France and Holland soon followed Spain and Portugal. The parts of India and Africa, Malacca, the Spice Islands, West Indies and South America came under the economic control of Spain, Portugal, England, France and Holland. Commerce expanded into a world enterprise. The monopoly of the Italian cities was destroyed.
  5. European markets were flooded with new commodities; spices and textiles from the east, tobacco from north America, cocoa, chocolate and quinine from south America, ivory and, above all, human slaves from Africa. With the discovery of the Americas, the range of trade widened. Formerly, the items sought for were spices and cloth, later, gold and silver were added to the list. As the Commercial Revolution progressed, the position of Portugal and Spain declined. England, Holland and France came to dominate Europe and the world.
  6. Expansion of banking: One of the important features of the Commercial Revolution was the growth of banking. Credit facilities were expanded, making it easy for merchants all over Europe to do business. The “cheque” was invented in the eighteenth century. Paper money came to replace gold and silver coins.
  7. Growth of companies: As trade and commerce expanded, new kinds of business organizations had to be devised to cope with this growth. “Regulated companies” arose in the 16th century. These were associations of merchants who bonded together to cooperate for a common venture. “Joint-stock” companies emerged in the 17th century. In this set-up, shares of capital were distributed to a large number of investors. Some of these were also “chartered companies”, their governments gave them a charter or a contract which guaranteed them a monopoly of the trade in a particular region. Examples of these companies include the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company.
  8. Rise of a new class: As hinted at earlier in this section, one of the most distinctive characteristics of this period was the rise of the middle class to economic power. By the end of the 17th century, the middle class had become an influential group in nearly every western European country. It included merchants, bankers, ship-owners and investors. Their power, at this stage, was mainly economic. But later in the unit, we shall see how they became politically powerful in the 19th century.

Strengthening of monarchy: This period saw the strengthening of monarchy, The decline of the church and the rise of the middle class. It marked the beginning of the process of “Europeanisation”, which was to reach a peak with colonialism.

The Scientific Revolution and Modernity and Social Changes In Europe

  1. Europe produced a “scientific revolution” in the Renaissance period of fourteenth to sixteenth century A.D. The impact of the scientific revolution was crucial not just in changing material life, but also people’s ideas about Nature and Society.
  2. Science does not develop independent of society, rather, it develops in response to human needs e.g. various vaccines were not developed just out of the blue, but out of the necessity to cure diseases.
  3. Apart from influencing the physical or material life of society, science is intimately connected with ideas. The general intellectual atmosphere existing in society influences the development of science. Similarly, New developments in science can change the attitudes and beliefs in other areas as well. It is important to keep this fact in mind.
  4. The emergence of sociology in Europe owes a great deal to the ideas and discoveries contributed by science

Science in the Medieval Period & The Renaissance period:

  1. Medieval society was characterized by the feudal system. The Church was the epicenter of power authority and learning. Learning was mostly of the religious variety. Nothing could challenge the ‘dogmas’ or rigid beliefs of the Church. New, daring ideas could not flower in such an atmosphere. Thus the development of science was restricted mainly to improvements in techniques of production.
  2. The ‘renaissance’ period saw the beginning of the ‘Scientific Revolution’. It marked an area of description and criticism in the field of science. It was a clear break from the past, a challenge to old authority.
  3. Art, literature and science all flourished. A scientific approach to Nature and the human body became prevalent. We can see this in the paintings of that period, which explored the smallest details of Nature and the human body. In the field of Medicine, dissection the human body became acceptable. Doctors and physiologists directly observed how the human body was constructed. The fields of anatomy, physiology and pathology thus benefited greatly. In the field of chemistry, a general theory of chemistry was developed. Chemical processes like oxidation, reduction, distillation, amalgamation etc. were studied. In the field of navigation and astronomy, Vasco da Gama reached the Indian shores in 1498, Columbus discovered America in 1492. Remember, this was the era of expansion of trade and the beginnings of colonialism. A strong interest in astronomy, important for successful navigation also grew.
  4. The first major break from the entire system of ancient thought came with the work of the Dutchman, Nicholas Copernicus. It was generally believed that the earth was fixed or stationary and the sun and other heavenly bodies moved around it. (This is known as a ‘geocentric’ theory.) Copernicus however thought otherwise. With the help of detailed explanations, he demonstrated that the earth moved around a fixed sun. (This is a ‘heliocentric’ theory.) The work of Copernicus is considered revolutionary because it drastically altered patterns of thought about the universe. Human being was not at the center of the universe, but a small part of a vast system.
  5. In a nutshell, science in the Renaissance period was marked by a new attitude towards man and nature. Natural objects became the subject of close observation and experiment. The Copernican revolution shattered the very foundations on which the old world rested.
  6. Other Post-Renaissance Developments: The work of physicists and mathematicians like Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and subsequently, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) revolutionized science. It brought to the forefront THE EXPERIMENTAL METHOD. Old ideas were challenged and alternatives were suggested. If these alternative ideas could be proved and repeatedly verified and checked out, they were accepted. If not, new solutions were sought.Scientific methods thus came to be regarded as the most accurate, the most objective. (The use of the ‘scientific method’ to study society was recommended by pioneer sociologists).
  7. Dissection of the human body helped people gain a better understanding of its working. Circulation of blood was discovered by William Harvey (1578-1657). This led to a lot of rethinking. The human organism came to be viewed in terms of interrelated parts and interconnected systems. This had its impact on social thought of Comte, Spencer, Durkheim, to name a few.
  8. The British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published the Origin of Species in 1859. It was based on the observations made whilst traveling for five years all over the world. Darwin put forward the theory that various living organisms compete for the limited resources the earth has to offer. Thus “survival of the fittest” is the natural law. Some species evolve or develop certain traits, which make their survival possible, other species die out. Darwin studied ‘human evolution’, tracing it in his work, Descent of Man (1863). He traced the origins of the human species to some ape-like ancestors, which, over the centuries, evolved into modern human beings.
  9. This book created an uproar. It was believed that ‘God’ made humans “in his own image” and conservatives were not willing to accept that they were descended from the monkey. Darwin’s evolutionary theory did, however, gain wide acceptance. It was applied to the social world by evolutionary’ thinkers, notably Herbert Spencer. Not just organisms, but societies were seen as constantly ‘evolving’ or developing from a lower to a higher stage.

The French Revolution and Modernity and Social Changes In Europe

The French Revolution, which erupted in 1789 marked a turning point in the history of human struggle for freedom and equality. It put an end to the age of feudalism and ushered in a new order of society. This revolution brought about far reaching changes in not only French society but in societies throughout Europe. Even countries in other continents such as, India, were influenced by the ideas generated during this revolution. Ideas like liberty, fraternity and equality, which now form a part of the preamble to the Constitution of India, owe their origin to the French Revolution.

Social Aspect of French Society: Division into Feudal Estates: The French society was divided into feudal ‘estates’. The structure of the feudal French society comprised the ‘Three Estates’. Estates are defined as a system of stratification found in feudal European societies whereby one section or estate is distinguished from the other in terms of status, privileges and restrictions accorded to that estate.

  • The First Estate consisted of the clergy, which was stratified into higher clergy, such as the cardinal, the archbishops, the bishops and the abbots. They lived a life of luxury and gave very little attention to religion. In fact, some of them preferred the life of politics to religion. They spent much of their time in wasteful activities like drinking, gambling, etc. In comparison to the higher clergy, the lower parish priests were over worked and poverty-stricken.
  • The Second Estate consisted of the nobility. There were two kinds of nobles, the nobles of the sword and the nobles of the robe. The nobles of the sword were big landlords. They were the protectors of the people in principle but in reality they led a life of a parasite, living off the hard work of the peasants. They led the life of pomp and show and were nothing more than ‘high born wastrels’; that is, they spent extravagantly and did not work themselves. They can be compared to the erstwhile zamindars in India. The nobles of the robe were nobles not by birth by title. They were the magistrates and judges. Among these nobles, some were very progressive and liberal as they had moved in their positions from common citizens who belonged to the third estate.
  • The Third Estate comprised the rest of the society and included the peasants, the merchants, the artisans, and others. There was a vast difference between the condition of the peasants and that of the clergy and the nobility. The peasants worked day and night but were overloaded with so many taxes that they lived a hand to mouth existence. They produced the food on which the whole society depended. Yet they could barely survive due to failure of any kind of protection from the government. The King, in order to maintain the good will of the other two estates, the clergy and the nobility, continued to exploit the poor. The poor peasants had no power against him. While the clergy and the nobility kept on pampering and flattering the King.

As compared to the peasants, the condition of the middle classes, also known as the bourgeoisie comparising the merchants, bankers, lawyers, manufacturers, etc. was much better. These classes too belonged to the third estate. But the poverty of the state, which led to a price rise during 1720-1789, instead of adversely affecting them, helped them. They derived profit from this rise and the fact that French trade had improved enormously also helped the commercial classes to a great extent. Thus, this class was rich and secure. But it had no social prestige as compared with the high prestige of the members of the first and the second estates. In spite of controlling trade, industries, banking etc. the bourgeoisie had no power to influence the court or administration. The other two estates looked them down upon and the King paid very little attention to them. Thus, gaining political power became a necessity for them.

The clergy and the nobility both constituted only two per cent of the population but they owned about 35 percent of the land. The peasants who formed 80 per cent of the population owned only 30 per cent of the land. The first two estates paid almost no taxes to the government. The peasantry, on the other hand, was burdened with taxes of various kinds. It paid taxes to the Church, the feudal lord, taxed in the form of income tax, poll tax, and land tax to the state. Thus, the peasants had become much burdened and poverty stricken at this time. They were virtually carrying the burden of the first two estates on their shoulders. On top of it all the prices had generally risen by about 65 per cent during the period, 1720-1789.

The political aspects of the French society: Like in all absolute monarchies, the theory of the Divine Right of King was followed in France too. For about 200 years the Kings of the Bourbon dynasty ruled France. Under the rule of the King, the ordinary people had no personal rights. They only served the King and his nobles in various capacities. The King’s word was law and no trials were required to arrest a person on the King’s orders. Laws too were different in different regions giving rise to confusion and arbitrariness. There was no distinction between the income of the state and the income of the King.

The economic aspects of the French society: The kings of France, from Louis XIV onwards, fought costly wars, which ruined the country, and when Louis XIV died in 1715, France had become bankrupt. Louis XV instead of recovering from this ruin kept on borrowing money from bankers. His famous sentence, “After me the deluge” describes the kind of financial crisis that France was facing. Louis XVI, a very weak and ineffective king, inherited the ruin of a bankrupt government. His wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, known for her expensive habits, is famous for her reply, which she gave to the poor, hungry people of France who came to her asking for bread. She told the people that, ‘if you don’t have bread, eat cake’.

Evolution of Modern Sociological Thought

Intellectual developments in France:

France, like some other European countries during the eighteenth century, had entered the age of reason and rationalism. Some of the major philosophers, whose ideas influenced the French people, were rationalists who believed that all true things could be proved by reason. Some of these thinkers were, Montesquieu (1689-1755), Locke (1632-1704), Voltaire (1694-1778), and Rousseau (1712-1778).

Montesquieu in his book, the spirit of the law, held that there should not be concentration of authority, such as executive, legislative, and juridical, at one place. He believed in the theory of the separation of powers and the liberty of the individual. Locke, an Englishman, advocated that every individual has certain rights, which cannot be taken by any authority. These rights were

  1. Right to live,
  2. Right to property, and
  3. The right to personal freedom.

He also believed that any ruler who took away these rights from his people should be removed from the seat of power and replaced by another ruler who is able to protect these rights.

Voltaire, a French philosopher advocated religious toleration and freedom of speech. He also stood for the rights of individuals, for freedom of speech and expression. Rousseau wrote in his book, The Social Contract, that the people of a country have the right to choose their sovereign. He believed that people can develop their personalities best only under a government which is of their own choice.

The major ideas of these and several other intellectuals struck the imagination of the French people. Also some of them who had served in the French army, which was sent to assist the Americans in their War of Independence from British imperialism, came back with the ideas of equality of individuals and their right to choose their own government. The French middle class was deeply affected by these ideas of liberty and equality.

Major changes after French revolution: French Revolution changed the political structure of European society and replaced the age of feudalism by heralding the arrival of democracy. There were many significant themes, which arose due to the impact of this Revolution, which have been the focus of interest of the early sociologists. These significant themes included the transformation of property, the social disorder, caused by the change in the political structure and its impact on the economic structure. A new class of power holders emerged – the bourgeoisie. In order to understand more about these themes, we need to learn the details of the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution and Modernity and Social Changes In Europe

  1. The Industrial Revolution began around 1760 A.D. in England. It brought about great changes in the social and economic life of the people first in England, then in the other countries of Europe and later in other continents. In Europe, especially England, the discovery of new territories, explorations, growth of trade and commerce and the consequent growth of towns brought about an increase in demand for goods. Earlier goods (i.e. consumer items like cloth, etc.) were produced at domestic levels. This means that there existed a domestic system of production. With increased demand, goods were to be produced on a large-scale.
  2. During Industrial Revolution, new tools and techniques were invented, which could produce goods on a largescale. During 1760-1830 A.D., a series of inventions in tools and techniques and organization of production took place and it gave rise to the factory system of production. Thus, a change in economy from feudal to capitalist system of production developed. Subsequently, there emerged a class of capitalists, which controlled the new system of production. Due to this revolution society moved from the old age of hand-made goods to the new age of machine- made goods. This shift heralded the emergence of Industrial Revolution.
  3. One of the significant mechanical inventions, which led to a quicker and better method of production in various industries, was the Spinning Jenny, invented in 1767 by James Hargreaves, an English weaver. It was a simple machine rectangular in shape. It had a series of spindles, which cold be turned by a single wheel. In 1769, Arkwright, an English barber, invented another tool, which was named after the name of its inventor and called Arkwright’s Water Fame. This Water Frame was so large that it could not be kept in one’s home and a special building was required to set it up. Thus on account of this it is said that he was responsible for introducing the factory system. Another invention called “the Mule” was by Samuel Crompton in 1779 in England. There were several other inventions, which all contributed to the industrial growth of European society.
  4. With the change in the economy of society several social changes followed. As CAPITALISM became more and more complex, The developments of banks, insurance companies, and finance corporations took place. New class of industrial workers, managers, capitalists emerged. The peasants in the new industrial society found themselves with thousands of other people like themselves, winding cotton in a textile mill. Instead of the famous countryside they found themselves in unhygienic living conditions.
  5. With the increase in production, population started increasing. Rise of population led to the increased rate of urbanisation. The industrial cities grew rapidly. In the industrial cities socio-economic disparities were very wide. The factory workers were involved in repetitive and boring work, the result of which they could not enjoy. In Marxist terms the worker became alienated from the product of his/ her labour. City life in the industrial society became an altogether a different way of life.
  6. These changes moved both conservative and radical thinkers. The conservatives feared that such conditions would lead to chaos and disorder. The radicals like Engels felt that the factory workers would initiate social transformation. Though the judgement of values differed, social thinkers of the time were agreed upon the epoch-making impact of the Industrial Revolution. They also agreed upon The importance of the new working class. The history of the period from 1811 to 1850 further indicates that this class increasingly agitated for their rights.

The significant themes of the Industrial Revolution, which concerned the early sociologists, were as given below.

  1. The condition of labour: A new population earning their livelihood by working in the factories arose. In the early years this working class lived in poverty and squalor. They were socially deprived. At the same time they were indispensable in the new industrial system. This made them a powerful social force. Sociologists recognized that the poverty of this class of workers is not natural poverty but social poverty. Thus the working class became during the nineteenth century the subject of both moral and analytical concern.
  2. The transformation of property: The traditional emphasis on land lost its value while money or capital became important during the Industrial Revolution. The investment in new industrial system came to be recognised. The feudal landlords became less significant while the new capitalists gained power. Many of these new capitalists were the erstwhile landlords. Property was one of the central issues that were raised in the French Revolution too. Its influence on the social order is considerable. Property is related to economic privileges, social status and political power. A change in the property system involves a change in the fundamental character of society. Sociologists have grappled with the question of property and its impact on social stratification since the days of Marx, Tocqueville, Taine and Weber.
  3. The industrial city, i.e. urbanism: Urbanization was a necessary corollary of the Industrial Revolution. Industries grew and along with it grew great cluster of populations, the modern towns and cities. Cities were present in ancient period too, such as Rome, Athens, etc. but the new cities, such as Manchester in England, famous for its textile, were different in nature. Ancient cities were known as repositories of civilised graces and virtues while the new cities were known as repositories of misery and inhumanity. It was these aspects of the new cities, which concerned the early sociologists.
  4. Technology and the factory system: Technology and the factory system has been the subject of countless writings in the nineteenth century. Both the conservative and radical thinkers realised that the two systems would alter human life for all times to come.
  5. Rural –urban migration: The impact of technology and factory system led to large-scale migration of people to the cities.
  6. Family relations: Women and children joined the work force in the factories. Family structure and interactional relations changed.
  7. Occupational relation: The siren of the factory seemed to rule peoples’ life. The machine rather than man seemed to dominate work. As mentioned earlier the relation between the labourers and the products of their labour changed. They worked for their wages. The product was the child of everybody and of the machine in particular. The owner of the factory owned it. Life and work became depersonalised. Marx saw a form of enslavement in the machine and a manifestation of alienation of labour. Social scientists, felt that men and women had grown mechanical in heart, as well as in hand due to the industrial system of production.

Change In Intelectual Orientation In Europe

Sociology emerged as a response to the forces of change, which took place during eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe. The ideas, which are discussed again and again in early sociological writings, are thus essentially ideas of that period.

The thinkers of the Enlightenment of eighteenth century affected much of the early sociology. The Enlightenment appears as the most appropriate point of departure in the study of the origins of sociological theory, for various reasons including those mentioned below.

  1. A scientific approach to the study of society dates back to the tradition of Enlightenment. The eighteenth century thinkers began more consistently than any of their predecessors to study the human conditions in a scientific way using the methods of the natural sciences. They consciously applied scientific principles of analysis to the study of human beings and their nature and society.
  2. The eighteenth century thinkers upheld reason as a measure to judge social institutions and their suitability for human nature. Human beings, according to them, are essentially rational and this rationality can lead them to freedom of thought and action.
  3. The eighteenth century thinkers believed that human beings are capable of attaining perfection. By criticising and changing social institutions they can create for themselves even greater degrees of freedom, which, in turn would enable them increasingly to actualise the potentially creative powers.
  4. In the early part of the nineteenth century the philosophy of history became an important intellectual influence. The basic assumption of this philosophy was that society must have progressed through a series of steps from a simple to complex stage. We may briefly assess the contributions of the philosophy of history to sociology as having been, on the philosophical side, the notions of development and progress. On the scientific side, it has given the concepts of historical periods and social types. The social thinkers who developed the philosophy of history such as Abbe Saint Pierre, and Giambattista, were concerned with the whole of society and not merely the political, or the economic, or the cultural aspects. Later the contributions of Comte, Spencer, Marx and many others reflected the impact of the loss of this intellectual trend in their sociological writings.
  5. The influence of the philosophy of history was further reinforced by the biological theory of evolution. Sociology moved towards an evolutionary approach, seeking to identify and account for the principal stages in social evolution. It tended to be modeled on biology, as is evident from the widely diffused conception of society as an organism, and from the attempts to formulate general terms of social evolution. Herbert Spencer and Durkheim are good example of this kind of writing.
  6. Social survey forms an important element in modern sociology. It emerged due to two reasons, one was the growing conviction that the methods of the natural sciences should and could be extended to the study of human affairs; that human phenomenon could be classified and measured. The other was the concern with poverty (‘the social problem’), following the recognition that poverty was not natural but social. The social survey is one of the principal methods of sociological inquiry. The basic assumption, which underlines this method, is that through the knowledge of the social conditions one can arrive at solutions to solve the social problems prevalent in society.

These extensive changes brought about by above mentioned factors involved, moreover, a major paradox.

  • These changes brought a new society with great productive potential and more sophisticated and complex ways of living.
  • While, at the same time generatated extensive disruptions in traditional patterns of life and relationships as well as creating new problems of overcrowded and unpleasant urban conditions, poverty and unemployment. Sociology as a distinct discipline emerged against the background of these intellectual and material changes in the second half of the nineteenth century. In Other words to understand the complexity brought by modernity, and to formulate rules for better society early sociologists stressed the adoption of a scientific method of Investigation to the Society.

Early European Sociologist:

Auguste Comte [1798 – 1857)
  1. Auguste Comte, the French Philosopher, is traditionally considered the “Father of Sociology”. Comte who invented the term “Sociology” was the first man to distinguish the subject-matter of sociology from all the other sciences. He worked out in a series of books, a general approach to the study of society. Comte is regarded as the “Father of sociology” not because of any significant contributions to the science as such, but because of the great influence he had upon it.
  2. Comte introduced the word “sociology” for the first time in his famous work “Positive Philosophy” at about 1839. The term “Sociology” is derived from the Latin word Socius, meaning companion or associate, and the Greek word logos, meaning study or science. Thus, the etymological meaning of sociology is the science of society. He defined sociology as the science of social phenomena “subject to natural and invariable laws, the discovery of which is the object investigation.”
  3. Comte devoted his main efforts to an inquiry into the nature of human knowledge and tried to classify all knowledge and to analyse the methods of achieving it. He concentrated his efforts to determine the nature of human society and the laws and principles underlying its growth and development. He also laboured to establish the methods to be employed in studying social phenomena.
  4. Comte believed that the sciences follow one another in a definite and logical order and that all inquiry goes through certain stages (namely, the theological, the metaphysical and the ‘positive or scientific or empirical). Finally, they arrive at the last or scientific stage or as he called the positive stage. In the positive stage, objective observation is substituted for speculation. Social phenomena like physical phenomena, he maintained, can be studied objectively by making use of the positive method. He thought that it was time for inquiries into social problems and social phenomena to enter into this last stage. So, he recommended that the study of society be called the science of society. i.e. ‘sociology ‘.
  5. Comte proposed sociology to be studied in two main parts: the social statics and the social dynamics. These two concepts represent a basic division in the subject-matter of sociology. The ‘social statics’ deals with the major institutions of society such as family, economy or polity. Sociology is conceived of as the study of interrelations between such institutions. In the words of Comte, “the statistical study of sociology consists, the investigations of laws of action and reaction of different parts of the social system”. He argued that the parts of a society cannot be studied separately, “as if they had an independent existence”.
  6. ‘Social dynamic’s focuses on whole societies as the unit of analysis and reveals how they developed and changed through time. “We must remember that the laws of social dynamics are most recognisable when they relate to the largest societies”, he said. Comte was convinced that all societies moved through certain fixed stages of development and that progressed towards ever increasing perfection. He felt that the comparative study of societies as “wholes” was major subject for sociological analysis.
Contributions of Comte to the Development of Sociology as a Science:
  1. Comte gave to ‘sociology’ its name and laid its foundation so that it could develop into an independent and a separate science.
  2. Comte’s insistence on ‘positive approach, objectivity and scientific attitude’ contributed to the progress of social sciences in general.
  3. Comte, through his “Law of Three Stages” clearly established the close association between ‘intellectual evolution and social progress’.
  4. Comte’s ‘classification of sciences’ drives home the fact that ‘sociology depends heavily on the achievements of other sciences’. The ‘interdisciplinary approach’ of the modern times is in tune with the Cometian view.
  5. Comte gave maximum ‘importance to the scientific method’· He criticized the attitude of the armchair social philosophers and stressed the need to follow the method of science.
  6. Comte divided the study of sociology into two broad areas: ‘social statics” and “social dynamics”. Present day sociologists have retained them in the form of ‘social structure and function’ and ‘social change and progress’.
  7. Comte had argued that sociology was not just a “pure” science, but an ‘applied’ science also. He believed that sociology should help to solve the problems of society. This insistence on the practical aspect of sociology led to the development of various applied fields of sociology such as “social work“, “social welfare”, etc.
  8. Comte also contributed to the development of theoretical sociology.
  9. Comte upheld the’ moral order’ in the society. The importance which he: attached to morality highly impressed, the later writers such, as Arnold Toynbee and Pitrim A. Sorokin.
  10. Comte’s famous books ‘Positive Philosophy’ and, “Positive Polity” are memorable contributions to the development of sociological literature.
Harriet Martineau (1802–1876):
  1. Harriet Martineau grew up in England. In 1853, she translated Comte’s six-volume Positive Philosophy into English and condensed it into two volumes, thus introducing sociology to England. Martineau made her own contribution to sociology with Society in America, one of the first and most thorough sociological treatises on American social life and one of the first to compare the system of social stratification in Europe to that in America. She took sociology from the realm of ideas to the arena of practice in How to Observe Manners and Morals, published in 1838 and one of the first books to focus on sociological research methods.
  2. Although Martineau introduced sociology to England, it was Herbert Spencer’s controversial application of sociology that gained attention and support from wealthy industrialists and government officials in England and throughout Europe.
Herbert Spencer [1820 – 1903]
  1. Observing the negative aspects of the Industrial Revolution in England—the struggle, competition, and violence—Herbert Spencer developed a theoretical approach to understanding society that relied on evolutionary doctrine.
  2. To explain both social structure and social changes, he used an organic analogy that compared society to a living organism made up of interdependent parts— ideas that ultimately contributed to the structural functionalist perspective in sociology. Using the phrase “survival of the fittest” even before Charles Darwin’s landmark On the Origin of Species ([1859] 1964) was published, Spencer’s social Darwinism concluded that the evolution of society and the survival of those within it were directly linked to their ability to adapt to changing conditions.
  3. According to Spencer, a free and competitive marketplace without governmental interference was essential so that the best and the brightest would succeed and, in turn, help build a stronger economy and society.
  4. Spencer opposed welfare or any other means of helping the weak or the poor, believing that such efforts would weaken society in the long term by helping the “unfit” to survive. These ideas appealed to wealthy industrialists and government officials, who used Spencer’s theory to scientifically support policies and practices that helped them maintain their wealth, power, and prestige at the expense of those less fortunate.
  5. His three volumes of “Principles of Sociology”, published in 1877 were the first systematic study devoted mainly to the sociological analysis. He was much more precise than Comte in specifying the topics or special fields of sociology.
  6. According to Spencer, the fields of sociology are: the family, politics, religion, social control and industry or work. He also mentioned the sociological study of as associations, communities, the division of labour, social differentiation, and stratification, the sociology of knowledge and of science, and the study of arts and aesthetics.
  7. Spencer stressed the obligation of sociology to deal with the inter-relations between the different elements of society, to give an account of how the parts influence the whole and are in turn reacted upon. He insisted that sociology should take the whole society as its unit for analysis. He maintained that the parts of society were not arranged unsystematically. The parts bore some constant relation and this made society as such a meaningful ‘entity’, a fit subject for scientific inquiry.
KARL MARX (1818 – 1883)
  1. Marx was trained in history, economics, and philosophy, but his ideas reflect sociological thinking. Observing the same social conditions as Spencer, he drew very different conclusions about their origins. Marx declared that the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and other limited resources in society was not the result of “natural laws,” but was caused by social forces—specifically, the exploitation of one social class by another. He insisted that social structure and the political and economic institutions that people took for granted were not the result of natural evolution or social consensus but reflected the opposed interests of different social Classes.
  2. Marx believed that society consisted of two basic social classes: the “haves” and the “have-nots.” According to Marx’s viewpoint, the bourgeoisie (haves), the powerful ruling class, had assumed power not because they were the “fittest,” but because they owned and controlled the means of production. He believed the bourgeoisie used deception, fraud, and violence to usurp the production of the proletariat (have-nots), or working class, whose labor created most of society’s goods—and hence, its profits.
  3. Marx was not a detached social observer but an outspoken social critic. He concluded that a slow, natural evolutionary process would not bring about necessary social changes. Rather, his analysis called for a major social revolution in which the proletariat would rise up, forcibly overthrow the bourgeoisie, and form a new, classless society.
  4. In such a society, Marx wrote, everyone would contribute according to his or her abilities and receive from society based on need. Marx’s focus on social conflict was unsettling to many—especially those whom he described as the bourgeoisie. They were relieved when Émile Durkheim’s more palatable social analysis emerged and shifted the focus of sociology back to a more conservative approach called functionalism.
Emile Durkheim(1858-1917)
  1. Unlike Marx, who focused on social conflict, French sociologist Émile Durkheim was primarily concerned with social order. He believed that social solidarity, or the social bonds developed by individuals to their society, created social order. Durkheim believed that social solidarity could be categorized into two types: mechanical solidarity, the type found in simple rural societies based on tradition and unity, and organic solidarity, which was found in urban societies and was based more on a complex division of labor and formal organizations.
  2. One of Durkheim’s most important contributions to sociology was his study Suicide ([1897] 1951), which demonstrated that abstract sociological theories can be applied to a very real social problem. More important, it showed that suicide, believed to be a private, individualized, and personal act, can best be explained from a sociological viewpoint.
  3. By looking at suicide rates instead of individual suicides, Durkheim linked suicide to social integration—the extent to which individuals feel they are a meaningful part of society. Those with the strongest social bonds are less likely to commit suicide than those who are less meaningfully integrated and have weaker social bonds. For example, his data demonstrated that married people had lower suicide rates than those who were single or divorced; people in the workforce had lower rates than those who were unemployed; and church members had lower rates than non-members. Moreover, those religions that promote the strongest social bonds among their members (e.g., Catholicism and Judaism) had much lower suicide rates than less structured religions (e.g., Protestantism). Today, over a century later, these patterns in suicide, and others discerned by Durkheim’s early study, still persist.
Max Weber (1864-1920)
  1. Max Weber, a contemporary of Durkheim, was concerned that many sociologists, especially his fellow German, Karl Marx, allowed their personal values to influence their theories and research. Weber insisted that sociologists should be value-free—analyzing what society is, rather than what they think it should be.Weber did not advocate a cold, impersonal approach to sociology, however; he argued that understanding the meaning of social interaction requires Verstehen, an empathetic and introspective analysis of the interaction. In other words, Weber believed that researchers should avoid their personal biases and put themselves in the place of those they study, to understand better how they experience the world and society’s impact on them.
  2. One of Weber’s most important contributions to sociology was his concept of the ideal type, a conceptual model or typology constructed from the direct observation of a number of specific cases and representing the essential qualities found in those cases. By ideal type, Weber was referring to a generalization based on many specific examples, not implying that something was necessarily desirable. For example, Weber used bureaucracy as an ideal type to analyze and explain the increasing rationalization and depersonalization that is part of formal organizations.Weber contended that to maximize efficiency, formal organizations, such as private businesses, educational institutions, and governmental agencies, had become and would continue to become increasingly bureaucratic. Although Weber contended that bureaucracy as an ideal type represented the most rational and efficient organizational strategy, he also warned of its depersonalizing and dehumanizing aspects

Contributions of These Four Pioneers of Sociology in Common

These “four founding fathers” – Comte, Spencer, Durkheim and Weber-it seems, agreed upon the proper subjectmatter of Sociology.

  1. All of them urged the sociologists to study a wide range of institutions from the family to the state.
  2. They agreed that a unique subject-matter for sociology is found in the interrelations among different institutions.
  3. They came to the common consensus on the opinion that society as a whole can be taken as a distinctive unit of sociological analysis. They assigned sociology the task of explaining wherein and why societies are alike or different.
  4. They insisted that sociology should focus on ‘social acts’ or ‘social relationships’ regardless of their institutional setting. This view was most clearly expressed by Weber

Story of Spread and Popularity of Sociology (In USA & Other Societies)

  1. Although we have located the beginnings of Sociology in Western Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, its development and acceptance as an academic discipline was not a uniform process. The early classical works in Sociology of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were produced in France and Germany, with Emile Durkheim in France and Karl Marx and Max Weber in Germany as the outstanding figures. The works of these ‘classical’ sociologists still occupy a position of profound importance in contemporary theoretical debates. Sociology developed markedly in the USA too, and received more wide spread acceptance there than in Britain. In many ways of USA till early in this century was ideal sociological material – a rapidly expanding and industrializing, cosmopolitan, immigrant-based society that was experiencing a wide range of social changes. Transplanted to U.S. soil, sociology first took root at the University of Kansas in 1890, at the University of Chicago in 1892, and at Atlanta University (then an all-black school) in 1897. From there, sociology spread rapidly throughout North America, jumping from four instructors offering courses in 1880 to 225 instructors and 59 sociology departments just 20 years later.
  2. The University of Chicago initially dominated North American sociology. Albion Small (1854–1926), who founded this department, also launched the American Journal of Sociology and was its editor from 1895 to 1925.
  3. As in Europe, the onset of rapid industrialization and urbanization, and accompanying social problems, gave impetus to the development of sociology in the United States. American sociologists built on and expanded the theories and ideas of the European founders of sociology.
  4. Lester F. Ward (1841–1913) Lester Ward is often considered the first systematic American sociologist. He attempted to synthesize the major theoretical ideas of Comte and Spencer and differentiated between what he called pure sociology—the study of society in an effort to understand and explain the natural laws that govern its evolution— and applied sociology, which uses sociological principles, social ideals, and ethical considerations to improve society. The distinctions between these two areas of sociology are still made today.
  5. Jane Addams: Of the many early sociologists who combined the role of sociologist with that of social reformer, none was as successful as Jane Addams (1860–1935), who was a member of the American Sociological Society from its founding in 1895. Like Harriet Martineau, Addams, too, came from a background of wealth and privilege. She attended the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia, but dropped out because of illness (Addams 1910/1981). On a trip to Europe, Addams saw the work being done to help London’s poor. The memory wouldn’t leave her, she said, and she decided to work for social justice. In 1889, Addams cofounded Hull-House with Ellen Gates Starr. Located in Chicago’s notorious slums, Hull House was open to people who needed refuge—to immigrants, the sick, the aged, the poor. Sociologists from the nearby University of Chicago were frequent visitors at Hull-House. With her piercing insights into the exploitation of workers and the adjustment of immigrants to city life, Addams strove to bridge the gap between the powerful and the powerless. She co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union and campaigned for the eight-hour work day and for laws against child labor. She wrote books on poverty, democracy, and peace. Adams’ writings and efforts at social reform were so outstanding that in 1931, she was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace. She and Emily Greene Balch are the only sociologists to have won this coveted award.
  6. Margaret Sanger (1883–1966): Another notable social reformer, Margaret Sanger applied sociological theories to problems of population, health, and women’s rights. After watching a poor working woman die from a self-induced abortion, she began publishing Woman Rebel, a journal aimed at raising the consciousness of working-class women. Her articles covered topics ranging from personal hygiene, venereal disease, and birth control to social revolution.
  7. William E. B. Dubois (1868–1963): E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963). After earning a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University, Du Bois became the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard. He then studied at the University of Berlin, where he attended lectures by Max Weber. After teaching Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University, in 1897 Du Bois moved to Atlanta University to teach sociology and do research. He remained there for most of his career.
    • It is difficult to grasp how racist society was at this time. As Du Bois passed a butcher shop in Georgia one day, he saw the fingers of a lynching victim displayed in the window. When Du Bois went to national meetings of the American Sociological Society, restaurants and hotels would not allow him to eat or room with the white sociologists. How times have changed. Today, sociologists would not only boycott such establishments, but also refuse to hold meetings in that state. At that time, however, racism, like sexism, prevailed throughout society, rendering it mostly invisible to white sociologists. Du Bois eventually became such an outspoken critic of racism that the U.S. State Department, fearing he would criticize the United States, refused to issue him a passport (Du Bois 1968).
    • Each year between 1896 and 1914, Du Bois published a book on relations between African Americans and whites. Not content to collect and interpret objective data, Du Bois, along with Jane Addams and others from Hull-House was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (Deegan 1988). Continuing to battle racism both as a sociologist and as a journalist, Du Bois eventually embraced revolutionary Marxism. At age 93, dismayed that so little improvement had been made in race relations, he moved to Ghana, where he is buried (Stark 1989).
    • In his writings, Du Bois pointed out that some successful African Americans were breaking their ties with other African Americans in order to win acceptance by whites. This, he said, weakened the African American community by depriving it of their influence.
  8. Talcott Parsons and C. Wright Mills: Contrasting Views: Like Du Bois and Addams, many early North American sociologists saw society or parts of it, as corrupt and in need of reform. During the 1920s and 1930s, for example, Robert Park and Ernest Burgess (1921) not only studied crime, drug addiction, juvenile delinquency, and prostitution but also offered suggestions for how to alleviate these social problems. As the emphasis shifted from social reform to objective analyses, the abstract models of society developed by sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) influenced a generation of sociologists. These models of how the parts of society work together harmoniously did nothing to stimulate social activism. Another sociologist, C. Wright Mills (1916–1962), deplored such theoretical abstractions. Trying to push the pendulum the other way, he urged sociologists to get back to social reform. In his writings, he warned that the nation faced an imminent threat to freedom—the coalescing of interests of a power elite, the top leaders of business, politics, and the military. The precedent-shaking 1960s and 1970s that followed Mills’ death sparked interest in social activism among a new generation of sociologists.

As an established discipline, however, Sociology is a relatively new arrival on the academic scene, and the real expansion in its popularity has occurred in the postwar period. We can point to some factors that have influenced this expansion.

  1. In the Post-war period there has developed a rather more critical awareness of how societies operate. Very few people accept their societies unthinking. They see that alongside many technological and social advances that have been made so far, there still exist problem areas like over-population, poverty and crime.
  2. Alongside this, there has developed an increasing concern with social reform and the reordering of society, accompanied by the belief that in order to make such reforms effective knowledge about society and its members is needed.
  3. There has also developed an increasing awareness of other societies and ways of life because of better systems of communications in travel and the mass media.
  4. Increasingly, it has been claimed that people who work in government, industry, the social services etc ought to have some sort of specialist knowledge of society on the grounds that they will be better equipped to meet the demands of their work.
  5. Emergence of new nation states was accompanied with rapid modernization– Therefore there was inncreasing awareness among these societies that they need to understand social life scientifically in order to ease the process of nation building. As a result, during and since the 1960’s, sociology degree courses have increased considerably, Sociology has found its way into schools, sociologists have been increasingly recognized and consulted by various organizations, from national government downwards, in research programmes, policy, planning etc. and some sociologists have also found fame in the national media.

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