Everything you need to know about the scope of Sociology


Sociology has long been beset with controversies about the place of values. Bu value free science will mean that sociology as a science should keep itself away from the question of social values and study social behavior in its empirical sense. The concept of a “Value – free social science” was originally given currency by Max Webber, the titan of German sociology, who is still widely taken as the classical exponent of value freedom. He opined that only a value-free approach could facilitate scientific development. Weber’s “value-free” approach was continued and developed in contemporary neo-positivism. But as a matter of fact, the study of values cannot be removed from the scope of sociology.

Many contemporary sociologists maintain the position that values are an integral part of personality. All types of enquiry necessarily have a social function; no enquiry can be non- evaluative. Sociology cannot consist of purely descriptive judgment. In one way or the other, a value or evaluative element is inherent in it. A person engaged in sociological inquiry is bound to have certain values and ideologies.

Scope of Sociology


Scope refers to a subject’s area or field of inquiry. Every science has its own areas of study or fields of inquiry. It becomes difficult for anyone to study a science systematically unless its boundaries are clearly demarcated or delimited and scope is determined precisely. Unfortunately, there is no consensus amongst the sociologists with regard to the scope of sociology. The science of sociology according to many is very elastic and hence it is difficult to determine where its boundaries begin and where it ends. So the scope of sociological study is extremely wide ranging from an analysis of passing encounters between individuals in the street to the investigation of global social process. The whole life of man in a society is the field of sociology. But it should confine itself to only the discovery of the fundamental forces of change and persistence. It should refrain itself from making a historical study of concrete societies.

There are two main schools of thought on scope of sociology. They are:

1) The Specialist or Formalistic school.

2) The Synthetic school.


The specialist or Formalistic school

The main advocates of this school are George Simmel, Maxweber, Small, Von wiese and Tonnies. They regard sociology as a pure and independent science having a limited scope. According to them sociology cannot be regarded as the study of social life as a whole, because that would be too vast a scope for a social science to deal with properly. Thus, they delimit the| field of sociology. Let us examine their views in brief.

Max Weber:

Max Weber also pleads for a definite field for sociology. For him, sociology as al science should attempt the interpretative understanding of social action. The main aim of sociology is thus interpretation and understating of social behavior and social action. But he points out that all human activities are not necessarily social. He further opines that sociology should make an analysis and classification of types of social action.



Small is of the opinion that sociology has only a limited field. It is not the task of “sociology to study everything about society. Each science has a delimited scope and a definite field of study. The scope of sociology, according to small is the study of genetic forms of social relationships, behavior and activities etc.


Vierkandt another leading sociologist maintains that sociology is a special branch of knowledge concerned with the ultimate forms of mental or physical relationships which links men to one another in society. He maintains that in dealing with culture, sociology should not concern itself with the actual contents of the same topic, but from a different perspective. It looks from the angle of different modes of social relations. Different forms of social relationships are exemplified in different spheres of social life such as the economic sphere, the political sphere, the religious sphere and the moral and artistic spheres. The main intention of a sociologist is to disentangle these forms of social relationship and to study them in abstraction. According to Simmel, sociology is a specific social science which describes, classifies, analyses and delineates the forms of social relationships. It should according to Simmel, always deal with these forms of relationships and not with their concrete contents.


George Simmel:

According to Simmel, Sociology being a pure and independent science has it limited scope? The difference between sociology and other social sciences is that it deals with in the struggle for existence, the rules and regulations which define their relations to each other etc. comes under its scope. It also deals with the system of knowledge, belief art, morals and any other capacities and habits acquired and developed in the course of their activities as members of society. But this is too wide a scope for any science to deal with properly. An attempt has been made to limit and demarcate the field of sociology.

Von Wise:

According to Wise, the scope of sociology is the study of forms of social relationships He has divided these social relationships into many types.



Ferdinand Tonnies is a strong supporter of the formalists’ school of thought. He has differentiated between society and community as the basis of forms of relationships. He


1) Gemeinschaft (community) and 2) Gesselschaft (society).

Tonnies work centers around these two concepts developed his him and has made a clear distinction between these two types of relationships. The task of sociology is to study the different forms of social relationship that comes under these two categories.


Basically the view of all these scholars belonging to formalistic school is that scope of sociology is limited. It covers only the forms of social relationships in their abstract nature and not in any concrete situation. They have been very widely criticised for this kind of viewpoint with regard to the scope of sociology.

Firstly, formalistic school has narrowed the scope of sociology to the study of abstract! Forms. Sociology should also concern itself with the study of the concrete contents of social! Relationships.

Secondly, the distinction between the forms of social relations and their contents not workable. Ginsberg criticised Simmel’s theory that the function of sociology is to study the social relationship in abstraction is not correct. Study of competition, for example, will be hardly of any use unless it is studied in concrete form in economic life or in the world of art and knowledge. The scope of sociology should not be limited to the study of social relations in general. Its scope should be widened by studying these relationships in different spheres. They are sociology of law, sociology of religion, of art and sociology of knowledge.

Thirdly, sociology is not the only science that studies the forms of social relationships. Other sciences such as the study of international law, for example, includes social relations like war, agreement, contract etc. Political science. Economics also study social relationships.

Finally, the establishment of pure sociology is impractical. As a matter of fact, no social science can be studied in isolation from other social sciences. In fact, more fruitful and correct understanding of a social phenomenon is possible with an interdisciplinary approach.

Thus, we can say that the formalistic school has narrowed down the field of sociology

Synthetic School

The synthetic school of thought conceives sociology as a synthesis of the social sciences. It covers the entire gamete of sociology. It widens the scope of sociology and wants to make it a general social science. In fact this school is responsible for making sociology Encyclopedia in character.

The chief exponents of this school of thought are Morris Ginsberg, Emile Durkheim, L.T.Hob house, P.A.Sorokin, Karl Mannheim. The main feature of this school is that all parts of social life are intimately interrelated. Only one aspect of the study is not sufficient to understand the entire social phenomenon. Sociology should attempt to study social life as a whole.

Morris Ginsberg:-

According to Morris Ginsberg, sociology not only studies the relationship between individuals in a society, it also studies the relationship between different aspects of social life, such as economic, political, moral, religious legal and so on. It also studies the factors of stability and charge in a society. Ginsberg divides the scope of sociology into four main branches. They are social Morphology, Social control, social process and social pathology.

Social Morphology:-

Social Morphology deals with the quantity and quality of population. It studies the social structure, social groups and social institutions.

Social Control:

Social control studies the mechanism through which society guides and controls the behavior of its members. It deals with formal as well as informal means. Of social control such as customs, traditions, morals, religion and formal means like law, court, police etc.

Social Process:

Social process tries to study different modes of interactions like co-operation, competition, accommodation, conflict assimilation, integration etc.

Social Pathology:

Social pathology studies social problems like poverty, beggary, unemployment, over­population, crime etc. It also deals with social mal-adjustment, social disorder and disturbances.

Emile Durkheim:

Emile Durkheim has divided the scope of sociology into three fundamental branches.

They are: (i) Social Morphology (ii) Social Physiology (iii) General Sociology.

i) Social Morphology:

Social Morphology studies the geographical or territorial basis of life of the people and the demographic aspects of society like size, density and quality of population.

ii) Social Physiology:

Social physiology has a number of branches like sociology of family, sociology of religion, sociology of community and sociology of law etc. These are called special “sociologies”.

iii) General Sociology:

General sociology is the philosophical part of sociology. It deals with the general character of the social facts. It tries to formulate general social laws.

Hob house:

Hob house holds the similar view like Durkheim with regard to the functions of sociology. According to him, sociology is a synthesis of social studies but the immediate task of the sociologist is threefold.

Firstly, he should pursue his studies in his particular part of the social field. Secondly, he must bear in his mind the interconnections of social relations and try to interconnect the results arrived at by the different social sciences. Thirdly, he should interpret social life as a whole.

P. A. Sorokin:

According to Sorokin the scape of sociology includes: –

1) The study of relationships between different aspects of social phenomena.

ii) The study of relationship between social and non-social.

iii) The study of general features of social phenomena.

Karl Mannheim:

Karl Mannheim divided the scope of sociology into two sections.

i) Systematic and general sociology.

ii) Historical Sociology.

General sociology deals with the factors responsible for people living together. They are found in every kind of society. They are about the rules and laws governing social life.

Historical sociology deals with the historical variations and different forms of society. Historical sociology is further divided into two parts:

(a) Comparative sociology,

(b) Social dynamics.

Comparative sociology deals with the historical variations and differences of the same social phenomena. It tries to find out the general feature of social phenomena by way of comparison.

Social dynamics is concerned with the study of the interrelations between different social institutions found in a given society. For instance, relationship between social institutions in a primitive society or in an industrial society.


J. B. McKee holds that social action, social structure, social processes and social institutions are included in the scope of sociology.

Social action refers to the study of interactions of individual human beings and their relations to different social situations. A social process refers to various modes of interaction, both associative and disassociates process of co-operation, conflict, assimilation and competition etc. Social structure refers to the study of fundamental social institutions like family, marriage, caste and so on which constitute the pillars of society.

From the above discussion, it is crystal clear that the scope of sociology is very wide. It is a social science but it is also a special science. It is a science of society. In fact the subject matter of all social sciences is society. All other social sciences have their own view point. Sociology is a general science and it is a synthesis of all such special social sciences. It covers the whole field of social behavior.

It is also a specific science because it alone makes a full-fledged study of the social life of man. It is the only social science dealing exclusively with complex social relationships inside a society. It is a more comprehensive science and may be called the mother of all social sciences.


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