Sociology is the science of society. Sociology can be identified as the systematic study of human societies, giving special emphasis to modern, industrialized systems. There are several definitions of sociology. However we may define sociology as the study of human social life, groups and societies. Though Auguste Comte is regarded as the father of sociology, as he coined the term in 1839, society, social life and social problems were in existence, since time immemorial.
Plato and Aristotle talked about it. In India also the laws of Manu, Sukracharya’s Nitishastra and Kautilya’s, Arthashastra had a lot of reference to the economic, political, social and legal aspects of the society. During this period also, the French Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau and English Philosopher John Locke subscribed to the theory of evolution of society as a product of social contract.
The above conditions clearly show that sociology existed even in the pre-scientific era. But sociology came into being as an attempt to understand the far reaching changes i.e. the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution that occurred in human societies over the past two or three centuries. The changes involved are not just large-scale ones. Major shifts have also occurred in the most intimate and personal characteristics of people’s lives.
As regards the nature of sociology, we can say that sociology is an independent and general social science. It is a pure, abstract, categorical, rational and empirical science.
In view of the scientific nature of science, there are two schools of thought- one favoring at and the other opposing it as a science. Those who deny that it is a science argue that it lacks universal theory, measurement, experimentation, objectivity and predictability. But those who support its scientific nature are of the opinion that sociology possesses all the characteristics of science such as generalisation, measurement, observation, prediction etc.
Whether sociology is a value free science or not is certainly a very debatable proposition. Max Weber was the champion of the value free approach of sociology. But going deep into it’s under ramifications we may find that sociology cannot consist of purely descriptive judgment. In one way or the other, a value or evaluative element is present in it. The scope of sociology is extremely wide. However, there are two camps regarding its scope. They are the formalistic or the specialist school and the synthetic school. The formalistic school is headed by George Simmel.
The other advocates of this school are Von Wiese, Max Weber, and Small, Toniest etc. The formalistic school has narrowed down the scope of sociology. According to this school, sociology studies forms of social relationships as its subject matter. But the views of the formalistic school has been severely criticised. It has unreasonably narrowed the field of sociology. Second, the distinction between the forms of social relationships and their contents is not workable. Thirdly, sociology is not the only science that studies the forms of social relationships and finally the establishment of pure sociology is impractical.
But the second school of thought i.e. the synthetic school contents that sociology is a synthesis of all social sciences. It covers the entire gamut of sociology. The main exponents of this school are Durkheim, Hob house, Ginsberg and Sorokin. But we can say that both the schools are complementary to each other. The study of the whole requires the study of the parts and parts can be properly understood only if they are studied in relation to the whole. Thus we can say that as sociology is a developing science, we should not delimit its scope.