Penny Lecture Series

What is Sociology?

Individuality and independence are highly valued in our society. It is sometimes easy to forget that everything we do, including our private thoughts and fantasies, grows out of or is shaped through our interactions with others. Whether we like it or not, we are born into groups and spend most of our social lives in those same groups. All of us assimilate, at least in part, the perspective of these groups and thereby acquire our knowledge, language, values, attitudes, beliefs and sense of identity.

As a discipline, Sociology involves the description and explanation of social structures, processes, and relations. These range from two-person interactions to relations between large social institutions, such as politics and the economy, to relations between nations. Changes in the social arrangements that people create are of special interest to the sociologist, for a number of different reasons.

First, Sociology increases our understanding of ourselves and our society by providing us with concepts that describe and explain our social creations and how they influence us. We learn who we are and why, and how we are similar to and different from people with different social arrangements. Second, exposure to Sociology opens our minds, prompts us to review the taken-for-granted, and encourages us to entertain alternatives. Third, it is important to be aware that the organization and institutions of our society evolved through social processes operating in a social environment. Fourth, we need to learn how to collect and analyze representative information about society and its member rather than relying on information we encounter haphazardly. Finally, we need theories useful to classify social behavior systematically and concepts useful for explaining human beliefs, practices, and relationships. Sociology addresses all of these issues and more.