Last Updated 20 Apr 2022

Founding Fathers of Sociology

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Sociology can be defined as the scientific study of society and human behavior. It tries to acquire knowledge about society, and about how the humans making up these societies interact with each other. Auguste Comte was the first true father of sociology. He was the person who coined the term “sociology”. Other sociologist who can also be called the founding fathers of sociology include Weber, Marx, Engels and Durkheim. In this essay I will be looking at where these sociologists came from and the theories they came up with.

Auguste Comte was a French social thinker and was the first person who coined the term “sociology”. He wanted to establish a science of society as a new discipline. He modeled sociological study around natural science and wanted to discover the laws of society. He aimed to study society through Social statics, which is the study of order and stability and Social dynamics, which is the study of social change. He wants to answer the question of how one plans for change. One should think about in advance where you want to go and how to get there from here.

One should be future oriented and goal oriented, achieving goals by optimal means. Social planning is designed to enhance social functioning by either changing the structural relations among people or providing a tangible support than enables an individual to cope with or overcome a social problem. It is necessary to plan in order to reduce uncertainty and enhance accountability. It also increases the potential for participation. Comte says that the process of change involves three stages; The future state, where the change has occurred.

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The present state, this is where we are in relation to where we want to get to and it is the period of planning and initiating the desired change. The last stage is the transition state, and asks the question of how we get from where we are to where we want to be. Comte’s idea for sociological study was based on the concept that societies evolve through three intellectual stages. These are the Theological stage, which involves the belief in the supernatural, the metaphysical stage, which is the transition stage and the positivistic stage which involves scientific thinking.

After the third stage is reached, true understanding of the working of society becomes possible. Social disorder such as crime would be diminished and eventually stop when society’s cogs and wheels are established. Another founding father of sociology is Max Weber. He was a German sociologist. His central focus was on the process of rationalization. He has a middle class protestant background. He defined sociology as the scientific study of human action. Social action is human conduct oriented toward others and based on social meaning given to that conduct.

It involves other human beings and is based on intentions and ideas of individuals. It must understand the subjective meaning behind people’s actions and this makes sociology fundamentally different from natural sciences. Weber calls such understanding “verstehen”, which is the investigator’s attempt to understand human action by viewing the cause of the action through the actor’s eyes rather than his own. The theory became known as Interactionism. Weber focuses on social actions of individuals and says that society cannot think or act, only individuals can.

There is an opposition to positivism. The subject matter of sociology is unique and it cannot be studied with principles/methods of natural sciences. It requires verstehen. Another founding father is Karl Marx. He was born on May 5, 1818 in the German city of Trier. His family was Jewish, but he later converted to Protestantism in 1824 in order to avoid anti-Semitic laws and persecution. Marx was forced to go to London in 1849, but he did not work alone. He had help of Friedrich Engels who had on his own developed a very similar theory of economic determinism.

Although the ideas later acquired the term “Marxism”, it must always be remembered that Marx did not come up with them entirely on his own. Engels was also important for Marx in a financial sense. Poverty weighed heavily on Marx and his family. Karl Marx focuses on conflict and inequality. Conflict is a fact of life in society. There is conflict between various social groups derived from a conflict of interest which brings inequality. Power and resources are unevenly distributed in society. Such inequality is maintained by naked coercion or manipulation of norms and values. Marx was interested in a particular type of conflict.

This was class conflict or conflict between classes. He says, “ The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”. Production is a key concept in Marxism. It is the production of material goods and services in society and is the most important human activity. Production is carried out in the context of cooperation between human beings. Out of productive activity, human beings organize themselves, establish relations with each other and form a society. Thus change through improves technology of production also implies a change in social relations.

Processes of production have given rise to inequality between human beings because production has been carried out by means of exploitation of the majority of the population by a few. Classes are social units based on their relation to the means of production. The means used to produce goods and services example: land, factories, tools, machinery, raw materials etc. The dominant class are the minority who own means of production and the subordinate class are the majority who don’t. Production is carried out by exploitation of one class by the other and this leads to class conflict.

Bourgeoisie vs Proletariat. All societies go through stages in history and are destined to reach the communist stage. The communist mode only is not based on class exploitation. Communism realizes classless society where no one dominates one another. Marx’s dichotomy of society. Society is divided into two levels: The base/infrastructure (economic) and the superstructure (non-economic sphere). According to Marx the superstructure plays significant role in society. Example: the state. Common view: The state is neutral institution representing the interest of all citizens and society as a whole.

Marx’s view: the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole “bourgeoisie” (the owners of production). Example: The state. The interest of the state coincide with those of the dominant class. Apparatuses of the state are used to protect capitalists’ interests against worker’s rebellion. There is a contrast with Durkheim. Durkheim says that norms and values of society produce social integration and harmony (social solidarity). Marx says that these norms and values are ideologies which suppress people’s opposition and resistance (which may look like harmony or consensus to Durkheim).

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