Emergence and Development of Sociology (Notes): Explained

Orgin and Development of Sociology: The study of sociology attempts to provide a scientific analysis of human social life and its wide-ranging characteristics and systems. Human social life is an intricate system organized in multiple and diverse levels of social domains. The rise of sociology can be correlated to the rise of the term ‘modernity;’ the analysis of social patterns is entwined with the study of modern societies. The components of the discipline are directly related to the objective arrangements of social life and the body of sociological knowledge is socially produced with methods that are influenced by numerous circumstances. Moreover, due to the constant change in social conditions, the study of sociology is endlessly studying the varying societal patterns throughout the world. The crucial aspect of the development of sociology has been writing and analyzing the history of the same and especially its strong interest in varied commentary and analysis of earlier sociological work. However, it should be noted that the sociology discipline is not as great, in terms of historical attention. It only dates back to a century and a half while its counterparts such as political thought have much more depth in history. This essay firstly attempts to discuss the various definitions of sociology and its scope. It then dives into the history of the emergence of sociology as a discipline and the development of the same. Finally, it analyzes the work of early major thinkers and discusses its contemporary relevance.

Definitions, scope, and significance

Throughout history, there have been multiple definitions of sociology formulated by sociologists with their own viewpoints and scope towards the subject. Some of these definitions include:

  • Lester Frank Ward states that “sociology is a science of society” (Surve, 2019).
  • George Simmel defines it as “a subject which studies human interrelationship” (Surve, 2019).
  • Max Weber views it as “science which attempts an imperative understanding of social actions” (Surve, 2019).
  • Pitirim Sorokin opines that “sociology is the study of the relationship between classes and study of social and non-social aspects of life” (Surve, 2019).
  • William Ogburn says that it is “a study of social life and its relations to the factors of culture, natural environment, heredity, and group” (Surve, 2019).
  • Emile Durkheim defines it as a “science of collective representation” (Surve, 2019).
  • S. Bogardus views that it is a study of “ways in which social experiences function in developing, maturing and repressing human beings through inter-personal stimulations” (Surve, 2019).

emergence and Development of Sociology

These definitions can help us understand that sociologists from all over the world come from different backgrounds, hence the different perceptions of the subject and lack of unanimity. However, a general idea of the study is that it is concerned with the study of societies, human interactions, and social relationships. There have been various discussions on what the scope of sociology should include. Auguste Comte stressed the scientific approach for the study of social phenomena. Similarly, Vilfredo Pareto recognized scientific orientation and stated that there is unity among various social phenomena and that social problems and science go hand in hand. However, Max Weber recognized it only as an interpretive comprehension of social actions.

Also Read: 10 Reasons why its important to study sociology and scope

Even though sociology is a more new subject, it has become one of the most important disciplines as it studies the constant and diverse variations of relationships and ideologies in society. It determines the strength and capabilities of society and also studies social relationships in a very systematic manner. It has been able to give us the basic knowledge of how societies work and has helped us assess the strong and weak points of societies. It allows us to evaluate the extent of human resources for the sake of economic development and social problems. Sociology has been able to find deep-rooted social evils that are intricately built into the system leading to economic and political problems. It has also helped us with understanding the diversity of humans and society, and the system for social reconstruction. Sociology plays a major part in culture preservation which is important in the era of rapid urbanization, so it helps people study and analyze all cultures from the past and present and compare it to the cosmopolitan culture. The list goes on but the subject has aided nations to develop their societies to be more progressive and cognizant.

The emergence of sociology

It is widely known that significant developments that had occurred in the nineteenth century are responsible for the formation of sociology as a discipline. The survey analysis of social conditions was extremely necessary for divisions such as political philosophy, political reform, social and economic reform, and theories of evolution. This propelled the emergence of sociology as a separate social science. The unfolding of a period of intellectual progress known as the historical tradition was a crucial feature for sociology as it popularized the idea that society is more than just a political state. During this period, Enlightenment thinkers were able to move away from theological influences and move towards a more progressive and causal thought process. Moreover, social surveys became extremely important around the Industrial Revolution as industrial societies had accelerated problems such as poverty. The use of social surveys became a common tool for the analysis of the science of a society and it aided the sociological investigation. Survey analysis revealed that people’s ideologies were changing along with the societal conditions. They wanted more social and political reforms with the rising inequality between the bourgeoisie and the proletarians and they also moved away from theological beliefs to scientific application to study the problems of humanity.

The Political Revolutions in France were also triggered by the development of concepts such as historical philosophy as it pointed out the problems of society. It showed people that social and economical conditions are as important as political reforms. That is why societies in Western Europe especially had changed drastically as they were becoming more aware of their social structure and norms and how institutions were affecting the quality of life. The French Revolution set off a sequence of revolutions throughout the nineteenth century that was a major factor for the progress of sociology as it brought along major implications such as inequality, slums due to population concentration in urban areas, labor-capital disputes, and so on. While it did affect societies in a positive way as they were becoming socially aware and a lot of positive improvements were being implemented in societies, the revolutions also made way for chaos and anarchy in societies due to the new ills that were taking over the states. Auguste Comte’s work was inspired by these changes in society and he is often known as the founder of sociology. He was able to establish sociology as a separate social science as he noticed that all social sciences tackle specific parts of the society but he wanted to establish a social science where society as a whole is studied and analyzed.

Also Read: French Revolution in Sociological Perspective

Comte is credited with the establishment of the first scientific study of society. This was extremely crucial as opposed to other social sciences, sociology was able to prominently study human social behavior. His Positive Philosophy (1830) designed a new structure for society including a new set of rules that regulated society to solve the issues that were affecting the society. His collaboration with Saint Simon between 1817-23 brought about the necessity for scientific methods for the study of society. The study of sociology was at first called social physics by Comte but over time he changed it to sociology. His major work that was used to implement his purpose of social development was System of Positive Politics (1851-54). It applied sociological theories to social problems and social conditions in that period of time.

Development of sociology

The establishment of sociology as a discipline by Auguste Comte and popularizing scientific methods for studying social conditions with observation, experiments, and analysis paved a path for its intellectual progress. Moreover, the revolution had brought the society relying heavily on trade which was crucial for the discipline. It exposed people to multiple social and cultural backgrounds which led to analysis of comparison of societies from all over the world. This also established a strong background for the upcoming researchers that dominated the sociology discipline.

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were dominated by major early philosophers and sociologists. They had established strong methods for sociological advancement and their theories set a base for contemporary sociology. Some of them include:

  • Emile Durkheim is considered one of the founding fathers of sociology. His theoretical work on Suicide became extremely popular among the social sciences. He was educated in Germany and France and he had become one of the first sociology professors in France. His concept of the comprehension of social context as a whole, rather than individual action was very important in his line of work. His work studying tribes and the importance of religion to support the group was thoroughly studied. He also contributed to the industrial society context and stated that anomie resulted from the growing division of labor.

Read: Emile Dukheim- Biography and Contributions

  • Max Weber’s background of political and economic history led to him being interested in the study of society. He became a professor in Germany and taught Verstehen which explained the subjective meaning attached to the actions of all people. He is also credited for his theory of ideal type which is used to study multiple aspects of life such as religion, family, institutions, bureaucracy, and economic and political systems.

Read; Max Weber- Biography and Contributions

  • Karl Marx was exiled from Germany for his critique of institutions and governmental attitudes towards citizens. He lived an extremely poor life and had many of his family members die of malnutrition and disease which was a major implication that arose with the industrial revolution. His Communist Manifesto discussing the division of labor and the problems of the working class was a major contribution to sociology. His dedication to showing people how capitalism affected proletarians immensely and how the bourgeoisie profited off of this is still one of the most important theories and his work created a revolution in many countries. His work inspired countries such as Cuba, China, and Russia to switch to communism and to completely avoid capitalism.

Read; Karl Marx- Biography and Works

  • Herbert Spencer’s Principles of Sociology discussed the importance of scientific evolution in the study of sociology and he stated how it is the study of evolution in a more complicated system. His work also aided psychologists as it helped them understand that people’s actions and social phenomena should be studied from a more psychological viewpoint rather than a biological one.

Read: Herbert Spencer: Biography and Contributions

Furthermore, The development of theories such as evolutionism had brought along major sociologists who made significant contributions to the analytical approaches of the study. These include George Simmel, Ferdinand Tonnies, and Gabriel Trade. Charles Cooley, William Thomas, Vilfredo Pareto, George Herbert, Robert Maclver, Pitirum Sorokin are some of the most significant contributors to sociology. Their backgrounds from multiple places such as France, Germany, and Russia made sociology in itself interdisciplinary. They established sociological theories that pushed for systematic methods for sociology and their theories are referred to this day and are applied to contemporary issues.


Overall, the development of sociology was a major establishment for society. It recognized the ills of the social structure and social conditions and made people question their systems to push for a better society. Sociology has always been a major discipline due to its scientific methods and its effect on other disciplines as well. Sociological theories that were developed back in the day are resurfacing in recent years, especially since the 1960s. The resurgence of classical sociological thought developed by Marx and Durkheim has become extremely popular among developed and developing countries due to their respective social conditions. Marx’s general theory which was developed specifically for industrial societies has now been enhanced and thoroughly studied and applied to major aspects of life, broadening its scope entirely. His theories are prominently being applied to law, education, family, art, science, and so on. Furthermore, Weber’s methodologies such as the ideal type concept are being popularized due to engrossment in social transformation in industrialized societies. Furthermore, major international affairs have transformed people’s perspective on governmental institutions and societies, so a major shift towards social research and social awareness has been seen in recent years. Other than studying the complete structure of society, the development of micro and macro research in society has also been a major player in sociology in the current times. Sociology’s scope continues to grow and other than just social research, it has the potential to manage and enhance political and economic reforms around the world.

Also Read: 10 Famous Women Sociologists and Their Contributions


  • Faris, R. E.L. and Form, . William (2021, March 4). Sociology. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/
  • Barnes, H. (1932). The Development of Sociology. The Scientific Monthly, 35(6), 543-553. Retrieved July 22, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/15388
  • National Institute of Open Schooling (n.a.) Emergence and Development of Sociology. https://nios.ac.in/media/documents/331courseE/L-2%20EMERGENCE%20AND%20DEVELOPMENT%20OF%20SOCIOLOGY.pdf
  • Surve, P. (2019). Foundation and Fundamentals of Sociology. University of Mumbai. https://old.mu.ac.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/F.Y.B.A.-Paper-1-Foundation-Fundamentals-of-Sociology-English.pdf
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Neha is currently pursuing a degree in Sociology paired with International Relations and Media Studies. She aspires for a global career as an academic researcher and advocate of humanitarian action. She is deeply passionate about human rights and social justice, and she profoundly researches socio-economics, politics, and public policy to better understand the society and its institutions. One of her biggest accomplishments would be starting a free school in her backyard for kids with no access to education during the pandemic.