The Study of Sociology

Understanding Society

Sociology is the study of societies and the way that they shape people's behaviour, beliefs and identity. Probably the most important thing about sociology is that it enables us to make sense of the rapidly changing world that we live in.

Some of the main changes that we have recently seen in Britain have been:

  • An economic transformation, as old industries have declined and service occupations have rapidly expanded;
  • Changes in family life as more people have begun to live on their own, more women have found employment in paid work and divorce rates have continued to rise;
  • The transformation of work by information technology and the spread of more flexible and less secure forms of part-time and temporary work;
  • Increasing inequalities as more people have experienced poverty and exclusion, and the gap has widened between rich and poor.

Test homepage image Perhaps most fundamentally of all, sociology enables us to understand ourselves. The way that we think, behave and feel, indeed our very sense of identity, is socially produced. People often speak of human nature as though deep within us there lies some reservoir of natural impulses that determine the way that we behave. There is, however, no such thing as human nature, for the way that we think, behave, and feel is shaped by what sociologists call the process of socialisation. This provides us with language, gives us our values and beliefs, establishes our identity and so turns us into members of society.

In creating a greater understanding of the way that society shapes people, sociology can also help them to liberate themselves. In his Invitation to Sociology (1963), Peter Berger argues that sociology can help people to take charge of their lives by making them aware of their situation in society and the forces acting upon them. Instead of seeing the way they live as natural or inevitable, they learn that it is socially constructed. By discovering the workings of society, they gain an understanding of how this process takes place. Sociology can then enable you to understand and explain the world you live in and your situation in it.

  • Source: Fulcher, J. and Scott, J. (1999) Sociology (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 4-6.

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United Kingdom

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