Introduction to Sociology
I'll try on these pages to present an introduction to sociology. First things first: what is sociology: it is the scientific study of the society.
Many sociologists would have huge reserves against the statement above. I need to start from something though, even if it is not consensual. In it's core sociology is this: the search for a reliable knowledge on the life of human beings in society. The problems with this statement are:
- there is no agreement among sociologists on what exactly is "society"
- there is no agreement among sociologists on whether sociology is a science and if there is a unique scientific method
- there is no agreement among sociologists on whether it possible for science, being itself part of the society, to explain society
The main conclusion we can draw is that sociology is not consensual. Let me be clear: contemporary sociology does not have a significant amount of consensual knowledge. This led Paul Veyne to write that "sociology is a science that would like to exist".
Sociology was born an ambitious science. It intended to explain the whole social life, including the culture, the state, religion, economy, every single aspect of a modern industrial society. It intended to explain all that scientifically. More: it wanted to explain it definitively. Sociology was born a petulant science.
Nowadays we sociologists are much better disguising our petulance. We don't state with categorical certainty that human behaviour is fully explained with this or that theory. We don't say that history is nothing else than sociology case studies. Our petulance has become philosophical. Now sociology discuss if it is possible to know anything, if reality really exists or is a mere byproduct of a socially constructed consciousness.
I am a sociologist. I've been trained for years to say that there is no reality and that all science is as weak as sociology is. It didn't work though. I am an old fashion sociologist. I don't think a single simple theory will explain the whole society, but I do think sociology is the effort to build reliable knowledge about human society. It is a fruitful effort.
I intend to guide you through the best to be found in the works of the great sociologists. This is the traditional way of teaching the subject, since there no consent. Next I'll present the theories of authors less known among sociologists whose theories I think can help us understand society. Finally, I'll try to consolidate some of the best knowledge on the society. I hope it will be enough for you to realize sociology task is feasible, especially if we take it seriously and avoid dubious debates focused on promoting irrationality or attacking other people's values.