What is Sociology?
Sociology is the field of study concerned with the way in which we live in the world, along with other people. It explores the many fascinating, hopeful, and sometimes tragic interactions in which we engage in our everyday lives. Sociology questions the common sense ideas we operate with on a day-to-day level, challenging for example our tendency to generalise about social phenomena based on our own limited experiences. Sociology, as it is taught in universities and colleges around the world, aims to produce more thoughtful, critical and understanding students not only in their role as academics studying for degrees, but also as participants interacting in society.
Sociologists (including both lecturers and students teaching and studying sociology) have constantly to rethink their role as they acquire new forms of knowledge and as societies change. How do we respond to the rapidly changing social worlds we inhabit, and to the major issues and problems which dominate many contemporary societies, including South Africa, such as HIV/AIDS, unemployment, poverty, development, transport, the environment, gender, crime, drug addiction, violence, racism and ‘racial’ segregation?
Sociologists address these and other important social issues through employing a variety of methods, some which work with statistical data about large scale social trends, and others which engage with the everyday social lives and interactions of particular groups and individuals in societies.
As suggested in this brief introduction, Sociology is at the forefront of disciplines working to understand society in various ways, and employing a variety of different research methods, to investigate social phenomena. On the basis of systematic research and thinking, sociologists are often able suggest appropriate interventions to address the sorts of social issues and problems mentioned above, and to test and evaluate social policies in the world around us.
Offered as a major, Sociology attempts to teach students, firstly, to think critically drawing on a variety of theories and to analyse society in all its complexity; and, secondly, it introduces students to social research, from a basic introduction through to the rich world of research undertaken within present day societies.