Auguste Compte (1798-1857), the French philosopher is traditionally considered the “Father of sociology”. In 1839, Compte coined the word sociology in his famous work “Positive Philosophy”. The term sociology is derived from the Latin word Socius, meaning companion or associate and the Greek word Logos meaning study or science. Thus, sociology is the science of society. Society is the largest permanent group of people with a common interest, land and way of life. Sociology is a science of society and social problems. The teaching of sociology as a separate discipline started in USA in 1876, in France in 1889, in Britain in 1907, and in India in 1919 (Bombay University).
Some prominent sociologists of India like GS Ghurye, RK Mukherjee, DP Mukherjea, Humayun Kabir, DN Mazumdar, MN Srinivas, MS Gore, RN Prabhu, AR Desai, and others have further enriched the subject with their social investigations and writings. India with its diverse cultural peculiarities provides wonderful opportunities for sociological studies and research.
Definition of Sociology
- “Science of social phenomena, subject to natural and invariable laws, the discovery of which is the object of investigation” —Auguste Compte
- “Science which attempts to the interpretative understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at casual explanation of its cause and effects” —Max Weber
- “Science of social institutions” —Emile Durkhelm
- “Science of social relationships” —AW Small
- “Study of social life” —Ogburn and Nimkoff
- “General science of society” —Kingsby
- “Sociology is the study of collective behavior” —Park and Burgess
- “Sociology is the study of human interactions and interrelations, their conditions and consequences” —Morris Ginseburg.
We Can Sum Up
- Sociology is the science of society.
- Sociology is the study of social life.
- Sociology is the study of social systems.
- Sociology is the study of social relationships.
- Sociology is the study of behavioral groups.
The above definitions highlight various aspects of sociology. The divergent views about the definition of sociology only reveal their different approaches to its study. However, the common idea underlying all these definitions is that sociology is concerned with man, his social relations and his society. Sociology includes various aspects of society like social interactions, relationships, institutions, groups, social processes, norms and values. Different social sciences study only a part of social behavior. For example, political science discusses political behavior; economics discusses economic behavior. Thus, sociology is a general social science whereas other social sciences are special sciences of society.
Nature and Characteristics of Sociology
Robert Bierstedt in his book, “Social Order” has mentioned the following characteristics of Sociology:
- Sociology is an independent science. It is not studied as a part of any other subject like philosophy or psychology. Its subject matter has well defined boundaries and methods of study(Fig. 1.1).
- Sociology is a social science and not a physical science. As a social science, its concentration is on man, his social behavior, social activities and social life. The fact that sociology deals with the social universe, distinguishes in form of astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology and other physical sciences. Sociology is intimately related to other social sciences like psychology, history, economics and anthropology.
- Sociology is a categorical and not a normatic (partaining to a norm or standard) discipline. It conforms itself to statements about what is, and not what should be or ought to be. It does not make any valuable judgment.
- Sociology is a pure science and not an applied science. The main aim of pure sciences is the acquisition of knowledge and not its application. The immediate aim of sociology is the acquisition of knowledge about human society and not its application.
- Sociology is relatively an abstract science and not a concrete science. Thus, sociology is not interested in the concrete manifestation of human events. It is more concerned with the form of social events and their patterns. For example, sociology is not concerned with any particular war or revolution but with wars and revolutions in general, as social phenomena, as types of social conflicts.
- Sociology is a general social science and not a particularizing or individualizing science.
- Sociology is both a rational and empirical science. The empirist collects facts and the rationalist coordinates and arranges them.
Sociology has been studied in one form or other from the time of Aristotle. In the beginning, it was a part of philosophy. Gradually, it grew into an independent subject. Recently with the increased use of scientific methods, it has developed into a positive science. Sociology, enjoys a pre-eminent position in the family of social sciences. A knowledge of sociology is considered essential in the fields of medicine, nursing, law, business, social relations, administration, social work and other areas of human endeavor.
Knowledge of human behavior with an interdisciplinary approach to understand human needs in the context of social problems is the subject matter of medical sociology. It is a social system of approach to understand human behavior. The interpersonal circulation, group influence and sociocultural factors help to find solutions to medical problems, which are very complex in nature.
In the recent times, the field of sociology has extended towards medical sociology, which describes medicine as a social science. Health is a complex whole state of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being of an individual and not merely an absence of disease or infirmity. There is an urgent need to integrate behavior sciences with medicine in educating healthcare personal. Social medicine is an integrated product of medicine, education, health care and socio-behavior sciences.
The healthcare personnel should have adequate experience in the practice of medicine and in the art of professional healthcare system to keep in line with social progress by keeping scientific pace with the structural realities in contemporary societies.
Medical sociology also studies the relationship between health phenomena and social factors in social context. It provides information concerning the process, scope and organization of elements of the medicine, which will affect the individual. It enables the practitioners to have sound knowledge about medical institutions, the study of diseases, sociocultural perspectives, attitudes, values and treatment facilities.
Social medicine is the study of various broad sociocultural, economic, political factors, health problems and health practices that shapes health service systems of a country at the macro-level and health behavior of the people and health institutions at the micro-level.
Social medicine is a branch of medical science concerned with the study of relations between social and economic conditions and health of individuals and groups and at the same time practical measures within the social field to promote health, prevent disease and assist the recovery of the sick. Its three sociological aspects are: (a) Health in relation to community, (b) Health as a social policy and (c) Health as a social value.
Guerin Divided Social Medicine into Four Parts
- Social physiology: The study of the relation between the physical and mental conditions of a population.
- Social pathology: The study of social problems in relation to health and disease.
- Social hygiene: Determining measures for disease prevention and health promotion.
- Social theory: The provision of medical and other measures to deal with social integration and other conditions that society might experience.
Nursing profession plays an important role in social medicine. Nurses must understand how personal goals, values, attitudes and emotional status of doctors, nurses, and patients are built into life pattern of adjustments. A knowledge of the family and economic conditions of the patient is essential for the nurses, physicians and paramedical personnel while dealing with patients. Nurses in particular have always been concerned with more than the medical care of the patients and have perhaps felt or thought many of the things, which sociologists are now emphasizing.
- Sociology and etiology of disease:Coal miners are likely to develop black lung disease. Men working with asbestos, are likely to develop lung cancer. Those working with vinyl chloride plastics are likely to develop cancer of the liver. Sociologists undertake studies dealing with coronary disease, cancer and some forms of mental disorders and establish correlation between the medical and social factors.
- Variations in attitudes and behavior regarding health and illness.
- Recognition of the way in which medicine and prevalence of a specific health disorder.
Both medicine and social sciences are equally concerned with human behavior. Medicine has been concerned with the aspects of behavior related to pain, illness, inappropriate physiological and organic responses that threaten the survival or comfort of the individual.
Methods of Sociology
- Scientific method or experimental method
- Historical method
- Case study method or an intensive investigation of a single unit
- Anthropological method
- Public opinion method or opinion poll method
- Statistical method
- Social survey method
- Functional method
- Sociometric method
- Questionnaire and interview method.
Scientific Method or Experimental Method
The different steps in an experiment are:
- Formulation hypothesis
- Plan of research design
- Collection of data
- Analysis of data
- Drawing conclusions.
It involves observation, recording, classification, verification and prediction. Observation means looking at things. It should be spontaneous or controlled. The later is called experimentation. This is carried out in social sciences like sociology with great success over a wide range situations and types of behaviors. The second stage is recording of observed data.
The third stage is classification where one arranges the data in a certain order, so that there can be some meaning to serve the subject matter. Next comes the explanation or interpretation of data so collected. Then comes the last stage of prediction, which helps the sociologist to get a general idea of the situation on the basis of observations and whether they would be valid in future also.
This consists of study of old papers, data and information regarding social aspects of an institution, its origin and growth, success and failures as compared with the present data. Thought it has its limitations in the medical field, it is used to get the past history of illness.
Case History Method or an Intensive Investigation of a Single Unit
It is a medical biography of a single subject preparing all available information about the individual from all available sources, written and oral. It is a form of qualitative analysis involving a very careful and complete observation of a person in a situation or an institution. Any case being studied thoroughly as a sample of many, makes generalization possible. The techniques used in this method include questionnaires, interviews, life histories and documents of all types having a bearing on the subject to give a deeper understanding of his problems.
Comparative or Anthropological Method
Sociology is a study of social relationships. It cannot effectively use a conventional laboratory for data collection. For a sociologist, the wide world is a laboratory, which contains a large number of groups with their own distinctive behavior patterns, customs and culture. The sociologist studies these groups by comparative methods. This method involves comparison of various groups of people with their culture, traditions and ways of behavior. Different communities and societies differ in their cultural and behavior patterns.
Public Opinion Method or Opinion Poll Method
This method is used to measure the beliefs, faiths, attitudes of the public on any given proposition or policy. This method is very popular in the USA. It studies social, political and economic aspects. The public gives its opinion in a questionnaire form where they have to tick “yes” “no” or “do not know” to the proposition. The data so collected enable the authorities to modify their policies.
This method is to measure social phenomenon mathematically with the help of figures. According to Odom, “statistics is the scientific numbering and measuring problems objectively and it is an essential base to research.” The statistical method can be used when data are presented quantity and quality wise. Much of the research studies in sociology as in population, human ecology and human health are carried out by statistical method.
Social Survey Method
The method consists of collection of data concerning the living and working conditions of people in a given area to take social measures for their betterment and welfare. The method has been used in family planning survey and other national health programs.
This method is also called functionalism. By this method, we try to interpret any part of the society in terms of structure and function. This method is very popular among sociologists. According to Dr RK Merton, it depends on theory, method and data. This method assumes that the total social system of the society is made up of parts, which are inter-related and inter-dependent. The functions so performed by each group are studied from different angles and also from the entire social system.
This method, introduced by American psychologist Moreno, has very large application in sociology. The method consists of asking members of a group to choose three of the group who they like the best and with whom they like to work in the order of preference. Similarly, they are also asked to give names of three members whom they dislike and with whom they do not like to work. Individual preferences and dislikes are thus obtained and a sociogram prepared.
Sociogram is a good index of the group climate. It will indicate whether there are any major cliques or divisions in the group so that necessary steps can be initiated to rectify the situation.
Questionnaire and Interview Method
A questionnaire is a list of important and relevant questions regarding the area under study. The answer to the problem is collected through interview, a verbal method. It will give an idea about the social behavior. The interview method is of direct concern to individuals who are under direct study of the problem.
In order to carry on the study of a problem, first a hypothesis is formed and a questionnaire is prepared. Unlike the scientific field, where research is carried out in the laboratory or indoors, social sciences collect data from the field or outdoor, the subject being human that are found everywhere.
Scope or Subfields/Branches of Sociology
Sociology is a fast growing academic discipline (Table 1.1). It has developed various subfields to study different aspects of man's social life. Each subfield employs its own approach and techniques. Some of the main branches of sociology are:
- Rural sociology
- Industrial sociology
- Urban sociology
- Sociology of education
- Sociology of family
- Sociology of law
- Sociology of religion
- Sociology of occupation
- Cultural sociology
- Political sociology.
In addition, sociology has made intensive studies in many other fields like social stratification, mass media of communication, public opinion and bureaucracy. The horizon of sociology is expanding and the possibilities are endless. Gradually, it will cover man's entire social life.
Importance of Sociology
- Sociology studies society in a scientific way. Scientific knowledge about human society is needed for progress in various fields of human endeavor.
- Sociology improves our understanding of society, social groups, social institutions and their functions; Changing trends help us to lead an effective and meaningful social life.
- Sociology helps us to become broad minded by overcoming our prejudices, misconceptions, egoism, class and communal hatred.
- Sociology helps us to understand social problems by studying their causes and solutions.
- Social planning has been made easier by sociological study. It is often the vehicle of social reforms and social reorganization.
- A background knowledge of sociology is very useful for lawmakers to know the formal and informal laws of the country.
- Sociology will improve international understanding and peace by evaluating the social cost of war and causes of social tension between nations.
- Sociology is useful as a teaching subject. By disseminating knowledge about society, socialized thinking will emerge. Socialized behavior and new social order will be evolved. A knowledge of social forces is necessary for senior administrators (example IAS cadre). Sociology can be taken up also as a full time profession.
- Sociology has changed our outlook on crime and punishment. The criminals are no longer treated as degenerated beasts. They are now regarded as human beings suffering from mental deficiencies and efforts are accordingly made for rehabilitation as useful members of society.
- Tribal welfare. Studies conducted by sociologists regarding tribal society and problems have helped many governments in undertaking various social welfare measures for tribals.
- Sociology illustrates the necessity of socialization for the survival of every human being.
Uses of Sociology in Nursing
Medical sociology deals with medicine in modern society. Public health problems like epidemics, coronary heart diseases, hypertension, diabetes and intestinal disorders are caused largely by social factors of stress and the strain due to fast modern life. Medical sociology is extremely useful for the entire health services. Sociologists examine diseases in their social settings, in the life of the community as well as the bedside and in the laboratory for they all have their social causes as well as individual causes. Prevention depends largely on dealing with the social causes. Doctor–patient and nurse–patient relationships, medical education and training, hospital administration, etc. are also studied in medical sociology.
Sociology is Important to Nursing in the Following Ways
- It will help the nurse to know the social life of the patients. The social environment plays an important part in health and disease. These factors include the cultural values, customs, beliefs, attitudes, morals, religion, education, standard of living, community life, availability of health services, social and political organization. A harmonious social environment enables health, whereas maladjustment may not only cause illness but also deprive him of taking adequate action against it.
- Sociology will enable her to know the distinctive culture of each patient. In a vast subcontinent like India with a variety of religions, castes, tribes, and communities, it is essential to know the culture of each patient. This knowledge is necessary before attempting treatment to make medical and nursing services more effective. For this, an understanding of the subject of sociology is essential.
- A knowledge of sociology will help the nurse to adjust herself in the hospital organization and administration as this will influence the probable outcomes of the actions planned. The nurse must understand how personal goals, values, attitudes and emotional states of doctors and nurses build into life patterns of adjustments and how they influence the doctor–nurse relationships in the hospital.
- Nurses working in a community will realize that community is a population made up of several groups of people living in a certain area. Man is a social-being and cannot live without the other human beings. Sociology is the study of society and social relations of how people react to one another. In sociology, we study man's picture of today's and tomorrow's society to find a way to a better life for all.
- Medical sociology will enable the nurse to:
- Recognize the significance of social forces in health
- Understand and appreciate the need to deal with such social process as health values and motivation
- Organize and administer public health programs as per motivational needs.
- Sociology helps cooperation in the field of nursing, a regard for the wishes, needs and aspirations of other people, sympathy and identification. Sympathy depends upon the capacity of an individual to imagine himself/herself in the place of another, particularly when the other person is in difficulty.
- Sociology helps in communication. Social interaction becomes effective when there is a flow of communication from higher level to lower level and vice versa.
- Higher level of communication flows from nurse to patient. This constitutes problem identification and resources to solve problems.
- Communication from patient to nurse indicates lower level which carries feedback with regard to ideas, opinion and attitudes towards the care taken.
Communication supports nursing field to ensure that needs are adequately addressed in time.
Assignment I: What is medical sociology? What is the relevance of sociology to the nursing profession?
Long Essays (10 marks)
1. Importance of sociology.
2. Relevance of study of sociology by nurse.
3. Describe the sociological research methods used in health care profession.
4. Explain how a nurse can make use of knowledge of sociology in patient care.
5. Explain the need and utility of sociological knowledge to a student nurse in her career.
6. Bring out clearly the importance of the study of sociology in health and nursing with particular reference to attitude towards illness and treatment in Indian context.
7. Describe the origin and development of social medicine. What is its application in nursing.
Short Essays (5 marks)
8. “Learning of sociology facilitates social interaction among nurses”—Discuss.
9. Define sociology. How does it differ from social psychology.
10. Explain how social factors influence health and illness.
11. Describe the role of family in health and disease of an individual.
Short Answers (2 marks)
12. Give two definitions of sociology.
13. Give the meanings of the root words from which the term “sociology” is derived.
14. Define sociology. How is it different from social phychology.
15. What is medical sociology.