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Development of Sociology

Sociology is the youngest of the recognized social sciences.Auguste Comte in France coined the word 'sociology' in his Positive Philosophy published in 1838.He believed that a science of sociology should be based on systematic observation and classification not on authority and speculation. This was a relatively new idea at that time. Herbert Spencer in England published his Principles of Sociology in 1876. He applied the theory of organic evolution to human society and developed a grand theory of social evolution.

Lester F Ward an American published his Dynamic Sociology in 1883 calling for social progress through intelligent social action which sociologists should guide. All these founders of sociology were basically social philosophers. They proclaimed that sociologists should collect, organize and classify factual data and derive sound social theories from these facts. While they called for scientific investigation they did relatively little of it themselves.

Emile Durkheim gave the most notable early demonstration of scientific methodology in sociology. In his Rules of sociological Method published in 1895,he outlined the methodology which he pursued in his study 'Suicide' published in 1897.Instead of speculating upon the causes of suicide ,he first planned his research design and then collected a large mass of data on the characteristics of people who commit suicide and then derived a theory of suicide from these data.

Courses in sociology appeared in many universities in the 1890s.The American Journal of Sociology began publication in 1895 and the American Sociological Society was organized in 1905.Whereas most of the early European sociologists came from the fields of history, political economy or philosophy many of the early American sociologists had been social workers, ministers and nearly all were from rural backgrounds.

Urbanization and industrialization were creating grave social problems and these early sociologists were looking for scientific solutions. They saw sociology as a scientific guide to social progress. The early volumes of the American Journal of Sociology contained relatively few articles devoted to scientific description or research but carried many sermons filled with advice etc.

By 1930s the several sociological journals were well filled with research articles and scientific descriptions. Sociology was becoming a body of scientific knowledge with its theories based upon scientific observation rather than upon impressionistic observation.