The Birth of Sociology: A Study Material for Students

We live in a world that is changing very quickly. The world that is plagued by social and natural forces. The world that has set man into continuous search for the solutions on the problems that have emerged from its dynamic nature. The world that is created by man but everywhere it has made man to be in chains. The world which has made its inhabitants to be unequal irrespective of the physiological equalities. The world that man builds and destroys but it outlives man. More importantly, the world that should be organized.

The society is this world that deserves this attention. The birth of sociology is the response to the characteristics of this world-society. All intellectual fields are profoundly shaped by their social settings. This is particularly true of sociology, which not only is derived from that setting but takes the social setting as its basic subject matter (Ritzer, 2012). A brief focus on a few of the most important social conditions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is very pertinent in understanding the birth of sociology.

These social conditions that are of utmost significance in the birth of sociology include the followings:

Political Revolution

The long series of political revolutions that were ushered in by the French revolution in 1789 and carried over through the nineteenth century was the most immediate factor in the birth of sociology.

The impact of this revolution on many societies was enormous, and many positive changes resulted. However, what attracted the attention of many early theorists were not the positive consequences hut the negative effects of such changes. These early scholars were particularly disturbed by the resulting chaos and disorder, especially in France. They were united in a desire to restore order to society.

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Some of the extreme thinkers of this period literally wanted a return to the peaceful and relatively orderly days of the Middle Ages. The more sophisticated thinkers recognized that social change had made such a return impossible. Thus they sought instead to find new bases for order in societies that had been overturned by the issue of social order was one of the major concerns of the early sociologists, especially August Comte, Emile Durkheim, and Talcott Parson.

The industrial Revolution and the Rise of Capitalism

At least as important as political revolution in shaping the birth of sociology was the Industrial Revolution, which swept through many western societies, mainly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Industrial Revolution was not a single event but many interrelated developments that culminated in the transformation of the Western world from a largely agricultural to an overwhelmingly farms and industrial system. Large numbers of people left farms and agricultural work for the industrial occupations offered in the bourgeoning factories.

The factories themselves were transformed by a long series of technological improvements. Large economic bureaucracies arose to provide the many services needed by industry and emerging capitalist economic system. In this economy, the ideal was a free marketplace where the many products of an industrial system could be exchanged. Within this system, a few profited low wages. A eithin this system, a few profited greatly while the majority worked long hours for low wages.

A reaction against the industrial system and against capitalism in general followed and led to labour movement as well as to various radical movements aimed at overthrowing the capitalist system.

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The Industrial Revolution, capitalism and the reaction against them all involved an enormous upheaval in western society. This situation was a great upheaval that attracted sociologists. Four major sociological thinkers;

  • Karl Marx
  • Max Weber
  • Emile
  • Durkheim and George Simmel

Were preoccupied, as were many lesser thinkers, with these changes and the problems they created for the society as a whole. These sociologists spent their lives studying these problems that would help solve them.


Partly as a result of the Industrial Revolution, Large numbers of people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were uprooted from their rural homes and moved to urban settings. This massive migration was caused, in large part, by the jobs created by the Industrial system in the urban areas. But it presented many difficulties for those people who had to adjust to urban life: In addition, the expansion of the cities produced a seemingly endless list of urban problems- overcrowding, pollution, noise, traffic, and so forth. The nature of urban life and its problems attracted the attention of many early sociologists, especially Max Weber and George Simmel.

Religious Change

Social changes brought on by political revolutions, the Industrial Revolution and urbanization had a profound effect on religiosity. Many early sociologists came from religious backgrounds and were actively, and in some cases professionally, involved in religion Hinkle and Hinkle, 1954) cited by Ritzer (2012). They brought to sociology the same objectives they espoused in their religious lives.

For some (such as Comte), sociology was transformed into a religion (Ritzer, 2012). For others, their sociological theories bore an unmistakable religious imprint. Durkheim wrote one of his major works on religion. Morality played a key role not only in Durkheim’s sociology but also in the work of Talcott Parson. A large portion of Weber’s work also was devoted to the religions of the world, too, had an interest in religiosity, but his orientation was far more critical.

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