Introduction to Sociology 

  1. Why sociology is considered a scientific study of society and human behavior? Explain briefly

Sociology is considered a scientific study of society and human behavior. It is also the scientific study of individuals in relation to groups with whom individuals interact. Sociology as a science attempts to explain these basic questions using sociological concepts, principles and research methods. Sociological investigations may vary from testing hypotheses to explanations of more concrete social problems. One early sociologist, Emil Durkheim considered the social environment as social facts and showed that these forces influence the decisions made by individuals. In his study “suicide”, he tested his ideas scientifically. One may try to explain things that happen around us daily, for example, people commit suicide because of a number of social economic and psychological reasons. Some people may think that those who commit suicide are selfish or mentally ill. This is a common sense explanation. Such easy explanations are given for complex social events and situations.

  1. What is meant by scientific investigation? Explain briefly.

Although scientific rules are applied in the social sciences they are less rigorous than those of natural sciences. The basic requirements of any scientific inquiry are:

  1. Verifiable evidence

Scientific inquiry requires concrete and factual observations that can be checked for accuracy. Knowledge must be based on clear evidence of facts.

  1. Rejection of absolute truth

Science admits no absolute truth. Scientists must always be prepared to examine new evidence.

  1. Objectivity

Scientists must be detached and have impersonal attitudes to the subject matter under consideration. Science is to answer questions of facts and not to prove that one value is better than the other.

Sharmini Niranjala Nagendran BA Degree Program in Social Sciences – 2002/2003

Student Registration No: 40231572

  1. Precision

Accuracy and precision are also requirements of science. When scientific observations are made, it is important that they describe only the actual situation or conditions that were intended to be investigated.

  1. Accepted study methods

A scientist must use appropriate and correct data for investigation and analysis. Furthermore, there must be an organized plan to collect and analyze data and to report research findings. For example, if you are a scientist, you should know your hypotheses, the variables that you want to prove or disprove, and the indicators, prior to the collection of data. Also you need to have a good design of your program of study. Science proceeds on the basis of evidence that is presented for assessment. This evidence should not only sensory but be accompanied by empirical data which is accessible to any observer.

  1. Describe the basic concepts in functionalism

Functionalism is a school of thought that focuses on how social institutions function or can contribute to meet the needs of individuals. It also focuses on how social institutions contribute to the continuation of the overall social system. Functionalists consider society as s social system. The term “social systems” implies the existence of something as a whole and it is made up of parts that influence one another and also affect the whole. These parts are social institutions such as family, religion, government, schools, etc., which are basis to any society. These institutions perform very important functions in meeting basic needs of individuals and the society.

The major assumptions in functionalism are;

a) A society is a system of integrated parts and those parts are basic social institutions like the family and the school.

b) Each part or social institution performs a number of functions required to meet the needs of individuals.

c) Society is stable because it has social order or regularities.

d) Society continues as a system because people have accepted a body of rules, laws, customs, and moral values.

e) Those who do not conform to established rules and laws are labeled deviants, criminals and radicals. Since they are considered as threats to the continuation of the system, such people are punished and reintegrated into the society.

f) Social changes are gradual, slow and inevitable. These changes are accommodated with accompanying changes in social institutions.

Sharmini Niranjala Nagendran BA Degree Program in Social Sciences – 2002/2003

Student Registration No:40231572

Using the above assumptions functionalists have developed key concepts such as social system, functions, integration, deviance, social order and social evolution to explain the social structure, social problems and processes of social changes. Sociologists did empirical studies focussing primarily on what functions the various social institutions play and the type of social problems which exist in societies. Talcott Parsons has developed a comprehensive list of needs and requirements of society.

The sociologist Robert Merton made a distinction between two types of functions:

  1. Manifest functions and b) Latent functions.

The existence of social institutions can produce both these types of functions. For example in any formal organization, there are goals and objectives to be achieved. In addition to achievement of these objectives, institutions may create unintended (latent) consequences.

  1. Write a brief account on Karl Marx and conflict theory.

No thinker in the 19th century has perhaps had so direct, deliberate and powerful influence upon mankind as Karl Marx. The strength of his influence was unique. In an odd twist, Marx avoided direct contact with the masses for whom his entire life was certainly devoted. But Marx was endowed with a powerful mind, an active, concrete, if unsentimental mind. He had an acute sense of injustice and was repelled as much by the rhetoric of the intellectuals as he was by the complacency of the bourgeoisie. Karl Marx was concerned with the major problem of social and economic inequalities among people. He wanted to understand why there are such inequalities among people in terms of income, property and other assets. Karl Marx believed that conflicts are prevalent in human history. Throughout our human history conflicts among social groups have been the basis for social change. Marx explained that any economic system can change over time as a result of population increase, new technology, market expansion etc., Individuals and groups attempt to achieve only their specific objectives and in the process of social changes social and income inequalities are widened. Who gets what is related to the question of power. Those who have the control of resources get economics and political power and that power is exercised to control activities and behavior of others. Those who do not have resources eventually realize the situation and this awareness leads them to organize themselves for conflicts. All societies, except communist societies have conflicts built into the economic system.

The basic assumptions of this theoretical perspective are given below:

  1. The main features of any society are conflicts, coercion and social changes.
  2. Each social class or group has certain common interests whether members of the class or group are aware of them or not.
  3. When members of a class or group become aware of their common interests, such as social and economic injustice, they may organize to fight for their interests.

Sharmini Niranjala Nagendran BA Degree Program in Social Sciences – 2002/2003

Student Registration No:40231572

  1. The intensity of social class conflicts depends on the nature of the political, social and economic conditions of the country.
  2. Conflicts will ultimately lead to change in the existing system in favor of those who do not have resources.

The conflict model of society considers economic institutions as more important than other social institutions. Economy determines the types of social classes, dominant values and morals of society and nature of government, etc.

In capitalism, property is owned and controlled by few individuals who have both economic and political power. Those who own the means of production and those who do not/ are the two major social classes in capitalism.

In ancient society, the slave owners controlled the slaves. In feudal society, the nobility controlled the peasants. In capitalism, the capitalist class dominates the wage laborers. Those who dominate society and control resources like land and capital do so through all other important social institutions. Marxian analysis pays special attention to key concepts such as power, social stratification, social change, social classes, etc.


Department of Social Studies, Open University of Sri Lanka: Publication on Introduction to Sociology (2005).

Durkheim, Emil, Sociologist: Study on Suicide.

Merton, Robert, Sociologist: Sociological Works