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Sociology is a branch of Social Sciences concerned with the study of human behaviour, specifically in social relations, using the scientific method of observation. Sociology, with psychology, is at the crux of the long standing Nature vs. Nurture debate. Sociology represents nurture and psychology represents nature.


The term sociology was coined by [Auguste Comte] in 1839. Comte is also the father of [positivism]. [1] Comte's theory of positivism limits knowledge to the observable, and is crucial in approaching sociology as a science. The study of society dates back to Greek philosophers, however it was not distinguished as its own field of study until Comte.

Key Theories

There are a number of formative theorists who laid the groundwork for sociology, who have had a great deal of influence in Sociology through the following key theories:

Conflict Theory

Conflict theory strives to explain social facts in terms of different groups competing for control of resources, or advantages. This process occurs on macro levels, such as class groups, and tries to explain stability and change in terms of the conflict between these macro level structures. Two central premises to this theory are that privileged groups are working to maintain their privileges, while the disadvantaged are constantly trying to attain more. Karl Marx is regarded as the father of conflict theory, and the idea of human society. Communism is the modern day incarnation of Marx ideal human society. Central to the ideas of conflict theory are that by eliminating privilege, the overall welfare of the society can be increased. That is, a true equality amongst members of a society. Through class consciousness, Marx believed that the workers would eventually recognize they were being exploited, and put an end to privilege. [2]

Key Figures: Karl Marx, Frederich Engels, Max Weber

Notable works include
Das Kapital by Karl Marx
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber


Functionalism is a theory which examines society through interdependent elements, using a somewhat biological approach. In essence, social institutions have a specific function for the welfare of the entire society, in much the same way that the body's organs have specific functions that contribute to the overall welfare of the body. Functionalists believe that it is stable social relations or structures that influence human behaviour; these structures arise from shared values, and can either contribute to, or detract from the social stability. Functionalists believe that restoring equilibrium and increasing social cohesion can solve most social problems. In the late 40s, Robert Merton made a significant contribution to functionalist thought with his theories of manifest and latent functions. That is, a social structure can have both intentional functions, and unintentional functions respectively. Merton also believed that social structures can have a varying impact on different groups.[3][4][5]

Example: The functionalist approach to deviant behaviour takes the position that a certain amount of deviance or crime is necessary in society. At the correct balance, deviance has latent functions that contribute to the health of society. When the balance is disrupted, social cohesion deteriorates. More specifically, latent functions of deviance include providing an example of unacceptable conduct to other members of society. Criminals and others demonstrate unacceptable conduct by incurring sanctions from other formal structures, such as the courts, or mental health institutions.

Key Figures: Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton

Notable works include
Cours de philosophie positive by Auguste Compte
Suicide: A study in sociology by Emile Durkheim
Social Theory and Social Structure by Robert Merton

Symbolic Interactionism

Key Figures: George Herbert Mead

Feminist Theory

Key Figures: Harriet Martineau

Top Ten Most Influential Books

  1. Max Weber, Economy and Society
  2. C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination
  3. Robert Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure
  4. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
  5. P.L. Berger and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality
  6. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste
  7. Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process
  8. Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action
  9. Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action
  10. Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Source: Books of the Century

Professional Organizations


  1. Pickering, M. (2007). Auguste Comte. In J. Scott (Ed.), Fifty key sociologists: the formative theorists (pp. 21-26). New York: Routledge.
  2. Brym, R.J. (2001). Introducing sociology. In R.J. Brym (Ed.), New society:sociology for the 21st century (pp. 2-25). Toronto: Harcourt.
  3. Brym, R.J. (2001). Introducing sociology. In R.J. Brym (Ed.), New society:sociology for the 21st century (pp. 2-25). Toronto: Harcourt.
  4. Abercrombie, N., Hill, S. & Turner, B.S. (2000). The penguin dictionary of sociology (4th ed.). Toronto:Penguin.
  5. Gomme, I.M. (2002). The shadow line: deviance and crime in Canada (3rd ed.). Toronto:Nelson.