Introduction to Sociology

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Sociology is a subject of central significance in the modern world, bringing a new perspective to all our knowledge. It is the scientific study of society; by society we mean all forms of association to be found in all types of people it is nothing but the scientific study of social systems.

The students who opt for this paper in Prelims and Mains are from various disciplines. This is one of the papers, which you can master within 4 months for Prelims and 3½ months for Mains. The central importance of this paper is due to its study of society. You and Me are part of this society. That is why it is easy for us to understand it and analyze it.

How do we say or confirm a subject is scoring and not scoring. The fact of the matter is No subject can be labeled as scoring and not scoring. To grade this, we need to use other parameters and reasons.

What are those parameters?

(a) Need a Good teacher

1. Interactive.

2. Involved.

3. Informative.

4. Inspiring.

5. Communicator.

6. Writer.

7. Well-read person.

8. Exclusively UPSC-oriented

(b) Easy access to study materials along with standard the basic textbooks.

(c) Your basic interest in the subject.

(d) Willingness to write as many as tests as possible, with fair evaluation.

If you have the above-mentioned items then it will be a subject that is good scoring.

What is happening today? Let us analyze the myth and reality.


Most of the teachers who teach SOCIOLOGY have never done formal education in the subject. They studied this subject by reading syllabus-related books and notes. Their perspective and sociological reasoning are based on simple, common understanding of the subject. In the process the students are misled. Those students who attempt the questions, especially from paper II, look through the prism of the teacher, which is general in outlook. This is an important reason why they get less marks in paper II.

Let me emphasize and make it clear that to all the students. No subject is good -scoring and no subject is bad - scoring. All subjects are good-scoring provided you have all the above-mentioned parameters. Sociology as a discipline today is one of the high scoring subjects in Mains and easy to clear in Prelims.

Myth II

-There is a view that there are different types of sociology:

(a) UPSC Sociology

(b) Academic Sociology and

(c) State services sociology.

This is a white lie. I don’t understand how it had spread as a rumour. In the process, the rumour had become as a fact as the way it was believed that the god Ganesha drank milk.

As a trained sociologist let me give here my view: sociology as a subject is everywhere the same in India or at the international level. The same Delhi School of Economics syllabus is taught in the London School of Economics, Oxford University , Harvard University or Madras University .

But Paper-II varies from state to state, country-to-country and society-to-society because it deals on ones own countries problems and its perspectives. The fact is that sociologists set questions and sociologists correct the papers. Then how can sociology vary?

But in fact this rumour had got some basis. The reality points to the variation of writing skills. Writing answers for an academic exam, say BA, MA, MPhil or PhD, is different from writing a UPSC exam. That points to the only major difference, in the time management with limited words. In competitive exam those who don’t violate those rules always succeed. The academic exam is to test your bookish knowledge alone but a competitive exam tests not your bookish knowledge but something beyond it. You are supposed to handle the exam in a balanced way.

In mains writing you are supposed to start to the question and to the point. That is why I developed the AQTQ technique which has become a superhit to all the students. (You may refer to this later in this booklet. More discussions and practices will be carried in class.]

To stress the above-mentioned point let me add:. The questions are set by subject experts and corrected and evaluated by the subject experts. They are all academic sociologists and subject specialists. Therefore you can’t neglect the academic aspects also. This you will understand over period of time while attending classes and writing tests in the class. Having given this background and having broken these myths let me go straight to the subject matter.

What is Sociology?

Sociology is a critical understanding of society. Learning sociology is to know society and evaluate its working. Studying sociology cannot be just a routine process of acquiring knowledge. Learning sociology is in part a process of obtaining a richer awareness of ourselves and others, by developing an outlook that C. Wright Mills called the Sociological Imagination “ the ability to think about ourselves, away from the daily routines of our lives, in order to look at them anew. Men have reflected upon the societies in which they live.

Sociology is the youngest of the social sciences. Its major concern is society. Sociology is concerned with the life and activities of man. It studies the nature and character of human society and also its origin and development structure and functions. It analyses the group life of man and examines the bond of social unity. The basic insight of sociology is that the groups to which people belong largely shape Human behavior and by the social interaction that takes place within those groups. Sociology like physical sciences seeks to discover, describe, and explain the order, which characterizes the social life of man.


It is the business of sociology to investigate the connections between What society makes of us and what we make of ourselves? Our activities give shape to the social world around us and at the same time our activities are structured by that social world.

Sociology has many practical implications for our lives. A Giddens points out 3 such implications.

1) Awareness of cultural differences

Sociology allows us to see the social world from view points other than our own. If we properly understand how others live, we also acquire a better understanding of what their problems are. Unless we have this understanding practical policies are not possible. E.g. Policy decisions regarding social discrimination.

2) Assessing the effects of Policies

Sociological research provides practical help in assessing the results of policy initiatives. A programme of practical reform may simply fail to achieve the desired result or may produce unintended consequences.

3) Self-enlightenment

Sociology can provide us with self-enlightenment and increased self-understanding. The more we know about why we act as we do and about the overall workings of our society, the more likely we are able to influence our own futures. Self-enlightened groups can often benefit from sociological research and respond in an effective way to government policies or form policy initiatives of their own. Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or social movements such as the Environmental Movement are examples of social groups that have directly sought to bring about practical reforms.

Kingsley Davis stresses the following uses of sociology

The study of society contributes much to the formulation of social policies. Social policies in a complicated society require a certain amount of knowledge about the society in question. Without such knowledge social policies cannot be effectively implemented. Eg. Population survey studies, survey on the causes of extreme poverty

The study of society has a clearly instrumental value. i.e. once certain goals are agreed upon, it helps to determine the most efficient means for reaching these goals. Eg. Birth control policy requires an analysis of the Population dynamics, reproductive customs etc. These depend on Sociological analysis.

The Maximum usefulness of sociology is obtained when knowledge about society is extended to the general population (a) While the general population may be easily misled through the media and the educational system, we have to consider some social problems dispassionately and objectively to recognize and reject irrational opinions and policies. E.g. Diminution of race prejudice and discrimination. [b]. Sociology widens our sympathies and imaginations, increases our understanding of the other human beings outside the narrow circle of our own time, locality and social situation. In this way, unity within diversity is achieved. From this point of view the study of Sociology is of immense importance in India .

There is an intellectual value for sociology. The study of sociology helps the individual to understand human society, how social systems work, how people’s behavior is modified by their circumstances. It enables an individual to adjust to new situations.

A comparative study of different societies has a moral value. An understanding of other people’s behavior and actions enables us to look at them as other human beings similar to us.

The study of sociology has educational value also. When we learn how people in different societies have arranged their lives we may develop a healthy skepticism, or develop the habit of asking intelligent questions about, own society. The study of sociology must make us aware of the sources of bias and prejudice in ourselves.

Sociology offers a distinct and highly illuminating perspective of human behaviour. Learning sociology means taking a step back from our own personal interpretations of the world, and to look at the social influence which shapes our lives. Sociology does not deny or diminish the reality of individual experience. Rather we obtain a richer awareness of our own individual characteristics and those of others, by developing sensitivity towards the wider universe of social activity in which we are all involved.

Learning to think sociologically means cultivating the powers of imagination. Studying sociology can be just a routine process of acquiring knowledge. A sociologist is someone who is able to break free from the immediacy of personal circumstances. Learning sociology is in part a process of self-exploration. No one can study sociology without having to confront challenges to some of their own deeply held views.

Sociological thinking is a vital help to self-understanding, which in turn can be focused on an improved understanding of the social world. Studying sociology should be a liberating experience; sociology enlarges our sympathies and imagination, opens up new perspectives on the sources of our own behaviour and deepens the sense of cultural settings different from our own. In so far as sociological work challenges dogma, teaches appreciation of cultural variety and allows us insight into the working of social institutions, the practice of sociology enhances the possibilities of human freedom.

The second theme is that of the world in change. Sociology was born of the transformations which wrenched the industrializing social order of the West away from the life characteristics of pre-existing societies. The world, which has thus been created, is the dominant object of concern of sociological analysis. Sociology has the prime responsibility for charting out the transformations which have taken place in the past, and for grasping the major lines of development taking place today.

That is why we define sociology as the study of human social life groups and societies. It is a dazzling and compelling enterprise, having as its subject matter our own behaviour as social beings. The scope of sociology is extremely wide- ranging from the analysis of passing encounters between individuals in the street to the investigation of global social processes.

The practice of sociology involves gaining knowledge about ourselves, the societies in which we live, and other societies distinct from ours in space and time. Sociological findings both disturb and contribute to our common sense beliefs about ourselves and others.

Learning to think sociologically means cultivating powers of the imagination. A sociologist is someone who is able to break free from the immediacy of personal circumstances.


Besides the empirical grounding in careful observation and description of facts, sociology as a discipline is characterized by its rigorous search for interconnections among different domains of society and its systematic use of comparisons. These preoccupations make sociology anti-utopian in its claims and anti-fatalistic in its orientations, and distinguish its generalized knowledge from localized commonsensical knowledge.

Sociology in contemporary India is a loosely defined field of intellectual activity. There are pervasive disagreements about its aims, its scope, its approaches, its methods, its concepts and its very subject matter. Many would say that is it at best a subject, and not quite, or not yet, a discipline. There are professors of sociology who not only disapprove of the subject as it exists today but are doubtful about the very possibility of its existence; and there are laymen, with only a passing acquaintance with its vocabulary, who speak confidently about its aims, objectivities, methods and procedures.

Sociology seems by contrast to be grist to everybody’s mill. Part of the ambiguity and uncertainty characteristic of the subject arises from the fact that it touches the everyday experience of the ordinary person at so many points; and it often appears so close to common sense that there is an inevitable tendency to use the one in place of the other. This is not to suggest that the subject can have no place outside of academic institutions. Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, two of the most influential sociologists of the 19th century had little to do with universities, and Max Weber who came after them did much of his work outside the university.

At the same time, sociology has been a recognized academic discipline in India for more than 70 years, and there has been a virtual explosion of the subject in universities and research institutes since independence. It may be useful to look at the work being done in these centers of study and research before enquiring into the relationship of the subject to the wider intellectual currents in society.

I wish to argue that for all its unresolved, and in some cases irresolvable differences, sociology is distinct from common sense. It has a body of concepts, methods and theories, however loosely held together, for which common sense of even the most acute and well-informed kind cannot be a substitute.

For one thing, sociological knowledge aims to be general if not universal, whereas common sense is particular and localized. Educated, middle class Tamilians like other educated or uneducated people anywhere, tacitly assume that their common sense is common sense as such. An important contribution of sociology has been to show that common sense is in fact highly variable, subject to the constraints of time and place as well as other, more specifically social constraints.

To say that sociology in distinct from common sense is not to suggest that it should seek deliberately to be arcane or esoteric. N.K. Bose used to say that there are two kinds of scientists, those who make complex things simple and those who make simple things complex, and that his preference was for the former. We must surely deplore the mystification of the simple through the display of technical virtuosity; but we must also recognize that common sense is not always successful, by its own unaided effort, in making complex things a simple.

Let me make one thing clear: when I say that sociology should be pushed as a serious intellectual discipline, I do not mean at all that it should seek to trump common sense by adopting an inflated style. I am only too conscious of the fact that sociological writing tends to be cluttered with the needless use of heavy academic slang.

Thus, sociology has to steer an uneasy course between two equally unfruitful alternatives; submergence in the common sense of the scholars own environment, and absorption into a narrow and self-satisfied technical virtuosity unconnected with the substance of social enquiry. I would like to emphasize that nothing will be gained by abandoning either common sense or the cultivation of technical skills. Just as common sense is full of snares and pitfalls for the unwary sociologist, so too technical virtuosity becomes a distraction when pursued as an end in itself.

In sociology, the situation is often different, with greater room for ambiguity and disagreement. Students who can write fluently use their common sense and a superficial acquaintance with names and opinions to cobble together reasonably persuasive answers.

Others who may have struggled with the subject but are handicapped by poverty of expression produce answers that is weak, confused and meandering. The examiner is often unsure whether he is giving credit for a well-written essay or for a good knowledge of the subject. Exactly the same problem arise in evaluating scripts for journal articles or books; many a trivial article gets published because it is written in good prose, where one with a more substantial argument, but badly presented, gets rejected.

Among students the use of common sense (and fluency in language) is most in evidence in papers dealing with India. After all, every Indian student knows something about caste, class, joint family and Hinduism, and if he has some mental agility, he can write a plausible essay on any of these topics without being too far wrong.

But such a student soon finds himself out of his depth when he has to deal with such topic as kinship in Africa or religion in Indonesia, or social mobility in France. Hence, I am ill at ease with the patriotic zeal of those scholars who seek to confine the teaching of sociology to materials relating largely to India. No student can learn how to construct proper sociological arguments unless he is taught to handle empirical material relating to every type of society, his own society as well as other societies.

In the last 40 years there has been a slow but steady displacement of interest away from the general concepts, methods and theories of sociology towards an enhanced concentration of attention on the current problems of society and politics in India . Thirty years ago, sociologists liked generally to speak on general topics; like theories of evolution, types of lineage systems, relations between status and power, and so on. Now they mostly wish to hear about reservation, caste politics, communalism and secularism.

I should now disclose the real reason for my anxiety. It is not only the civil servants, the bank managers and the engineers who present their common sense as sociology. Many professional sociologists do the same although they naturally try to give their common sense an air of authority by dressing it up in their own kind of jargon.

Sociology has always and everywhere maintained some concern for current affairs, but that concern does not necessarily drive out other, more academic interests in topics that are remote from the obsessions of newspaper editors and columnists. NK Bose maintained a lifelong interest in the distribution of material traits. G.S. Ghurye wrote on dual organizations, on gotra and charana, on Indian costumes and on ancient cities; Irawati Karve wrote a book on kinship organisations in India . But such topics have a marginal place in the many regional and national seminars and conferences organized by sociologists today. They have largely been driven out by what are believed to be more socially relevant subjects.

There is no doubt that the preoccupation among Indian sociologists, regularly expressed at seminars and conferences, is with the appropriateness of the existing body of sociological knowledge to the understanding of Indian society and culture. These discussions are not so much about methods and techniques of investigations as about the presuppositions of sociological knowledge and about the nature of understanding and explanation.

They tend to be presented in highly abstract and speculative terms, and rarely lead to any concrete or workable propositions. Alternative approaches to the study of Indian society can hardly produce results unless they are linked to the disciplined practice of a craft; no new approach has emerged in science and scholarship from the mere desire to have a new approach.

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, it is impossible to practice sociology as a serious academic discipline without drawing on the vast reservoir of sociological concepts, methods and theories created by scholars over the last hundred years.

This has been mainly, though not solely, the work of Western scholars, and like any accumulated body of knowledge, it contains much that is mistaken, distorted and obsolete. Therefore, in the pursuit of this work, practicing sociologists, whether in the West or in India , have to maintain an alert and critical attitude. But that is far from saying that he can set it all aside in the hope that a completely new framework can be created.

The builders of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and others, took the whole human society in its diverse and changing forms as their subject of study, even when their primary attention was devoted to their own society. To be sure, their observations on other societies were limited, one-sided and often misleading. But they believed, one and all, that the disciplined application of sociological methods would contribute much to the understanding; could be deepened and broadened by systematic comparisons between their societies and other societies. They were all convinced that common sense was not enough to reach the understanding they sought, and that they had to fashion new tools of enquiry and analysis to attain their objective.

The sociologist who did most to lay bare the illusion of understanding created by common sense was Emile Durkheim. He argued tirelessly that the systematic investigation of a subject was not possible unless the investigator freed himself from his preconceptions of it. These preconceptions, shaped by a limited experience, are what generally pass for common sense in a given society; they are not only often wrong, but act as impediments to the examination of the available and relevant facts.

What I have tried to stress so far is that sociology is a disciplined and specialized activity in which the role of originality should not be exaggerated.

It is a craft that needs patience and care, and long apprenticeship. Its concepts and methods are not things that any intelligent persons can construct on this own in order to satisfy a passing intellectual urge. Having drawn attention to the empirical grounding of the discipline in the careful observation and description of facts, I would now like to make a few remarks on two of the fundamental preoccupations of sociology, its rigorous search for interconnections among the different domains society and its systematic use of comparisons.

Sociology is not about economic life, or life; it is not about class, or about caste, or about community; it is not about the ideal of equality or the practice of inequality. It is about the interconnections among all these and other aspects of social life. This constitutes what some have been pleased to call the functionalist bias of sociology. While freely admitting to that bias in my own work, I must point out that it is not in any way set on the presupposition that the interrelations in society are harmonious rather than disharmonious, or stable rather than unstable. It is for this reason that I speak simply of the search for interconnection and not of a holistic approach” for the latter incorporates ideas about a total social structure with which I am out of sympathy. Sociology in the last few decades has been invaded by a kind of mindless Marxism for whose adherents the world functionalist” has acted like a red rag to the bull. On the other hand, it is through a long chain of sociological arguments that a very fruitful distinction has emerged between social integration and system integration.

Common sense is not only localized, being bound by time, place, class, community, gender, and so on, it is also unreflective since it does not question its own origins and presuppositions, or at least does not do so deliberately and methodically.

As an intellectual discipline sociology cannot be a creature of common sense. But that does not mean that it should turn its back on it. Our sociology is influenced by common sense which is a part of our social environment. To what extent is that common sense in its turn influenced by sociology? Sociology will count for little as an intellectual discipline if its insulation from common sense means that it merely reproduces itself and sociologists write only to each other. Its success will be judged in the long run by its ability to act upon common sense and contribute something to its renewal and enrichment.

Common sense is based on the limited range of experience of particular persons in particular places and times. Where it relates to such matters as family, marriage, kinship, work and worship, people are inclined to believe that their way of doing things is the right way or the reasonable way, other ways of acting in these regards striking them as being not just wrong but contrary to common sense.

This is because they observe or experience other ways of acting and thinking only in bits and pieces, and not in their entire context. Seeing alien and unfamiliar practices in their proper context often makes those practices appear quite sensible. Familiarity with a wide range of practices occasionally makes ones own ingrained ways of acting and thinking appear peculiar if not quixotic.

An old Chinese poem says,

When I carefully consider the curious habits of gods, I am compelled to conclude that man is the superior animal. When I consider the curious habits of man, I confess . . . I am puzzled.

Comparative sociology is a great help in acquiring and maintaining a sense of proportion. Sociology not only deals with facts from the entire range of human societies, it seeks to place those facts on the same plane of observation and analysis.

The educated layman can hardly be expected to master all the facts with which the sociologist deals. He follows at best the method of apt illustration. And there is no consistent rule of procedure for the selection and arrangement of facts. On the other hand, sociological practice develops a characteristic style of argument that does tend to filter through to wider and wider circles in the course of time over the long run. The sociological mode of reasoning has had some effect on thinking about education, about politics, about class, and about inequality.

Where sociological reasoning acts upon common sense, it tends to moderate both the utopian and the fatalistic elements in it. Sociology is also anti-fatalistic in its orientation. It does not accept the particular constraints, taken for granted by common sense as eternal or immutable. It provides a clearer awareness than common sense of the range of alternative arrangements that have been or may be devised for the attainment of broadly the same ends. No social arrangement, however attractive in appearance, is without some cost. Social costs and benefits are far more difficult to weigh and measure than the purely economic ones. A finely-tuned judgment is essential for this, and that can be formed only through the disciplined and methodical examination of the varieties of actual social arrangements, created, adopted and replaced by successive generations.

This leads to the question of value neutrality or, better, the distinction between value judgments and judgments of reality in sociology, as against common sense. There is now a considerable body of literature, some of it abstract and technical, on this question, although this is not to say that all disagreements on it have been or can be settled among sociologists. By and large there is agreement among them that questions of fact are distinct from judgments of value, and the two ought to the differentiated as clearly as possible by all the technical means available. The disagreement is about the extent to which the distinction can be consistently maintained in practice, and about the best means to be adopted in achieving or approaching that end.


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