The Onerous Task of Defining Sociology

The Onerous Task of Defining Sociology
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By Dr Fayaz Ahmad Bhat

The literal meaning of word ‘definition’ is, ‘a statement that explains the meaning of a word or phrase’. According to Wikipedia “a definition states the meaning of a word using other words. This is sometimes challenging. Common dictionaries contain lexical descriptive definitions but there are various types of definition all with different purposes and focuses”.
It is worth to note that ‘definition states the meaning of a word using other words’ in other words defining things is sometimes an unending process and is not an easy task. “In classical thought, a definition was taken to be a statement of the essence of a thing. Aristotle had it that an object’s essential attributes form its “essential nature”, and that a definition of the object must include these essential attributes”. In the era of deconstruction the process has become very tough and compound.
As mentioned above defining objects is not simple however; the complexity varies from one branch of knowledge to another. In comparison to “natural sciences” the process of defining in social sciences is very complex. Forget about the differences in defining theories and concepts in social science. There are differences and controversies in defining the very.
Comte the father of sociology classified sciences on the order of development of sciences. In his hierarchy of the sciences Mathematics comes first and is base of all sciences. Mathematics is followed by Astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and finally sociology. ‘The hierarchy is marked by the law of increasing complexity and decreasing generality’. In other words , sociology is the most complex science with decreasing degree of generality.
Inkeles, says that Sorokin, cited over 1,000 scholars whose work is important enough to review development of sociology. “Becker and Barnes filled two volumes of 1,178 long pages. In the face of this massive array, who is to say which men define the sociological tradition?” The complexity of sociology has been compounded by the disagreement over the subject matter and scope of sociology. Moreover, the definitions of sociology propounded by sociologist not only make things complicated but birthed controversies.
Rao, in just one page of his book cited 14 definitions of sociology. Doshi and Jain remarks that in a single sentence , reviewing the definitions of sociology given by master thinkers, one could safely say that sociology studies man as member of society or a group , may it caste or clan”.
However, a sociological examination of definitions and statement of Doshi and Jain, reveals that there is not only disagreement among sociologists in defining sociology and its subject matter but many definition are against the very spirit of sociology and non sociological, including the statement of Doshi and Jain. Forget sociology; the imagination of very human society is a mystical illusion without women. Limiting the scope of sociology and confining it to study of men highlights some very important sociological issues like- ‘taking things far granted’, social relations, construction of social reality and so on.
The problem in any branch of knowledge especially in sociology is not confined to defining the discipline, concepts, theories … but ‘taking things far granted’. Schultz, remarks “the zone of things ‘taken far granted’ may be defined as that sector of world which in connection with the theoretical or practical problem we are concerned with at a given time, does not seem to need further inquiry, although we do not have clear and distinct insight into understanding of its structure.
Einstein, very rightly said “the universe is difficult to comprehend because it is obvious”. The word sociology “dates from the correspondence of COMTE in 1824. Since the emergence of sociology countless monographs have been written on the subject and loads of definitions have been propounded, but the very word ‘sociology’ has been ‘taken fargranted’. The word sociology appeared obvious to sociologists and become difficult to comprehend, despite Berger said that “the first wisdom of sociology is this – things are not what they seem” and Bourdieu said “sociology is a science which uncovers the hidden truth of society”.
In a book published in January 2017, this author tried to uncover the hidden in the very word of ‘sociology’. The author recognized that every alphabet of word sociology stands to define sociology and its subject matter. In classroom interactions it was found that students not only enjoy new formulation but are able to remember it easily.
The alphabet S, stand for social system, social processes, O, for Of, C, for companions, competition, conflict, cooperation, conciliation, I, for interaction, institutions, O, for organisations, L, for Liquid, O, for ological, G, for groups and Y, for youngest. By giving order and explanation to the above mentioned words, sociology is a youngest, ological (scientific study) of liquid social system, social processes, companions, conflict cooperation, competition, conciliation, institutions, interaction, organisations and groups.
Bauman remarks that the present phase of history of modernity is like a fluid that flow, spill, run out, splash, leak, and keep changing form, shape and nature. Bauman drew attention towards social relations in post modernity which he preferred to call liquid modernity. However, these changes were also experienced by earlier societies. Historical accounts reveal human relations were changing like liquid with external pressure, stimulus and environment. Liquid is made up of tiny vibrating particles of matter, held together by intermolecular bonds. This is unseen and hidden. Human relations and society has similar constitution.
Human beings respond to external stimulus and environment and behave like liquid. As liquid exerst pressure on the sides of a container in a gravitational field, human beings exert the same on social structure, which has been discussed by Giddens in his ‘structuration theory’. Liquidity is not a feature of post modern societies but traditional societies behave similarly. Take the example of present ruling dispensation in Kashmir their whole election manifesto and election campaign was against communal forces, to keep them away from the power but later they not only formed coalition government with them but completely surrendered before them. In 2016, unrest masses like liquid spilled, splash and run out to, took streets, beat chest for Azadi, cry for Azadi, and swear to die for Azadi but later not only squeezed into the corner but thronged to recruitment ‘Melas’ organized by army and police. Given the collective dementia of the masses it is no surprising at all to witness the fast changing social moods, relations, political affiliations, ideologies and likes and dislikes. They spill, freeze, and evaporate depending upon the environment.
Mills opens his classic work The Sociological Imagination by writing how liquid, intertwined social forces and personal lives are:
“When a society is industrialized, a peasant becomes a worker; a feudal lord is liquidated or becomes a businessman. When classes rise or fall, a man is employed or unemployed; when the rate of investment goes up or down, a man takes a new heart or goes broke. When wars happen, an insurance salesman becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar man; a wife lives alone; a child grows up without a father.
What Bauman specifies with only ‘liquid modern’ society has been there from centuries with a varying degree. The task of sociology is to understand liquid human relations and society no matter whether to use macro or micro approach, empiricism, inter-subjectivity or any other method.


—The author is a student of sociology, social activist and faculty member at the Department of Sociology, University of Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir. He can be reached

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