Sociology as a science plays a very important role in the modern intellectual culture and society. Sociology can be considered the study of social life of groups. Its object is the behavior of humans as social beings. The field of activities of sociology is extremely wide. It varies from the analysis of random social situations to the study of global social processes. Sociology considers how the human behavior develops within different domains such as love, marriage and sexuality, health and illness, or punishment for a crime. It also reveals how feelings and emotions are actually affected by social factors. Understanding the way in which social experience is reflected in human life is the basis of the sociological outlook. Sociology is particularly interested in the social life of the modern world due to the rapid changes in societies that have occurred in the last two centuries.
Sociology as science consists of systematic research methods of theoretical thinking and logical evaluation of the arguments for the development of knowledge about a particular subject. It connects critical thinking and careful selection of data needed to prove or disprove hypotheses and theories. Information and insights obtained as a result of scientific research and discussion are always to some extent preliminary and open to revision, and in some cases even to rejection. The development of sociological knowledge occurs due to the use of materials not only from the field of sociology, but also anthropology (the study of traditional societies) and history. The anthropological direction is extremely important for the development of sociological thinking, because it allows to see the kaleidoscope of different forms of social life. The historical trend of sociological imagination is fundamental, since one will be able to understand the special nature of the modern world only by comparing it with the past.
Sociological thinking and knowledge are important for the development of self-knowledge. At the same time, sociology gives humans a tool for the deeper understanding of society. The study of sociology is an interesting process of getting knowledge about the surrounding world. The sociological imagination primarily involves the ability to move away from the usual routine of a daily life and looking at it in a new way. This science develops inclinations and imagination, opens new perspectives of understanding the sources of activities and enhances the ability to perceive varying cultural attitudes. Sociological knowledge becomes a challenge for dogma, since it learns to appreciate cultural diversity and allows to see the inner workings of social institutions. Occupational sociology opens opportunities for the development of freedom of the person.
Sociology as a discipline has important practical applications. Its contribution to social criticism and practical social reforms. A better understanding of social circumstances often gives humans a chance to better control them. Sociology provides the opportunity for humans to learn about themselves and their societies. Sociological research, on the one hand, destroys, and, on the other hand, complements our ideas about ourselves and other people that are based on common sense.
The most direct way of sociological influence is providing a clearer or more correct understanding of the social situation. It can be done either at the level of factual knowledge or through the acquisition of the true understanding of a particular happening, or, in other words, by the means of theoretical justification. For example, a study can show that a much larger proportion of the population is living in poverty than commonly believed. Any attempt to improve the standard of living has a great chance of success if it is based on the accurate and not misleading information. The more people know about why poverty remains to be widespread, the more likely any action is to be effective.
The second way in which sociology can contribute to practical politics is by helping with the education about cultural sensitivity towards different groups in society. Sociological research allows to look at the social world as at consisting of diverse cultural perspectives, and it helps to eliminate the prejudices of different groups in relation to each other. Thirdly, this field has practical importance in terms of the evaluation of policy initiatives. The program of practical reforms cannot achieve the goals set by its creators or cause a series of unintended and objectionable consequences.
Fourth, and perhaps most the important point, is the claim that sociology can give civil social groups a more enlightened view of themselves and thus increase their self-understanding. The more people know about the conditions of their own activities and about the way the society functions, the greater is the opportunity that they will be able to influence the circumstances of their own lives. It would be wrong to present the practical role of sociology only as an aid for politicians or powerful groups to make informed decisions. It is not always possible to wait for care of the interests of the underprivileged from those who are in authority. Groups with high self-awareness can effectively respond to the actions of governmental officials and other influential persons and may nominate their own policy initiatives.
The social system is an example of social relations existing in a certain time and a certain place. For instance, bureaucracy of the government is considered by sociology as a pattern of behavior existing in a certain period of time. Giddens uses the term “structuration” to describe the interaction between structures and social actions. Neither the structure nor the action can exist independently. Social actions create the structure and the reproduction of structures is carried out only through the social action. Giddens notes a certain “duality of structure” bearing in mind that the structure enables social action and social action creates these same structures. Giddens illustrates this situation with the examples of language and speech. Language is a structure consisting of rules of communication that seem independent for any individual. For the language to survive, it must be spoken and written according to the existing rules. Language gradually changes. There are new words, as the old ones are forgotten. Thus, people can transform their actions and reproduce the structure.
In the social life, Giddens distinguishes two types of structures: rules and resources. Under the rules, the author has in mind the procedures that individuals can follow in the social life. Sometimes the interpretation of these rules gains a written form, for example, as in the case with laws or bureaucratic rules. The structural rules can be reproduced by members of the company or changed by the creation of new rules through action. The second type of structure is resources. They also occur only as a result of human activity and may change. Resources can be localized or overbearing.
Due to the “duality of structure”, systems and institutions are closely linked to human activities, which, according to Giddens, are often named “agencies” implying that they originally play an active role in the society. According to Giddens, structure affects human behavior through the knowledge of social agents. The society has a large amount of general knowledge of how to behave and solve problems. It allows agents to be guided in their daily lives and to operate the surrounding objects. Agents use knowledge about the rules of society that exist in its structure and behavior. They also enjoy material and power resources, which are parts of the structure of society.
Giddens believes that people are endowed with the desire for a certain degree of stability in their social lives. They have a need for “the ontological security or confidence that nature and the social world will remain as they are”. He suggests that the reason may be a natural concern for the preservation of the physical body. According to Giddens, the existence of general knowledge and the need for ontological security contributes to the production of samples prescribed in the social life. Behavioral patterns are repeated, and thus the structures of society, social systems, and institutions are reproduced. However, the ever-present possibility that society can change underlies this process. Agents do not have to behave as others do, as they do not necessarily have to act in accordance with the previous settings always and everywhere. People always think about what they are doing and assess whether their goals have been achieved. If they are not achieved, the agents can start to behave differently. Samples of interactions can change and hence the social structures can alter as well. According to Giddens, the very notion of “agency” involves people who are capable of transforming the world around them through their actions, as well as to reproduce it. However, local changes are not related to the obligatory transformation of the whole society.
According to Giddens, in society, people’s behavior, of course, is constrained by the presence of power relations, since social activities are somehow related to these relationships. He considers power as a tool by which agents can change situations or affect other people’s actions by holding them or restricting their freedom. At the same time, power increases freedom of action of those agents who possess it.
The social structure gives a person a sense that life is organized and stable. For example, the social structure of the university may be considered as an example. Every autumn the recruitment of new students is conducted, and every summer, another group finishes its studies. Deans determine scholarships and manage the educational process. All new students, teachers, and deans pass through this system, and in due time, leave it. Although the specific people, from whom the university consists, change over time, the university still continues to exist.
Social structures constrain the behavior of individuals and direct their actions in certain ways. Having entered the university, a newcomer feels awkward, because he has not yet fit in into the new environment. The traditions and customs of the university create a social structure of the form that has been taking over the organization for many years of regular interaction between students, teachers and the management. The university is not eternal and continuously existing social education, because its internal relations and communications must be continuously reproduced by the new generations of students and teachers.
Giddens also provides the definition of the family. It is the cell of society that consists of people who support each other socially, economically and psychologically, or identify each other as a supporting cell. Thus, it is also a form of structure. Family members are “agents”, as they can influence each other and change each other’s behavior. Hence, it is possible to alter the whole structure of the family as well. This structure is dynamic, as some members of the family can die or divorce, while others can be born.
All in all, sociology is the study of social life. It provides people with the opportunity to learn about themselves, the societies in which they live, and other societies. Sociology has many practical effects on human life. Therefore, its mastery can help develop self-awareness as well as to understand the changes that occur in the word.