Sociology is the scientific study of society and social interactions (American Sociological Association, 2019).
This social sciences discipline explores social relationships, structures, and institutions that, together, shape and drive human behavior.
It aims to uncover behavioral patterns among individuals and groups and thus, helps explain how society functions the way it does (Giddens, 2013).
We generally split sociology into two broad groups: macrosociology, which is the study of how social institutions shape society, and microsociology, which is the study of how individuals make meaning of their social lives.
1. The Study of Social Stratification
Social stratification is the division of society into hierarchical levels, primarily based on wealth, power, and privilege (Doob, 2013).
It is a fundamental aspect of sociology that illuminates the unequal distribution of resources among different social groups.
For example, sociologists may study whether a society more highly values ascribed status (a status given at birth, like gender) or achieved status (a status earned, like getting a university degree) more highly.
Therefore, understanding social stratification is crucial for tackling social inequality effectively (Kerbo, 2012).
2. The Study of Deviance
Deviance in sociology refers to the violation of societal norms and expectations, which can manifest in many forms, ranging from minor transgressions to severe criminal behavior (Bernburg, 2018).
This aspect of sociology attempts to understand why individuals deviate from accepted norms, examining the influence of societal factors like peer pressure, upbringing, and societal strain.
It also explains how societies label and react to deviant behavior (see: labeling theory), shedding light on the process of social control. Hence, studying deviance within sociology offers insights into the dynamics of norm enforcement and the social construction of deviance (Laub, 2014).
A wide range of studies have explored how countercultural groups reject social norms, through to ways neihborhood orderliness deters crime (known as broken windows theory).
3. The Study of Racial Segregation
Racial segregation refers to the physical or institutional separation of racial groups, and the study of it is central to the sociological examination of racial and ethnic relations (Massey, 2016).
It investigates the causes and consequences of racial segregation by examining the dynamics of housing, education, and employment, among other areas.
4. The Study of Social Movements
Social movements can be a powerful force for social change, and through the study of these, sociologists examine the conditions under which they emerge, gain momentum, or cease.
They also analyze the tactics utilized by movements and society’s reactions to them, thereby providing a deeper understanding of how social change occurs (Edwards, 2014).
5. The Study of Social Inequality
Social inequality constitutes the unequal distribution of resources, opportunities, and privileges across diverse social groups (Dorling, 2015).
Sociologists interested in social inequality will study disparities in income, education, health, access to resources, and other social benefits. Their study would further entail investigating underlying causes, effects, and ways to alleviate these disparities.
Studying social inequality allows us to understand and tackle systemic disparities that can fuel social unrest and instability (Bradley & Corwyn, 2010).
6. The Study of Culture
The study of culture in sociology involves examining shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution, organization, or group (Peterson & Kern, 1996).
This includes studying symbols, languages, norms, and social products that bind a group and form its collective identity.
By exploring culture, sociologists understand how individual behaviors and societal patterns are shaped by cultural dynamics and transformations (Da Silva, 2010).
7. The Study of Societal Norms
Societal norms are the implicit or explicit rules and expectations that govern behavior within a society (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2004).
The study of these norms, as well as cultural norms and group norms, enables sociologists to understand how individuals behave in social situations, how norms influence societal stability, and how they may change over time.
This exploration sheds light on the ways norms are instrumental in achieving social control, and the implications of norms on people who don’t fit the normative sterotype (Chung & Rimal, 2016).
8. The Study of Socialization
Socialization involves the lifelong process where individuals learn and internalize the norms, values, and behaviors appropriate to their social position (Grusec & Hastings, 2015).
Socialization happens in childhood, where we internalized the norms of our societies. But, there are other forms of socialization as well, such as anticipatory socialization, resocialization, and gender socialization, that are each separately examined by sociologists.
The study of socialization helps people understand how to behave in society and plays a significant role in identity formation.
Studying socialization provides insights into how the individual self is shaped and altered in a sociocultural context (Berns, 2013).
9. The Study of Family Structures
The study of family structures focuses on diverse forms of family units and relationships within them (Cherlin, 2013).
It explores variations in family formations across time, societies, and cultures, including nuclear families, extended families, single-parent families, and more.
This aspect of sociology provides insights into familial roles, dynamics, and their impact on individual and societal outcomes (Craig, 2013).
10. The Study of Social Institutions
Social institutions, such as education, religion, law, economy, and others, constitute a significant part of the sociological study (Alexander, 2016).
They act as principal structures of a society and govern behavior and expectations of individuals within a society.
Exploring these institutions aids in understanding how societies function, evolve, and maintain social order (Powell & DiMaggio, 1991).
Different sociological paradigms have different undersdtandings of social institutions. For example, functionalists believe they maintain order, while critical theorists believe they exist to maintain the power of the powerful, and marginalize people lower in the social hierarchy.
See More: Examples of Social Institutions
11. The Study of Collective Behavior
Collective behavior refers to the spontaneous actions that emerge when people respond to similar situations or stimuli (Turner & Killian, 1993).
This study involves examining behaviors in crowds, mobs, riots, and even more organized events like pilgrimages or protest movements.
It offers insights into transient social forms and the dynamics of crowd behavior (McPhail, 2013).
For example, we might study moral panic, a phenomenon where mainstream society is whipped into unrealistic fears about a subcultural group, which often leads to unwarranted discrimination.
12. The Study of Population Dynamics
Population dynamics is a sociological field focusing on the size, composition, and change in population over time (Rowland, 2002).
It examines phenomena such as fertility, mortality, migration, and aging, providing insights into how these factors shape society. Studying population dynamics is essential for planning social and economic policies (McNicoll, 1992).
13. The Study of Gender Roles
The sociological study of gender roles embarks upon an exploration of the expectations, behaviors, and activities deemed appropriate for men and women within a given society (Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000).
This study examines how gender roles and gender norms evolve, how societies enforce them, and their domains across different cultural, historical, and social contexts.
The study of gender roles provides valuable insights into the dynamics of gender inequality and its implications for society (Risman, 2004).
Some sociologists influenced by postmodernism also hold that gender is socially constructed and that there is a vast array of gender identities. Such scholars examine how these identities emerge, are validated, and suppressed.
14. The Study of Religion
The sociology of religion examines religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in terms of their social function and impact (Davie, 2013).
It investigates how religion shapes individual identities, societal norms and values, and influences broader social and cultural patterns.
Notably, it also scrutinizes the reciprocal influence of social structures and changes on the evolution of religious beliefs and practices (Chaves, 2010).
15. The Study of Urbanization
Urbanization refers to the process whereby populations move from rural to urban areas, leading to the growth of cities.
Sociological studies on urbanization explore the reasons behind these demographic shifts, their effects on social relations, environmental impacts, and the challenges and opportunities they present (Satterthwaite, 2007).
Urbanization studies help inform urban planning and policies to ensure sustainable urban development (Brenner, 2014).
16. The Study of Social Change
Social change refers to the transformation over time in society’s cultural, structural, or ecological characteristics (Macionis, 2016).
Sociologists examine factors driving social change, including technological advancements, cultural shifts, social movements, and environmental phenomena.
The study of social change helps in understanding the dynamics between stability and change within societies (Harper, 2011).
17. The Study of Ethnicity
The sociological study of ethnicity delves into distinct cultural characteristics, such as language, religion, and ancestry, defining an ethnic group (Fearon, 2003).
This realm of sociology explores phenomena like prejudice, discrimination, and segregation that ethnic minorities often encounter.
Through the lens of ethnicity, sociologists can understand the rich cultural diversity and enduring social issues born out of ethnic differences (Halle, 2018).
18. The Study of Marriage Patterns
The study of marriage patterns entails analyzing trends and variations in marriage, considering factors such as age, social class, race, and cultural background (Cherlin, 2010).
This branch of sociology also examines how societal changes, like shifting gender roles and evolving norms around sexuality, influence marriage patterns.
By studying marriage patterns, sociologists understand family structures, group identity, and social cohesion (Casper & Bianchi, 2009).
19. The Study of Social Classes
Social classes refer to groups sharing similar wealth, educational background, occupation, and other economic resources.
For example, colloquially, we tend to think of social classes stratified into three general groups: working-class, middle-class, and upper-class (or ‘elites’). Marx, however, came up with the terms proletariat, bourgeoisie, and petit bourgeoisie to describe class groups.
The study of social classes sheds light on social inequality, individual life chances, and social mobility (Tumin, 1953).
By understanding social classes, we grasp the mechanisms of societal stratification and its profound implications for individuals and society (Levine, 2013).
20. The Study of Crime Rates
The sociological analysis of crime rates explores the incident frequency of criminal activities in different social segments or regions and the socio-economic factors influencing these rates (Pratt & Cullen, 2005).
By studying crime rates, sociologists can derive insights into social behaviors, societal issues, and the effectiveness of crime control policies (Siegel, 2011).
21. The Study of Consumerism
Consumerism, defined as a societal pattern where consumption of goods and services is heavily emphasized, is a significant area of sociological study.
By examining societal values, advertising effects, consumption habits, and impacts on social identity, sociologists better understand consumer culture’s role in shaping societies (Baudrillard, 2016).
22. The Study of Education Inequality
The study of education inequality constitutes the exploration of disparities in educational access, resources, and outcomes across different social groups (Reardon, 2013).
Sociologists seek to understand how social factors such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, and geographical location influence educational disparities.
Studying educational inequality aids in crafting policies for educational justice and social mobility (Renzulli, 2005).
23. The Study of Health Disparities
Health disparities refer to the differences in health outcomes and healthcare access among different population groups.
This area of sociological study highlights the role of social determinants (like economic status, education, neighborhood, and race) in health inequalities (Marmot, 2005).
Understanding health disparities can inform health policies aimed at promoting broad-spectrum societal wellbeing (Phelan & Link, 2003).
24. The Study of Political Ideologies
Political ideologies refer to the set of beliefs about political values and the appropriate public policy that should be implemented (Freeden, 2003).
Studying political ideologies helps sociologists understand societal values, power relations, political behavior, and the deriving factors behind societal conflict or cohesion (Knight, 2006).
25. The Study of Globalization
Globalization, defined as the integration and interaction among people, companies, and governments worldwide, is a crucial sociological field (Norris & Inglehart, 2019).
It explores how globalization impacts social institutions, cultural interactions, economic inequalities, and much else besides.
Understanding globalization enables sociologists to grasp how global processes impact local contexts and vice versa (Tomlinson, 2011).
The value of sociology cannot be overstated. It not only scrutinizes sociological circumstances but also guides policy-makers to address social problems. Realizing the importance of sociology will undoubtedly lead you, an inquisitive reader, to a more nuanced and profound understanding of the society around you (Putnam, 2015).
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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]