Our social worlds & sociology

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata
Howrah Bridge, Kolkata

Individuals have always thought about the social worlds they were part of, while the forms of such thought, of course, have varied: cave paintings, stone inscriptions, poetry, plays, philosophy, religious scripture, to name a few. This thought from a sociology professor was then followed with a question on what one would say is distinctive about sociology as an intellectual endeavour for understanding and explaining society?

While I thought about this it occurred to me that it was the first time I engaged in a methodical and scholarly study of sociology. I reflected on the past six months of doing this as a major subject. It was a fantastic experience I think. Especially the fact that I could draw from this acquired knowledge and improve a documentation and appraisal report that my startup was contracted to do. The report was significantly different from our earlier work, courtesy the analytical lens that sociology offered.

Sociology is empirical, objective and value neutral. These some insist are its key features. I have felt that in its contemporary form sociology offers a language to engage with the questions that human beings have tried to articulate and understand. From its early beginnings in the period  known as the ‘age of reason’ (or Enlightenment) in Europe, it has tried to make sense of evolving human relationships and their role in forming a larger world view. It is distinct in its manner of articulating and offering a sort of metalanguage to articulate human imagination – for individuals as well as society on the whole. While other disciplines of enquiry like science and philosophy dealt with exploration of causation, natural phenomena and physical world, sociology concerned itself with human behaviour. This single focus alone contributed a great deal in advancing our understanding of individuals, groups, social structure, relationships between groups and finally how all of this constructs the larger picture of a world in which people organized themselves as nations, as groups with distinct culture, tradition and values.

Until the emergence of this field of enquiry of human behaviour there were perhaps few attempts to understand social facts, human agents, their actions and then find answers to the observed phenomena – like why do individuals behave the way they behave. While this may appear to situate itself in the domain of psychiatry and cognitive science, I find that the lines certainly blur beyond a certain point. (Otherwise why would one deal with ideas of Sigmund Freud, Lacan, Levi Strauss and the likes in sociology? ) For instance, man has always existed in a complex and dynamic relationship with the natural (and social) environment. The relationship with other individuals can likely lead to groupings like – family, clam, tribe, community etc. A relationship with the environment can be about their habitat, food and foraging behaviour, agriculture, resource use etc. These forms of individual and collective behaviour patterns could not have been observed and explained by the traditional disciplines of science alone. It required a new way of looking at things and describing them.

With sociology, for the first time we could attempt an explanation to what our social worlds are, how various forms of thoughts emerge and then what do they mean or convey about us. A progression of such ideas would later help thinkers like Marx, Weber and others to articulate social structure, order and functions.

Bottom line: I am We are thoroughly enjoying the intellectual stimulation offered by liberal arts. @praveenasridhar would agree!

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