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What is Sociology?

Sociology is a systematic approach to thinking about, studying, and understanding society, human social behavior, and social groups. It is based on the belief that these areas of social life can be better understood through systematic study and observation. Sociology is different in two key ways from other social-scientific approaches to understanding human behavior.

First, it places its major emphasis on the influences of social groups and the larger society. In this regard, it is different from psychology, for example, which primarily studies individual rather than societal factors in human behavior.

Second, sociology as a discipline does not focus on certain specific areas of human behavior (as, for example, do political science and economics), but rather seeks to explain the broad range of human behavior as it is influenced by society and by human social groups. By enabling us to understand the larger social forces that influence our own behavior and that of others, sociology helps us to understand the viewpoints of others different from ourselves.

Through providing such understanding, sociology can be a powerful tool for the betterment of communities and organizations. Sociologists study human values, customs, leadership, and cooperation and conflict in every kind and size of group including families, schools, religions, corporations, the economy, government, cities, and societies.

Sociologists use questionnaire surveys, participant observation, government statistics, and computer simulations to find patterns and general principles that can help solve problems of group living from infant mortality and juvenile delinquency to world population growth and migration. Sociologists investigate causes of crime and underground illegal activities; racial, gender, and ethnic conflict; poverty and social inequality; and problems and changes in health care and the workplace. Applied sociologists use sociological insights to identify and solve practical problems in group living. Many students majoring in fields other than sociology find courses in sociology relevant to their studies.