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Sociology Section of Subject Resources for

Psychology tends to study the individual, whereas sociology focuses on a collection of individuals interacting to form a society. For example, a psychologist may try to undertand the anger of a wife toward her husband which led to her striking him with a frying pan because of abuse by him towards her. A sociologist, on the other hand, will try to understand the anger that women in society felt toward men that led to the women fighting for equal pay legislation that removed gender-based pay disparities in the workplace. Their anger resulted from males having higher pay and more frequent promotions despite equal merit within both genders. In essence, then, sociology is an examination of social relationships at the aggregate level.

There is not always a direct analogy to social relationships at the aggregate level to those in individuals. To borrow an example from pure science, a single atom of copper has none of the properties associated with metals, two of which are high thermal and electrical conductivity. In fact, small numbers of copper atoms will also lack those telltale signs. At some point, when enough atoms are collected together, the aggregate begins to show conductive properites. There is an analogy to human behavior that should not be understated. Group behavior of humans can be very different from the behavior of any of those individually, the most well-known example being what we call "mob behavior." In crowds, a person can behave in a highly irrational, destructive, or dangerous manner very unlike anything you would see from that person if he were alone. A sociologist is the specialist who will study these aggregate social behaviors and try to learn what we can from them.

According to one of the greatest sociologists of all time, Max Weber:

Sociology is a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects. The construction of a purely rational course of action serves the sociologist as an ideal type which has the merit of clear understandability and lack of ambiguity. By comparison with this it is possible to understand the ways in which actual action is influenced by irrational factors of all sorts, such as affects and errors, in that they account for the deviation from the line of conduct which would be expected on the hypothesis that the action were purely rational. Only in this respect and for these reasons of methodological convenience, is the method of sociology 'rationalistic'. It is naturally not legitimate to interpret this procedure as involving a 'rationalistic bias' of sociology, but only as a methodological device.

To stay up to date with current work in sociology, you should periodically visit the American Sociological Association.

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