Man as a social animal

There is a popular misunderstanding that research is confined to science and technology. Even students who pursue studies in humanities are often not aware of the rich facilities for research in their chosen discipline. We have several institutions that offer opportunities for research in social sciences.

Aristotle the legendary Greek philosopher said, “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual.”

Man cannot live alone. He must satisfy certain natural basic needs in order to survive. He has to enter into relationships with his fellowmen for living a life. No man can break the shackles of mutual dependence. This begins perhaps between the embryo and the mother and continues till his last breath. The need of the embryo may be more physical than mental, but the mother's need is the other way round.

“Society friendship and love/Divinely bestow'd upon man,” sang William Cowper, portraying the pangs of solitude of Alexander Selkirk who had been marooned on an uninhabited island for years.

What is sociology?

Sociology is the science of society. John Stuart Mill proposed the word ethology. Herbert Spencer developed his systematic study of society and adopted the word sociology. Auguste Comete (1798-1857), a French positivist thinker, considered the founding father of sociology, defines it as the science of social phenomena “subject to natural and invariable laws, the discovery of which is the object of investigation.” Sociology has been variously defined as the science of social institutions, science of social relationships, science of social phenomena, study of systems of social action and of their inter-relations, and so on.

No matter what definition we accept, sociology uses diverse tools of investigation and systematic analysis focussing on social activities at the micro and macro levels. The techniques employed may be quantitative, qualitative, or both. The ultimate objective of such studies is often the application of principles for ensuring welfare of the people. Stratification of society, race, class, caste, religion, gender, culture, language, conventions, norms, deviance (behaviour that violates social norms), crime and punishment, health, poverty, family structure, and social mobility are some of the concerns of sociology.

There are different areas of specialisation and research in sociology such as social change, social stratification, social movements, inter-ethnic relations, sociology of education, backward classes, caste system, race relations, poverty alleviation, clinical sociology, sociology of communication, sociology of deviance, juvenile delinquency, industrial sociology, social psychology, sociology of law, sociology of health, environmental sociology, military sociology, sociology of migration, spouse abuse, child abuse, disability and society, drug addiction, alcoholism and family life, gender inequalities, law and governance, identity crises, politics and society, international social policy, and demography.


Research in this discipline is mostly based on experience or experiments rather than theories. In other words, the studies are based on empirical data. These may check and confirm the related theories. We may have an informed guess on possible relationships. There has to be extensive gathering of data, backed up by painstaking observation.

There can be elaborate surveys using written questionnaires or a series of verbal interviews. Studies of relevant records or statistics prepared by government departments or reliable private agencies can also be used in certain cases. Experiments followed by statistical analysis of data are necessary to gauge the extent of social changes and to establish correlations. Measures for social corrections can be evolved from the findings of such studies and evaluation. The validity and reliability of the findings will naturally depend on faithful gathering of data. Unlike in physical science research, there may be unethical attempts from vested interests to influence the manipulation of data and to project distorted conclusions. True researchers have to be wary of this pitfall that may discredit their dedicated efforts to arrive at the truth.

Social work

Sociology and social work are different, though there are areas of overlap. They are distinct fields in their own right. We have seen different definitions of sociology. Social work is concerned with alleviation of problems of individuals in society. A sociologist will be interested not only in the plight of a poor man but also in how poverty affects society as a whole. Social work has a focus on helping individuals, groups, or communities. It may also try to bring about a change in policies aimed at the welfare of society.

Social work will involve the applications of various disciplines such as sociology, economics, psychology, education, public health, development, criminology, and so on. A scholar once succinctly put the difference thus: “A sociologist asks, ‘Why are these people poor?,' while the social worker asks, ‘What can I do about this poverty right now?.”

There are government departments as well as philanthropic organisations carrying out social work in our society. These offer career opportunities for those with compassion and commitment. It is a matter of fine job satisfaction to find opportunities for helping the aged, sick, deprived, and helpless, as part of your work.

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Printable version | Nov 19, 2021 4:44:27 AM |

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