Sociology as a subject emerged around the 19th century in response to the new challenges of modernity that arose with the Enlightenment. The political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries and the industrial revolution brought a focus of social change to the world.
The actual term was coined by Auguste Comte, the father of sociology in 1838. Comte felt that science and scientific analyses and methodology could be used to study the social world and discover the laws that govern our social lives. He introduced positivism to sociology, which implies that the social world can be understood based on scientific facts.¹
The three theorists from the 19th and 20th century that are most often cited in sociology are Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. All three men were originally trained in other academic disciplines but contributed immensely to sociology.
Karl Marx addressed class inequalities and its effects from an economic lens. Weber was a methodological anti positivist who believed sociological concepts should be viewed less empirically than Comte originally thought. Emile Durkheim’s works focused on society’s division of labour, suicide, religion as a social phenomenon and the methodology of sociology.¹
The emergence of sociology as a discipline coincided with establishment and upgrading of many universities that wanted to focus on more modern subjects. In 1876 Yale’s William Graham Sumner taught the first course identified as sociology in the United States.¹ By 1910, most Universities offered sociology courses and by 1940, most Universities had sociology departments.¹
The American Sociological Association (ASA) formed in 1905 and has 40+ ‘sections’ covering areas of interest. The International Sociology Association (ISA) now has 3,300 + members from 90+ countries.¹
1. Crossman, Ashley. History Of Sociology. Retrieved from http://sociology.about.com/od/Sociology101/a/History-Of-Sociology.htm