While some may think that sociology is a recent science, the truth is that its origins go back a long way.
To be able to know in detail how sociology began to be forgedWe will take a trip down memory lane that will allow us to discover the context in which this discipline began to be evoked, although logically the same term that gives it its name has not yet been used.
What are the origins of sociology?
When talking about the origins of sociology, many people tend to claim that this science was established during the Enlightenment, that is, at the beginning of the 19th century. Technically it’s true, so it was after the French Revolution that it consolidated as an academic discipline.
However, its roots go back much further in time. In fact, the first indications of a protosociology seem to come from ancient Greece.
It is the time of the great thinkers, of certain philosophers, like Plato, but also of historians, like Thucydides, Polybius or Herodotus. All of them, in addition to other authors, have already made observations in their work which today could have been classified under the parameters of sociology. That is why the origins of sociology are therefore found in ancient Greece. But this was only the first approach to this science.
To continue to observe indications on the origins of sociology, it is necessary to advance several centuries and reach the middle age. At that time, other theological thinkers, such as Marsilio of Padua, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo, also made observations in their studies which would have a place in a future science of sociology.
even Modern methodologies commonly used today, such as survey, could be observed many centuries ago, especially in the book “Domesday”, A work commissioned by the English monarch, William the Conqueror (William I) as a sort of census or register of the population of England, neither more nor less than in the year 1086. This would be another of the pieces which would make the origins of sociology.
The Islamic Roots of Sociology
Another of the great advances for the crystallization of a future sociology took place thanks to the Islamic culture in the time of the Middle Ages, more precisely in the 14th century. It is from the hand of Ibn Khaldun, an Arab intellectual born in present-day Tunisia, who created his work “Muqaddimah”, Translated into Latin by Prolegomena. It is a collection in seven volumes in which Ibn Khaldun compiled the universal history known until now.
But why is this work considered to be part of the origins of sociology? Because not only does it limit itself to exposing the events that have taken place in the world, but it makes an in-depth analysis of the causes which have generated conflicts on the one hand or cohesion on the other hand between different peoples, races or cultures. , or whatever, is doing a sociological analysis. This is why he is considered one of the parents and pioneers of this discipline, although he has not yet borne this name.
One of the phenomena that Ibn Khaldun explores in the Muqaddimah is that of the underlying differences between nomadic and sedentary cultures, comparing such different lifestyles involving the two typologies. This is only one of the examples that can be found in this work and which therefore makes it one of the first complex sociological studies carried out in history, neither more nor less than in 1377, undoubtedly the one of the origins of sociology.
The part of the Muqaddimah devoted to subjects that we would consider sociological is called asabiyya, Arabic term used to refer to concepts associated with the tribe or clan, in that they constitute a community with certain characteristics. In fact, today this term is associated with nationalism. The interest of Ibn Khaldun’s study is that it explores the causes that generate the birth of new dominant cultures or civilizations.
In this sense, he argues that when a new empire emerges, it already harbors within itself the embryo of the causes which, in the future, will cause it to be destroyed and replaced by another culture, generating a new cycle that takes place. keep repeating. He speaks of peoples originating from the periphery of the great empires and who, over time, have grown to surpass themselves in power. An in-depth analysis that serves as an example to understand the origins of sociology.
The age of enlightenment
We had already anticipated at the beginning of the article that the origins of sociology, already as a consolidated discipline, could well be in the Enlightenment. The first to name him was Father Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, An intellectual who laid the foundations for the ideas that later underpin the French Revolution. He coined the term combining the Latin word socius with the ending -ología, which resulted in a new word meaning “the study of classmates”.
Although Father Sieyès coined the term in 1780, it was not until 1838, almost 50 years later, when Auguste Comte proposed an exact definition, the one that maintains today, that is to say the study of the behavior of human societies. Comte was another French intellectual, in this case a philosopher and more creative of the positivist current, in addition to the merit of having definitively established the origins of sociology, by giving name and form to this science.
Other great French thinkers of the 19th century collaborated on the first sociological studies, nourishing this emerging field of knowledge. This was the case with Henri de Saint-Simon, positivist philosopher, creator of the book “Social Physiology”. Not only did he use this concept, but he also made reference to new studies such as social physics and the science of society. In fact, Saint-Simon was a strong supporter of giving sociology a category similar to the already existing natural sciences.
Another brilliant mind who propelled the origins of sociology was Harriet Martineau, a British author considered to be the first sociologist in history. In addition to publishing a large number of books, she was an important collaborator of the aforementioned Auguste Comte and it is in fact thanks to her that a large part of her volumes were translated into English, thus strengthening the international reach of sociology as a new science.
The origins of sociology in the rest of Europe
We have already explored the great impact of the Enlightenment and of a whole generation of French thinkers on the origins of sociology. Now let us know how the rest of the European countries have helped continue to promote this new science. One of the pillars on which sociology was based was the progressive secularization that the whole continent was experiencing, and in this movement, Karl Marx, a disciple of Hegel, had a great influence.
Marx dug even deeper into the depths of the studies that sociology encompassed, studying moral and historical problems in a way that had not been done until now. This is why authors like Isaiah Berlin consider Karl Marx to be one of the fathers of sociology, at least in the most modern version of this science. In any case, whether he is a founder or not, he is a major contributor to the origins of sociology.
Another important contemporary author of Marx was Herbert Spencer, An English scientist mastering various fields of knowledge, including sociology. Although he was a supporter of Lamarck, his sociological theories would be more in line with Darwin’s postulates, adapted to society as a whole and not to the individual. In this sense, Spencer asserted that in nature, the fittest groups survived.
But it was Émile Durkheim, a French philosopher, who definitively brought sociology to the universities., Consolidate it as a science independent of others. This task would be carried out through the creation of a department of sociology at the University of Bordeaux and at the same time the creation of a manual, the rules of the sociological method, which would then govern all studies. created around this field of knowledge.
Therefore, Émile Durkheim was the last great promoter in a long list of authors who helped shape the origins of sociology, ultimately creating science as we know it today. Although it would have been appropriate for more authors, in this article we have been able to meet some of the most important.
- Aron, R., Trevijano, CG (2004). The stages of sociological thought: Montesquieu, Comte, Marx, Tocqueville, Durkheim, Pareto, Weber. Tecnos.
- Bottomore, T., Nisbet, R. (2001). History of sociological analysis. Amorrortu Editores España SL.
- Halsey, AH (2004). A History of Sociology in Great Britain: Science, Literature and Society. Oxford University Press.
- Jones, RA (1983). The new history of sociology. Annual review of sociology.