You are on page 1of 11

Ideology, History, and Classical Sociological Theory

Goyal Yogesh1, 2, Yadav Vivek1, 3, Patel Kanchan1, 4

Department of chemical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, India
0800119; 30800130, 40800127


The report gives an insight into the origins of sociology, how it developed into a pure
discipline and also talks about the early theorists. Relation of sociology with science has been
discussed with different theorists having completely contrasting views. The
complications/challenges involved in the institutionalization and how it was a result of hard
work of different theorists has been discussed. Evolution and change of society has been
discussed at great lengths. Problems associated with modernity have been discussed stressing
on effects of industrialization. Different nations have been taken as a case study to explore
the behaviour patterns of the society as seen from the eyes of some of the famous
sociologists. Also, caste, creed etc and their consequent effect on classical sociology has been
discussed. Some interesting facts and questions are being provided in between the text to
arise interest.

Keywords: Sociology, ideology, science, evolution, classical, theory

Part 1: Yogesh Goyal

Oxford dictionary defines sociology as “the study of human social behaviour, especially the
study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society”.

Rise of sociology:

Sociological reasoning may be traced back to as far as T1: Major developments in

sociology took place shortly
ancient Greeks considering figures like Confucius after French revolution. Can
[1]. In true sense, sociology came by the end of 18th century. you see/ explore a link between
Europeans built themselves as a society that was marked by the two?

rural and conservative nature by the end of 18th century to relatively liberal and educated
society by the beginning of 20th Century.19th century was marked by origin of democracy and
rights. The development of sociology as a discipline was gradual and by early 20th century,
salient characteristics of the present society were more or less developed with the inclusion of
rapid industrial advancement, abyss bureaucratization and numerous developments which
form an integral part of our lives now. It is worth mentioning that because of its emphasis on
modernity rather than enlightenment, sociology distinguishes itself from philosophy.
Sociology has come to be appropriated as an umbrella term to refer to various disciplines
which study society or human culture [2].

Classical sociological theory:

The theory was a combined effort of many theorists T2: Durkheim, Weber and
many others refrained
which included Durkheim, Weber, Mead of recent themselves from being called
times and some like Comte and Spencer were from the earlier sociologists? Do/can you smell
some reasons behind this?

This theory made an attempt to outline the possible issues and problems that modern era may
be confronted with and included social atomization, loneliness, social disorganization, and
decline in religious beliefs and caste and class conflicts. It is however, believed that sociology
in true sense is a product of the modern era.

Sociology as a science:

There are a lot of critics condemn social theories because of it having an obviously
ideological agenda. Examples of Marxist theory and Weberian sociology can be sited to
support this. An emphasis on empiricism and the scientific method was sought to provide an
incontestable foundation for any sociological claims or findings, and to distinguish sociology
from less empirical fields such as philosophy [3]. Ideology has two sides:

1. Creative: the attempt to make political society meaningful and legitimate with strong
2. Restrictive: putting limits on what can be thought.

Theorists believe that ideology should not be mixed with experimental scientific knowledge
while some believe that sociology is most effective when it is more scientific and less
ideological and the conclusion still hangs somewhere in between with no full acceptance of
any of the two.

There were positivists like Comte and Spencer who

T3: True essence of sociology as
believed sociology having a strong foundation by a discipline is reflected here
adopting the mode of enquiry in the basis of where everyone has his own
conception and that no one (or
established fundamental principles. Also, we have
no idea) is wrong!
negativists like Marx and Hegel who saw their own
philosophies as negative in their effects towards the fundamental natural principles which
comprised of customs, habits and ideologies that constrain the human quest for freedom.
While there were a few like Simmel and Mead who made contributions to sociology that treat
abyssal ideological issues as tangential and ignoring the question of whether sociology is a
value orienting or value free science.

To sum up, Comte, Spencer and Durkheim focussed on difficulties of social relationships in
the world which is constantly heading towards complications. Hegel , Weber et al addressed
the issues related to bureaucratization of life in the developing modern nation- state while
optimists like Marx explored the false consciousness of modern society. It can be said in
general that all that is required is to have an organised social action which can help in
alleviating the modern problems.

Institutionalization of Sociology:
T4: International cooperation in sociology began in
It was a combined effort of all the above 1893 when Rene Worms (1869–1926) founded the
discussed sociologists to institutionalize small Institut International de. Sociologie. Can
you see a French connection in almost everything
sociology with Durkheim being the first
associated with sociology in the first few years of
professor of sociology in France. Some of the its inception? Does this complement with T1?
theorists like Durkheim were a patron of ambitious ideas while there were some like Weber
who was careful to place certain limitations on what society could expect from a sociologist.
Durkheim, Marx, and Weber are typically cited as the three principal architects of modern
social science (the canon classics) [4].

The arguments for sociology as a legitimate and autonomous discipline are being reflected in
theories of Comte, Durkheim et al. According to some sociologists, sociology is an
instrumental science capable to explain the cause-effect relations that from an integral part of
understating and adapting social system. Although most of the theorists argued for a science
of society to exist along positivistic lines, some favoured governmental while some favoured
antigovernmental laissez faire.

By the mid of 20th century, sociology had laid foundations as a science in the USA despite
having its roots in the European homeland. “Chicago School” provided detailed studies on
slum life. Race relations and many hydra headed topics.

During 1950’s scientists were interested in second level concerns associated with helping
people to adjust to paramount social reality and laid stress on strengthening the roots of
established facts rather than getting transformed.

By common understanding, continental theorists were T5: Can you think of a reason
considered to be broad and open minded as compared to for calling continental theorists
Afro American ones. Different people had different broad and open minded? Do
you see its roots somewhere in
perceptions for the path to progress. Spencer advocated least Greek origin?
government intervention in the social development while Marx
called for organised actions leading to socialism which will eventually be transferred to
communism. Weber and Pareto were most critical of the idea of progress. Both of them saw
social activities being stable and unvarying human instinctual inclinations. Because of the
efforts of these and many others, sociology has a rich foundation as a discipline.
Glossary of terms

Socialism: Socialism is an economic Empiricism: Empiricism is a theory

and political theory advocating of knowledge that asserts that knowledge
public or common ownership and arises from evidence gathered via
cooperative management of the means of sense experience.
production and allocation of resources.
Social atomization: Cut-off from the rest
Communism: Communism is a socio- of society. Analogous to nuclear family
political movement that aims for concept.
a classless and stateless society structured
Bureaucratization: The process by which
upon communal ownership of property.
formal social organizations take on the
Laissez Faire: Laissez-faire describes an characteristics of a bureaucracy. Central to
environment in which transactions this process is the formalization,
between private parties are free standardization, and impersonalization of
from state intervention, including rules, regulations (laws), and hierarchy.
restrictive regulations, taxes, tariffs and
enforced monopolies.


1. Macionis, John J.; Plummer, Ken (2005). Sociology. A Global Introduction (3rd Ed.).
Harlow: Pearson Education. p. 12. ISBN 0-131-28746-X
2. Harriss, John. The Second Great Transformation? Capitalism at the End of the
Twentieth Century in Allen, T. and Thomas, Alan (eds) Poverty and Development in
the 21st Century', Oxford University Press, Oxford.
3. Ashley D, Orenstein DM (2005). Sociological theory: Classical statements (6th ed.).
Boston, MA, USA: Pearson Education.
4. Camic, Charles. 1992. "Reputation and Predecessor Selection: Parsons and the
Institutionalists", American Sociological Review, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Aug., 1992), pp.

Yogesh’s part ends here.

Part 2: Vivek Yadav- Roll number: 0800130

The sociologist Karl Polanyi described the changes during 18thcentury as “the great
transformation” and argued that they were part of a fundamental transformation of social
economic and political life which gave birth to the “modern” world.1

The enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was mainly a result of the
development of modern natural science during the 1600s. The enlightenment was a critical
reaction against traditional authority. The two of the greatest enlightenment philosophers
were Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Descartes believed that
careful observation and clarity of expression better served the pursuit of knowledge than
blind obedience to the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church while Newton believed that
there was no contradiction between religious faith and use of reason and observation to
understand universal laws of nature.

Descartes and Newton were not social theorists; some of them were Voltaire, Jean Jacques
Rousseau and Diderot. They all believed that both physical and social worlds could be
understood by means of reason. They were of the view that religious dogmatism was truth’s
worst enemy. Diderot and Rousseau were of the view that no person has a natural right to
govern another person. Another great philosopher was Immanuel Kant who famously defined
enlightenment as “man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity”. The main feature of
enlightenment was the appeal to reason over authority and tradition. Kant argued that free
individual was intuitively capable of moral self-direction as opposed to Rousseau who
advocated human freedom is obtained by means of social relations. According to Kantian
philosophy moral decisions of individuals could never be judged good or bad from a
sociological point of view. Thus, Kant’s greatest impact was the idea that individual as
independent moral entity is free from at least some extrinsic, causal determinants of behavior.

Every theory has its pros and cons. Some theorists like Comte and Pareto were against
arguments given by enlightenment theory. They were highly skeptical about the
enlightenment claim that individuals were potentially rational and perfectible beings. If
everything extrinsic to the individual can be controlled then human kind finds itself in a
rationalized universe that is devoid of mystery or subjective commitment. Therefore humans
need customs and traditions. Even Kantian moral law would fail in fully rationalized
universe, because, although it states certain actions as immoral but it fails to give positive
guidelines about how people should behave.

For the most part, study of “social change” and “social order” was not treated as discrete but
after 1950s and 60s, some sociologists have started taking studies of social change as
somewhat detached from social order. Most of the classical sociologists would have rejected
this very idea. For these theorists, the idea of separating theories of social change and social
order would make about as much sense as arguing that Newton should have developed one
theory explaining the motion of objects and another accounting for their non-movement.
Most classical social theorists believed that each society with its own form of social
organization followed a series of sequential stages. All societies go through the same
sequence of stages but at different rates of change. Thus low level of development in a
particular non-western society can be presented as earlier periods of western society.
Classical social evolutionism viewed social change as universally applicable set of stages and
explained social order with reference to these stages.
Classical social evolutionism stated following about change :-
1) It is inevitable
2) It is directional and teleological
3) It is analogous to organic stages of growth
4) It is generally progressive in nature.
Classical evolutionism sought to explain the development of types of individuals as well as of
societies, civilizations and even humanity as a whole. The idea of society having natural
direction leads to notion of teleology, a belief that there is an innate drive towards an end
state. Classical social evolutionists viewed teleological movement from the earliest state of
social existence to its final form as analogous to the growth of a living organism from infancy
to maturity. Darwin was against this view and argued that biological entities are governed by
environmental factors of selection and not by their innate nature. Element of “progress” was
incorporated in many theories, but they differed in their ideas about how humans should act
towards the attainment of that progress. Some argued that progress could best be achieved if
people and government just let things alone while some believed progressive change came
about through the organized actions of people acting in accord with general social
evolutionary developments. Classical social evolutionism greatly influenced a number of
theorists with its ideas.


Classical sociological theory is mainly influenced by western social experiences. The main
focus was on citizens of eighteenth and nineteenth century Western European and North
American societies. All western societies in the nineteenth century had to deal with promise
and problem of capitalism. Besides the enlightenment, some other factors contributing to
development of western modernity are:-
1) The explorations, discoveries, and imperialistic expansion of the sixteenth, seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries.
2) Spread of anti-aristocratic revolution in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
3) Industrial revolution of the nineteenth century.
The spread of revolutionary movements at the end of 18th century was significant in a number
of ways for the emergence of sociology. The bourgeois class was the main reason of
industrial revolution. This revolution displaced older forms of cottage and craft-guild
production with factory production. Thus, these people have to work in factories and coal
mines. Low wages, unsafe working conditions and long hours led to the rise of workers’
movements and to conflicts between owners and workers. Many of theorists believed that the
advantages of industrialization must be set against the miseries and social disruption that it
had caused ordinary people2 but also felt that a future harmonious relation between owners
and workers was possible. Industrialization was meant for betterment of life. Thus, it could
be concluded that industrialization was necessary for social progress.

1. An article by C.Calhoun
2. Classical Sociological Theory- Mathieu Deflem

Vivek Yadav’s part ends here

Part 3: Kanchan Patel- Roll number: 0800127

France Revolution and Collectivism:

In the seventeenth century France was the most powerful nation-state in Europe. Then due to
different reasons French unification started, the starting point was a long war fought with the
ruling dynasty in England. In the eighteenth century “salon society” encouraged social
speculation and men like Voltaire and Rousseau were patronized by the leisured classes. In
1789 the system of the France changes and now this feudal parliament comprised the three
estates: 1) aristocracy, 2) clergy and 3) commoners, whose main work was to work for the
king as a representative of the French people. But this led to execution of the king and now
French were mainly interested to adopt socialism. They tended to favour forms of social
collectivism rather than individualism. In this catholic conservatives played an important role
to improve traditional and social development. In this era Comte and Durkheim writings
reveal the influence of the radical and conservative variants of France collectivism. They
were mainly concerned about the political and social disorganization and were also interested
in some form of collectivism restricting for France.

Germany: Disunity and Idealism

In the 19 Th century Germany was not the state but was an idea. Then they held together by
common language, a common religion, common costums and an elected emperor. But after
Napoleon defeated the last emperor, all middle class Germans believed that the rapid
modernization could not take place without rational, centralized political authority. Compared
with English and French bourgeoisie, the Germans were conservative and docile. Bismarck
was able to fashion a remarkable compromise between the German bourgeoisie and the
traditional landed German ruling classes. The academic establishment in Germany was
closely monitored by political authorities and dominated by philosophical idealism.
Philosophical idealism emphasizes the significance of mind, ideas, or sprit as the movers and
shapers of the society.

Italy: City States and Machiavellianism

The conditions in Italy were totally different; they split up into city states that competed with
each other for political, military and commercial supremacy. In which Florence, Genoa and
Venice were the dominating cities. These wars gave rise to mercenary groups, whose leaders
were known as condottiere-men happy to offer their services to whomever paid the highest
price. Italian politics were notoriously self-serving and hypocritical. There Bishops conspired
against cardinals, and it was common place for catholic rulers to declare war on the pope,
who had both spiritual and temporal control over much of central Italy.

During this 14th-15th century the sociologist Niccolo Machiavelli discusses candidly how
political control is best secured through the use of deceit, threat and violence.

If we will consider the social, economical and political progress in the Italy, it was backward
in each one of this. There was one more Italian theorist Pareto who gave his theory on the
conditions of the Italy. He was more influenced by Machiavelli and he was fundamentally
concerned with the problems of how socio-political control is maintained and how political
elites gain and lose power.

Britain: Industrialization and Utilitarianism

In the period of classical sociology England was the country in which industrial revolution
came into picture. There industrialization occurs rapidly and this became the main reason for
relatively large and powerful bourgeois class to rule over the society. The two major parties
were : 1)the Whigs (liberals ) and 2) the Tories (Conservatives).The first one was of the
entrepreneurial and middle class and the conservatives leaders were main land owners. Some
of their fundamental views were same but they also differ in many of the policies.

In the starting of nineteenth century the upper middle classes in England were comfortable
and secure. There it was generally believed that governmental interference and regulations
were not only unnecessary but also harmful in the industrial and other economical manner. In
this era middle class was having all the power and they had very practical and sensible
approach for all the dealings rather than ideological and theoretical because of the
compromise between English aristocracy and the English bourgeoisie. Due to very rapid
industrialization in England people were thinking that the world could and should be
improved by the rational actions of the self-interested individuals. During this time the
sociologist Durkheim said that due to this competitive individualism the new theory of
Utilitarianism came in the sociology. Utilitarianism is an analysis of the utility of various
actions in terms of the overall increase in general happiness or in terms of improvement in the
general welfare.

In the eighteenth century, United States has no indigenous aristocracy and no conservative
balance to the new ideas of individualism, progress and opportunity. So the government was
more concerned about economic growth by industrial expansion. The ideology of democratic
equality with the obvious inequality of opportunity was that many persons wanted to
understand .At that time there was so much of difference between wealthy and poor. Veblen
was the sociologist who tried for peaceful egalitarianism .Another thought called voluntarism
introduced by some of the sociologists, they believe that social action involve the ability to
chose between alternative form of behaviour .The society did not accept all the facts of this
theory but American theorists all reacted to it in one form or another.

Non European anticipations of sociology: Sun-Tzu and Ibn Khaldun

In the field of sociology of non European states Durkheim, Weber and Simmel all recognized
that west was largely an off shoot of modernity and modern form of experience .Sun-Tzu was
interested working for a single individual .His writings reflect a consistently secular,
analytical and instrumental approach to the social that was not same in the west until well
into the nineteen century .They generally referred to as THE ART OF WAR. He assumes a
naturalistic approach discusses social interaction in terms of cause and effect to improve
instrumental knowledge .Focussing on the constraints of leadership he shows how the
motivations of followers can be manipulated .He recognized that perception should not be
confused with reality and also emphasized the value of deception .In short this theorist
acknowledges social differentiation ,develops typologies of social roles, investigates the
relationship between social classes and focuses on latent consequences .Hence Sun-Tzu
followers were more like religious disciples than modern intellectuals.

In the immediate aftermath of the Spanish conquest the intellectually stultifying horrors of a
theologically inspired Inquisition brought to an end a golden age of intellectual achievement
not just for the Muslims but also for the Spanish community. As a result of this western and
Central Europe including Spain contributed very less in the progress of sociology.

Ibn –Khaldun, a great philosopher and sociologist of this era was mainly concerned with
investigating and identifying the causal factors that affect most directly the rise and fall of
civilizations. He also developed the ambitious task of writing history as science based on
empirical observation and empirical comparison. His Islamic culture was more sophisticated,
better developed and more self reflective than the catholic societies.

So these sociologists were capable of explaining that how things that is material goods as
well as culture both travelled with the changes.

The influence of class, Race and Gender on Classical Sociological Thought:

Classical sociology was the particular field of sociology which was developed, in part, as a
response to the problem of modernity. This theory was introduced at a time when certain
voices were privileged and relatively easily authorized, while others were typically ignored.
The classical theorists were having mainly these three criteria for being classical sociologists:

1) They developed their ideas during 17th and 18th century

2) They developed a general sociological theory

3) Their writings helped to institutionalize the discipline.

So for developing this theory there are so many sociologists came and they were of different
areas and communities. But generally during this time all the men who helped in this field
were bourgeois or middle class, not the working class or aristocratic. In this whole classical
period women were typically excluded from having a chance to make a major contribution to
social theory, due to so many reasons like oppose by other persons, discrimination in the area
of university employment etc.But some have managed to publish their essays such as
Germaine de Stael,Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Martineau, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. So the
historical exclusion of racial minorities, working class individuals and women from
sociology’s institutionalization had a significant impact on the discipline foci of attention.