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What social forces were at work that led to the emergence of sociology in the late

18th and early 19th Century?

April 30th, 2010

Sociology as a discipline is relativity new, and emerged in the late 18th and early 19th century as a result of
a number of social forces; however which social forces led to the emergence of sociology has long been a
point of discussion for many sociologists. In the course of this essay four social forces will be address to see
which if any caused the emergence of sociology. The four social forces are, first The Industrial Revolution,
second The French Revolution, and third The American Revolution and finally the philosophical changes
linked with the Enlightenment Thinkers. All of the forces listed above will be looked at, and the essay argues
that a combination of the four led to the emergence of sociology.

First we look at the Industrial revolution and the effects it had on society, the advances in science and
technology meant that it was now possible for society to change from a rural, agricultural way of living to an
urban, industrial way of life. Where as before people had been largely employed in agriculture they were
now moving into large urban factories. These developments in production and transport now meant that
production was moving from the land to the towns and cities, humans were also moving into the cities which
meant new societies were developing. These new societies had more problems than anyone first thought
poverty and health were major problems along with land, people were forced to live in back-to-back houses,
these had no gardens to the rear and so drying of clothes was done in the street at the front of the house,
health in these conditions was poor as the drainage to them was low and so sanitary conditions were very
poor. While this was happening the ruling classes of society were living in much nicer condition sometime
just outside of town with plenty of land around their house for their children to play and for the wives to dry
the clothes. Another large problem which some came to light was food adulteration, as large amounts of
food were now needed in the town and there was no way of keeping it fresh for long periods of time again
causing massive health problems. Under these conditions and partly because of them society was changing
rapidly, new technologies had to be invented to help keep food fresh and ways to keep the cities clean had
to be thought of so as to improve health within the inner city areas.
The French revolution had profound effects on the governments of the day especially on European and
American governments. The French revolution was caused by the government’s financial state, and taking
part in the American Revolution did not help matters, France at this point was still ruled by the nobility and
the clergy, while the labour classes were being taxed to try and fund the wars and pay off the increasing
national debt. This, along with the backward agricultural methods had started to cause occasional if not
constant food shortages; this coupled with the increase of rural population caused massive hunger problems
for the labour classes. These food shortages caused the popular classes to enter the revolution and that
entry also marked the first violence used in the revolution. Peasants began to burned chateaus and destroy
any records of dues they could find. While this was taking place the government was being over through and
a new system of government brought in to replace the old one. The working classes had started to revolt
against a system that was not working and like what was happening with the Industrial revolution a new
society with new beliefs had been formed.

This essay does not go into great depth when looking at the American revolution, but it is worth looking at
just to see how around the time of the birth of sociology new societies were being created all over the
western world, which would have had profound effects on the intellectual thinkers of the day. The American
Revolution or The American war of independence as it is also known resulted in the first republican
government of modern times. Not to go into to much detail the war was due the British government trying
to gain more political control over the colonies and to make them pay for their defence. Before this the
colonies were left to develop freely with little or no interference from British government. However once the
British government tried to change its policies on the colonies, they fought back and boycotted many of the
proposed taxes put forward by the British government and in 1770 the Boston Massacre took place, this and
other events spread over the next few years were the cause of the American revolution.

The final force to take into consideration is the enlightenment; this was more a period of thought rather
than a period of human movement from one place to another, or action taken against the ruling class.
Irving M Zeitlin said in his book ‘Ideology and the Development of Sociological Theory’
“the men of the enlightenment regarded all aspects of human life and works subject to critical examination –
the various sciences, religious beliefs, metaphysics, aesthetics, education, and so on. Self-examination, a
scrutiny of their own actions and their own society, was an essential function of thought. By gaining an
understating of the main forces and tendencies of their epoch, human beings could determine their direction
and control their consequences. Through reason and science, humanity could attain ever greater degrees of
freedom and, hence, ever greater degrees of perfection”.
What Zeitlin was trying to say is that the men of the enlightenment were trying to understand past and
present human life so as to make future human life prefect, or not prefect but understand human life so as
to help the progress of human life in the future.
Before the enlightenment everything man new and understood was based upon a religious ideology of one
sort or another, and these facts were hazy at best. Religion was used to control the masses but now there
was a group of men who were standing up and questioning these beliefs and ideas, their French name was
‘Philosophes’. They began to question the tradition way man thought and instead stressed the power of
human reason to create knowledge which could be used to improve the conditions humans live in.

During the enlightenment man started to dare to understand his social surrounding and why things
happened the way they did, they saw society as a collection of individuals who were self sufficient and who
could control their own futures. They saw the state as the suitable and logical instrument of progress man
was now thinking for them selves and developing in way controlled by them and not religion. Man had
started to understand that he was in control of his own future and so began to revolt against the old ways.

The introduction to this essay said that it would argue that all four of these social forces played a part in the
emergence of sociology. Above some facts have been presented about each individual event or period of
time, in the hope of proving this. Each of the events in one way or another caused a new society to be born
or a new way of thinking to be accepted. The Industrial Revolution gave birth to a new society in Britain, a
new way of living; the French Revolution also gave birth to a new society in France and paved the way for a
new government. The American Revolution gave independence to the colonies which meant they could start
to live by their own rules and so again a sort of new society was born, and before all of this the
enlightenment a group of men which would change the way humans thought about the world for ever. This
was a period of time when man started to understand the way he lived and thought, he began to think for
himself no longer did he rely on religious ideology to show him the way he started to realise that he could
control his own future and for the first time he tried to.

After taking all of the above points into consideration it is possible to see that all over the world new
societies of one form or another were developing man was thinking for him self and taking control of his life.
Developing new ideas about the world and how it worked, so when looking at all of these it is not hard to
see why sociology emerged just after these events. At the time man was trying to understand his life and
world, and during the same time sciences were making increasing discoveries in the natural world so it is
only natural that man would try to study human life and societies in the same way.