by Herbert J Gans
In his recent post on sociology’s image problem, Prof Rojas included a definition of sociology as “the scientific study of groups.” It is the same one I was taught in graduate school seventy years ago, and think it is now long out of date.
Let me offer the one I have used in recent years: Sociology is the study of what people in formal and informal organizations, institutions, communities, states and other social structures do, think and feel with, for, against and about others.
Three of its virtues are (1) it can be abbreviated or expanded for different venues; (2) it avoids the thorny questions of whether sociology is a science, or what kind of science, and something in addition to being a science; and (3) it offers a more graphic image of sociology to the lay people etc who now ignore sociology or do not understand what it is.
Herbert Gans is Robert S. Lynd Professor Emeritus and Special Lecturer, Columbia University, Department of Sociology.