Sociology is the study of human society. As sociologists, we seek to understand all aspects of society. For example, at the level of small-scale social activity, we are interested in such questions as how even things as apparently personal as our bodily gestures and deportment are influenced by social relationships. At the level of large-scale social activity we study issues such as the ways in which people’s opportunities for education, jobs, income or access to civil rights and freedom of expression are structured by particular patterns of economic relationships and political power.
Sociological ideas and findings play a part in many different social activities, from journalism to personnel management, public administration to commerce. Understanding social institutions and processes is a vital basis for such tasks, which increasingly call on the concepts, research methods and analytical skills of sociologists.
In pursuing the analysis of social life, sociologists ask a wide range of questions. How do members of society come to adopt the behaviour expected of them and who influences these expectations? What is the basis and distribution of power within society? How have patterns of consumption and paid employment changed and developed over the past century? In what ways do these changes affect family life or the relationships between men and women? Why are some groups in our society accorded high status, while others such as older people or ethnic minorities are denied respect and opportunities? How is it that this situation is maintained in a society which has anti-discrimination legislation?
In addition to understanding the broad organisation of social life, sociology can also make an important contribution in relation to what are identified as social problems: discrimination, poverty, unemployment, violence, etc. It achieves this not by focusing initially upon ‘solutions’ but by asking questions that derive from a sociological perspective - a concern with the way in which our lives are shaped and influenced by the structure and organisation of social relationships.
For example, in any development of policies to deal with violence in a civilised society, sociological questions are relevant. Who defines violence? How does this influence policing and, say, media policies? Who commits violence and who is convicted? Is the scale of violence overestimated or underestimated in our society? Is there a self-fulfilling prophecy in media representations of violence that results in widespread anxiety about safety on town and city streets at night, thus exacerbating fear of public space and, indeed, danger?