What is Sociology? Sociology in its broadest sense denotes the study of society. In answering this question, however, it is necessary to unpack the different concepts and bodies of thought incorporated within the subject and to ask exactly what sociology involves. It should be considered whether sociology is one broad church of ideas and to what extent it can be called a 'science'. The methods used to research areas will be analysed, as well as the idea of the 'Sociological Imagination' (Mills, 1970).
One of the strongest sociological themes has been the idea that human beings are not genetically programmed to behave in any particular way but are socialised into the norms and values of the society they are born into. Research has shown that cultural beliefs vary greatly from society to society. For example, historically in Australia, female infanticide has been rife in times of famine (Giddens, 1993).
Edward Hall has shown on a more general level that the manner in which individuals greet each other will depend on the cultural norms of that society, for example, Northern Americans advance on greeting while Southern Americans retreat (Hall, 1959). The importance of comparative sociology can have practical uses in giving us a better understanding of how other societies operate in relation to our own and can be useful in tracking trends and predicting lifestyle patterns, for example. Radical right-wing American sociologist Charles Murray has hypothesised that as Britain's economy and welfare system continues to emulate that of the US, as will a growth in the British 'underclass' (Murray, 1990).
As well as comparing different cultures and institutions, sociologists track changes in trends in life chances and lifestyles over time. Research shows that there have been dramatic improvements in life expectancy and educational opportunities in the past one hundred years,