Sociology History

Sociology is the study of society.(1) It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation[2] and critical analysis[3] to develop and refine a body of knowledge about human social activity, often with the goal of applying such knowledge to the pursuit of social welfare. Subject matter ranges from the micro level of agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and social structures.[4]

Sociology is both topically and methodologically a very broad discipline. Its traditional focuses have included social stratification, social class, social mobility, religion, secularisation, law, and deviance. As all spheres of human activity are sculpted by social structure and individual agency, sociology has gradually expanded its focus to further subjects, such as health, military and penal institutions, the Internet, and even the role of social activity in the development of scientific knowledge.

The range of social scientific methods has also broadly expanded. Social researchers draw upon a variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques. The linguistic and cultural turns of the mid-twentieth century led to increasingly interpretative, hermeneutic, and philosophic approaches to the analysis of society. Conversely, recent decades have seen the rise of new analytically, mathematically and computationally rigorous techniques, such as agent-based modelling and social network analysis.[5][6]

1. Comte, Auguste, A Dictionary of Sociology (3rd Ed), John Scott & Gordon Marshall (eds), Oxford University Press, 2005.
2. Ashley D, Orenstein DM (2005). Sociological theory: Classical statements (6th ed.). Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Pearson Education. pp. 3–5, 32–36.
3. Ashley D, Orenstein DM (2005). Sociological theory: Classical statements (6th ed.). Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Pearson Education. pp. 3–5, 38–40.
4. Giddens, Anthony, Duneier, Mitchell, Applebaum, Richard. 2007. Introduction to Sociology. Sixth Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company
5. Macy, Michael; Willer, Robb (2002). "From Factors to Actors: Computational Sociology and Agent-Based Modeling". Annual Review of Sociology 28: 143–66.
6. ^ Lazer, David; Pentland, Alex; Adamic, L; Aral, S; Barabasi, AL; Brewer, D; Christakis, N; Contractor, N et al. (February 6, 2009). "Computational Social Science". Science.
The history of sociology is not the same as historical sociology. Historical sociology is a branch of sociology focusing on how societies develop through history.  It looks at how social structures that many regard as natural are in fact shaped by complex social processes. The structures in turn shapes institutions and organizations, and they affect the society.   The result is a range of phenomena from: gender bias and income inequality, to war and conflict.  Contemporary historical sociology is primarily concerned with how the state has developed since the Middle Ages, analyzing relations between states, classes, economic and political systems.
  The history of sociology, on the other hand, is concerned with the history and development of sociology as a discinpline of study.

Readers wanting to examine some of my internet posts on sociology and history can go to the following sites in cyberspace:


One way of looking at one’s life, a way that could be labelled the post-structuralist, postmodernist, deconstructionist moment, is seeing one’s life as a product of language, of the text.  Any attempt at a unitary identity and personality, when viewed as the product of language,  is seen as an error, a mistake, a bad alley. Within these broad and complex sociological perspectives of language, the reality of the self, these sociological theorists would argue, is discontinuity, unknowableness in its variability, unrecoverability. All there is is “writing.” The reader and the writer are situated in a perpetual present flooded with signifiers from the past.  Readers should read my autobiography, these thinkers would go on, in terms of the strategies I convey, the stories I tell, my “text”.  This “text” is the narrative of my experience and recurring meanings are found herein, meanings that speak to the person-centered bias of our culture which is instilled in each of us. To some extent I find this approach a useful one, with some truth and value.

But for the Baha’i, for this Baha’i, there is the institution-centered, ideologically-centered, bias that is also present in my autobiographical text, however postmodernist, however language centred is my view.  As Foucault puts it: my ‘I’ “derives its identity from its involvement in a system of signification.” This system is the legacy of the writings of the Central Figures of the Baha’I Faith as well as Shoghi Effendi. It is best approached as a system whose contemporary trustee is the Universal House of Justice. For me, autobiography is a way of asserting continuities in a discontinuous world; it is the story of the clarification, the changing colouration, intensity, expression, mode, manner and style of my commitment. For, no matter how I might write about my life, in the end it is my life that is the achievement, or the failure. At best, this writing is but a part of the overall spiritual pilgrimage that it recounts. -Ron Price with thanks to several articles on postmodernism, post-structuralism and deconstructionism in my Sociology for Human Service Workers Notes, Volume 7.

Perhaps this poetic autobiography
has been written to induce change,
as much as to record life’s dance.
Structured around turning points
of vocational and spiritual choice
these endless words-poems allow
me to be: the student, the inquirer,
the interpreter, the taker of notes,
the active, restless commentator
whose aim is to arrive at justness
of characterization. For I am here
in these words, quite different than
real life where I make cups of tea,
cook and garden little and attend
to various, irregular inclinations.

Ron Price
25 April 1999
Updated on: 24/1/’11

The sociologist Alvin Gouldner says that in life, in society, the norm of anonymity is "a necessary adjunct" to what he calls "the short-take society wherein one goes from one short-take role to another." Between these short-takes one must "be accorded civil inattention and encouraged quickly to change roles" not to sustain relationships.   There is no doubt that throughout a large part of one's life this is true, but there are situations where most of us have to deal with relationships that are not short takes. These are found, for me, in marriage, in some jobs and in some experiences of the Baha'i community.

The sociologist Edward Sampson writes that "what is meant is continuously being reframed by what is...said." One could put the same idea this way: "how do I know what I think until I see what I've said?" The self is a product of the social arrangements which support it. The nature of those supports themselves are increasingly, although not always, multiple and fragmentary, temporary and without depth. Viewed from this perspective even the mind becomes a form of social myth and the self-concept is removed from the head and placed within the sphere of social discourse. Max Weber observes that both for sociology and for history the object of cognition is subjective meaning. This subjective meaning is both the basis for and the complex of action. The point here is not that "anything goes," but rather that "everything is contingent"; not that there are no rules, but that the rules that do exist are decidedly "historically and culturally situated." At the same time, from a Baha'i perspective, I am inclined to the view that there are essential metaphysical verities and these verities are eminently prone to potentially endless revisions. These revisions ensure that "the self is not an organic thing that has a specific location but is, rather, a dramatic effect arising diffusely from the scene that is presented..." This autobiography and the way I see my life has been significantly affected by this 'social constructionist' line of thinking.


All attempts to write about persons or events, however important, to which the poet is not intimately related in a personal way are doomed to failure.......W. H. Auden’s elegies are linguistic homes in which the dead continue to abide; their words and ideas are held fast among the words and ideas of the living poet. -Jahan Ramazani, Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1994, pp.201-203.

I often wondered why writing about, say,
Julius Caesar or Churchill, was so difficult;
or even the old starving China boys
that my mother used to talk about
when trying to get me to eat my vegetables,
or the disaster in Dneipropetrovsk
or Novosibirsk, or the Chukchi people
and their rain dance: one needs some
kind of intimacy really.

We each have different worlds.

Now, Mr. Auden, I find writing begins
both from the sense of separateness in time
and the sense of continuity
of the dead, the living and the still-to-be-born.

It all goes on and on, virtually, forever,
Although my short span will soon end
and, as you say, these words are like
carving my initials on my desk,
maybe someone will read them one day:
‘tis a type of rising from the dead,
or as some ever-advancing civilization.

If this is too pretentious then
just some personal reminiscences,
just reminiscences, Mr. Auden.

Ron Price
30 June 1995

We grew up at a time
when Karkhov, Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk
were black foot-prints in the snow
-Bruce Dawe, “What Lies on Us”, Sometimes Gladness, 3rd edition, Longman, 1988, p.142.

Some of us grew up at a time
when Krushev, Kiev and Kennedy
were part of the language of the big world
that we only ever partly understood at best.
The yellow beast and her red friend
gradually became greyer and greyer
and then the whole thing fell apart
in a brave new world for which most
of us had lost whatever bravery we had.

By then, I’d lived in so many houses,
in so many towns, known too many
women and thousands of people that
I was never shocked by headlines or
news from the lighted chirping box
and its anonymous deaths, or its
myriad, its multitude of private griefs
immortalized yet again for the zillionth
time on film and its billions of stories.

I clean my teeth and wind the clock
for I am still living.  I have returned
from another evening where I watch
merchandised desire and the rented
embraces exhaust the night air where
frightened cries rise occasionally and
pierce the quiet suburban landscape.

What is happening now that the land
has become grey and those red and
yellow hues do not threaten us still?
What does all this mean? What does
it mean, we refined inheritors of the
long history of humankind who also
look with future's wondering eyes?


We all grow old and live in a matrix of groups, networks, institutions and communities. This matrix is the substance of sociology. The student of sociology, even though sensitized to how a person’s life is embedded in groups, can be guilty of serious omissions and patterned distortions when he or she comes to write their autobiography. The introspector and retrospector in sociological autobiography, though, can give us rare access to inner experience from their position of aloof detachment or passionate engagement.

Beginning with Herbert Spencer’s two volumes in 1904, sociology has left us very few intellectual autobiographies. Monopolistic access to my own inner life has found many grooves and at least one or two of these are found in my patterned distortions away from sociology toward religion. I hope the time has not yet come, as Virginia Woolf said it quite easily can, when I may have forgotten far more of significance than I can remember. Certainly I am far from the position Heinrich Boll, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1972, was in when he wrote that “not one title, not one author, not one book that I held in my hand has remained in my memory.” But as I write this memoir of mine the words of the psychologist Alfred Adler can ring in my ears if I bring myself close to his voluminous writings: “It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them.

The autobiographer is both the ultimate Insider and the ultimate Outsider in applying scientific understanding and insight to the self, the interplay of sequences of status-sets, role-sets and intellectual development. What results is not so much a condensed description than a step toward elucidation. I feel as if I have just made a start in the first quarter-century(1984-2010) of my attempt at autobiography. After five decades(1963-2010) of dipping in and out of sociology I have become more than a little conscious of sociology’s hermeneutic influence as I go about writing my autobiography. Often when sociology’s influence did appear it was accidentally, serendipitously.

From my memoir emerges a picture of a Bahá'í, a man who was a teacher and lecturer for 35 years, a father and a husband now for thirty-five, a pioneer for five decades, a man who aims to provide as piercing an insight into his own life and times and with as much muscular confidence that remained by his late middle age and the early years of his late adulthood. He maintains as much etiquette of expression and diplomacy as he has been able to cultivate over his lifetime; along the way he takes no prisoners and writes sparingly about those who caused him discomfort in varying degrees. He makes little to no attempt to manufacture an image, although he sometimes feels indulgently avuncular as an author. Readers will learn something of the furies that screamed through his life until medications softened his edges by his sixties. These same readers will also learn something of the seraphic intimacy which he discovered along the way in many of life’s interstices.

I do not substantiate everything I write with sources, with ferinstances, although my work is not free of footnotes. I would like to see my memoir published, but I think it unlikely in my lifetime. I have settled for a multitude of internet posts. If I do publish a few copies of, say, a five volume set for family and friends I would like the paper to be of superb quality and to have the paper feel simultaneously crispy and smooth to the touch. Sadly, such an edition would be far too expensive for my meagre financial resources now that I am on a pension. In spite of the undeniable quality of such a set of volumes and what I like to think would be a fascinating subject, the price would be far to high to self-published. Friends and family would undoubtedly see such an exercise as an exaggerated narcissism even if I gave them all free copies. Hopefully, perhaps, my executors will arrange for some publishing house to plan a paperback edition at a more attractive and affordable price after my demise!

A passing glance at some of the models of my final published memoir on the internet, at what may well become a large format book might lead readers to expect one of those high-calorie low-fibre coffee-table volumes. But I should make it clear now that this work is not of that ilk. My memoir is a substantial series of tomes, some five of them now. It aims to carry a great deal of insight into which I have sunk a considerable burden of time and effort. Whether I achieve this insight, whether any one reader carries away a greater understanding of life as a result of some interplay between my words and that reader’s mind—time will tell. This memoir’s down-side is that it is no easy read on the train or anywhere where said readers lacks space to spread their book. As I write these words I think my work is best read on the internet in bits and pieces. I have written millions of words on the internet and the time has not yet come to blow my cover, so to speak, and give readers access to all 2600 pages in a simple soft or hard cover.

To list as I have done the far-reaching teaching successes, the literary achievements, the effective Baha’i work and the consequent and multitudinous detail, amazes me even as I play down all this success in an appropriate Australian and Canadian fashion. In these years when this writing has taken place, within the new paradigm of learning and growth in the Bahá'í community, I feel an intimate part of the new Baha’i culture and its two century-long history.

It is important, too, that the font used, when this work is finally published, is neither too small nor too large. I have lovingly written these volumes and I would like to see them be a treat for readers, a real page-turner that they just can’t put down once they have started reading it. One can but hope. Perhaps if several clutches of photo-quality paper featuring a good number of colour plates and several full page plates advantageously exploiting the page size are included in some future published edition the result may be more marketable.

I would like to think that readers might be able to feel as if they are actually breathing the air, witnessing the action and hearing the voices of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people at the immense quantity of meetings I attended and conversations in which I took part during the four epochs that are the mise en scene of this work. Sadly, I think that readers will have to do a good deal of juggling mentally and fill in much of the background situations by isolating my life and trying to integrate the material I provide about my community and my society as cogently as they can. Perhaps if some clever biographer uses facts from my seemingly less important diary and the many entries in my many-volumed work entitled Pionerring Over Four Epochs, he or she will provide readers with a much clearer understanding of the progression of activity that surrounded my life and my community in the last sixty years of the first century of the Formative Age of the Bahá'í Faith. My letters, essays and poetry might also be useful in this regard.

“The life of man is the life of a moving being,” wrote Alfred Adler, “and it would not be sufficient for him to develop body alone. A plant is rooted: it stays in one place and cannot move. It would be very surprising, therefore, to discover that a plant had a mind; or at least a mind in any sense which we could comprehend. If a plant could foresee or project consequences, the faculty would be useless to it. What advantage would it be for the plant to think: 'Here is someone coming. In a minute he will tread on me, and I shall be dead underfoot'? The plant would still be unable to move out of the way. All moving beings, however, can foresee and reckon up the direction in which to move; and this fact makes it necessary to postulate that they have minds or souls.” I have lived in 37 houses and two dozen towns. Movement has been the story of my life until these years of late adulthood when I move mostly in my head.

We live in an auto/biographical age that uses the personal narrative as a lens onto history and the contemporary world. In every medium, cultures are permeated and increasingly transformed by auto/biographical narratives, productions, and performances of identity. The proliferation of auto/biographical practices and the seriousness with which the academy is considering them testify to significant developments in this field. Auto/biography studies are firmly on the academic map in Canada and Australia where I have lived during the last 66 years. Auto/biographical genres now permeate such varied disciplines as anthropology, medicine, education, history, philosophy, psychology, and the visual and performing arts. There is also a steady groundswell of these sub-disciplines of the social sciences and the humanities in conferences, essays, collections of essays and monographs dedicated to auto/biography in Canada and Australia.

The role and function of auto/biographical genres are closely connected to our understanding of the times and places in which we live. Auto/biographies appear in every public sphere and in every kind of intellectual field from the esoteric to the popular. Always, everywhere, one can find the lives of politicians and personalities, stars of sport and popular culture and now, on the internet, the long stories of every Tom, Dick and Harry. Works on these celebrities assume a place for a fan club and they create a mythic persona who becomes, via publicity, an important person in a sub-culture. Such auto/biography represents and contributes to that sub-culture by virtue of its eclectic nature and its home-grown success.

In its more esoteric or experimental forms, which tend to be self-reflexive, ironic, intertextual, and theoretical, contemporary auto/biography does its cultural work at the relatively local level, often encompassed by small presses or on the internet at a myriad of sites. Whereas public figures rely upon their lives to sell their texts, the artist experiments within a web of dialogue with other artists and for a smaller audience. My web of dialogue is the internet. For the most part I present myself in a more hesitant, subdued way, on the world wide web, sometimes suspicious of my public role or the risks of being seen as a person engaged in narcissistic self-absorption. At other times on the net, though, I go for broke and tell a great deal about my life as I do on various mental illness sites.

I also have collections of personal essays which explore ways and means of self-representation by bringing together conventions of auto/biography and the essay. The personal essay is a window on an individual's culture and can highlight the interdependence of self and contexts, but a collection of personal essays can also trace changes in those relationships. As I write I can’t help looking over my shoulder at Alfred Adler or at least his words: “The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, even to murder, for the truth.”

Auto/biographical practices offer a productive angle on questions of Baha’i identities, in part because they complicate easy assumptions about identity, community and religion. Auto/biographical practices introduce internal multiplicity into the equation. The personal, family, and community stories quite frequently confirm or resist or, at the very least, critique what counts as the notion of what it means to be a Bahá'í.

Reading Baha’i auto/biography as a shifting configuration of cultural analysis, characterized mainly by relations, for instance, between contexts of production and reception, form and content, but also themes, places, individuals and communities, I can suggest that a groundwork, a framework, has been created. The Bahá’i community has for some time seen the potential--on the one hand to discover new material, modes of analysis and questions for discussion and, on the other hand, to invigorate the whole field of the study of the individual and the community as it presents itself to the wider world. For the two centuries of Baha’i history offer to readers an incredible journey.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Sociological Lives: Social Change and the Life Course, Vol.2, editor, Matilda White Riley, Sage Publications, London, 1988.

Ron Price
16 March 1997 to 4 July 2010
2100 words

I have found Dr. Mark Foster's work in sociological history most helpful and readers can go to this link to access it: