[ soh-see-ol-uh-jee, soh-shee- ]
/ ˌsoʊ siˈɒl ə dʒi, ˌsoʊ ʃi- /
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the science or study of the origin, development, organization, and functioning of human society; the science of the fundamental laws of social relations, institutions, etc.
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Origin of sociology

From the French word sociologie, dating back to 1835–45. See socio-, -logy


so·ci·ol·o·gist, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is sociology?

Sociology is the study of human society and the social interactions and behavior of humans.

Sociology is, generally speaking, the study of human interaction. How do people socialize? What happens when people live together? How are members of a group influencing each other? Why does someone become a king and someone else lives their whole life as a peasant? These are the kinds of questions a sociologist is interested in.

Sociology is an incredibly broad science and often overlaps with other fields of study, such as psychology or economics. A sociologist may look at social groups on a large (macro) scale, such as studying the different societies of Asia, or may look at groups on a small (micro) scale, such as studying Brazilian teenagers or even a single town.

As far as a sociologist is concerned, no person ever makes a decision without some influence from society or their social groups. Sociology isn’t just the study of people but more specifically the study of what happens when people are around each other.

Why is sociology important?

The first records of the word sociology come from around 1835. It comes from the French sociologie, which combines socio-, meaning “social” or “society,” and -logy, which indicates a topic of scientific study or scientific field. Sociology is both the study of social interactions and of wider society as a whole.

The beginnings of sociology can be traced back to thinkers from the 1800s who were intrigued by the work of naturalist Charles Darwin. They wondered if Darwin’s ideas of “survival of the fittest,” in which only the strongest or most successful animals survived, could be applied to human societies. This idea of social Darwinism was popular for a time but was eventually replaced by schools of thought that considered more complicated explanations, such as economics or culture, as for why some societies flourish and others fail.

In practical terms, sociological research is often a major force in influencing legislation or political policies. Sociologists will publish books or reports about why certain areas are poorer than others or why certain racial or gender groups have higher education rates than others, for example. Politicians or government leaders will then look at research like this when trying to decide which social programs to enact or which of their citizens are struggling.

Did you know ... ?

Sociology students sometimes use what they have learned to pursue some interesting career choices: President Ronald Reagan, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. all had degrees in sociology.

What are real-life examples of sociology?

This video gives an explanation of sociology and some examples of topics related to sociology:

Many students seek an education in sociology. The field of sociology has quickly expanded as technology and politics have rapidly changed society.


What other words are related to sociology?

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Sociology is the study of the social interactions of humans.

How to use sociology in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for sociology

/ (ˌsəʊsɪˈɒlədʒɪ) /

the study of the development, organization, functioning, and classification of human societies

Derived forms of sociology

sociological (ˌsəʊsɪəˈlɒdʒɪkəl), adjectivesociologically, adverbsociologist, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for sociology

[ sō′sē-ŏlə-jē ]

The scientific study of human social behavior and its origins, development, organizations, and institutions.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for sociology


The systematic study of human society, especially present-day societies. Sociologists study the organization, institutions, and development of societies, with a particular interest in identifying causes of the changing relationships among individuals and groups. (See social science.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.