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35 An inquisitive layman will often ask a sociologist, “What is sociology, anyway ?” The question is not an easy one. Moreover, after the sociologist replies—usually haltingly and in general terms—the layman may pose a second question, such as “Well, how is that different from social psychology ?” or “Isn’t that what anthropologists do?” These, too, are likely to yield vague, unsatisfactory answers. Sociology seems to defy simple definition of itself and clear demarcation of itself from related endeavors. Somehow it seems more appropriate to ask the question of sociology than it does of some her sister social sciences. What Is Sociology? (Inkeles 1964) seems a reasonable title for a recent introductory text. The title What Is Economics? would appear to represent as undefined a field that has crystallized in the mid-twentieth century, so that its identifying features are generally agreed upon. What Is History? would signify more a foray into the philosophy of historical inquiry than an introduction to the field. But the query “What is sociology?” betokens an effort to locate the 2 Sociology and the Other Social Sciences (1967) From The Uses of Sociology, edited by Paul F. Lazarsfeld, William A. Sewell, and Harold L. Wilensky, 3–44. New York: Basic Books, 1967. 36 e a r l y s e a r c h i n g distinctive focus of a field still in search of its identity, one that has only recently achieved solid institutional support. In this essay I aim to explore the distinctive character of sociology and its relations to the other social sciences. I shall proceed by opening four topics in sequence: 1. The criteria by which the various social science disciplines can be described and related to one another. 2. The contours of sociology according to these criteria. 3. The contours of several neighboring fields according to the same criteria—the fields of economics, political science, anthropology, history, and psychology (Berelson 1963). Some might object to the inclusion of the last two on grounds that history is in the humanities and psychology is scientific but not social, but I think that much can be learned by comparing sociology with these two fields. 4. Some possibilities of theoretical and empirical articulation between sociology and the other disciplines. My emphasis will be conceptual. I am interested in the theoretical and empirical relations among the social sciences as they stand today. I shall not trace how these relations have developed in the history of thought. Nor shall I discuss, except by way of occasional illustration, the institutional relations among sociology and the other social sciences: for example , the consequences of the fact that sociology is departmentally linked here with anthropology, there with political science, and elsewhere with economics. criteria for describing and comparing the social sciences The simplest way to characterize a discipline is to depict its subject matter concretely. Economists may be said to study businessmen and organizations , as they produce and market commodities, and consumers as they buy and use these commodities. Other social sciences are not so specific in their focus. Upon being asked to define anthropology, Malinowski is reported to have replied that anthropology is “the study of man, embrac- s o c i o l o g y a n d t h e o t h e r s o c i a l s c i e n c e s 37 ing woman.” Likewise, sociology is very diffuse, covering behavior in families , hospitals, educational institutions, street-corner gangs, experimental small groups, armies, and religious revivals, to name only a few settings. To describe a social science concretely, however, does not yield a very scienti fic account, since it usually refers to the list of topics that, over a long period, have interested those who call themselves economists or sociologists or whatever. Such a description is likely to change, moreover, as new problems make their appearance in society—problems such as imperfect competition, race relations, mental illness, and poverty. A more analytic way of describing and comparing disciplines is to ask how knowledge is generated, organized, and verified in each. This, in turn, breaks down into a number of criteria. First, it is necessary to specify what about the concrete subject matter preoccupies the investigator. Economists are not interested in every aspect of the behavior of businessmen; they wish to discover specifically why businessmen produce different quantities of commodities at different times, why they change prices at different...


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