Created by: Sandro Serpa

What is Sociology?

Table of Content [Hide]


Sandro Serpa - Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, University of the Azores, Portugal; Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences - CICS.UAc/ CICS.NOVA.UAc; Interdisciplinary Centre of Childhood and Adolescence - NICA - UAc

Carlos Miguel Ferreira - ISCTE - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, Portugal; Centro Interdisciplinar de Ciências Sociais - CICS.NOVA, Lisbon, Portugal.


Sociology is a science with specificities that can offer a more rigorous knowledge of social reality. But what is sociology? There is a wide variety of definitions and it is not easy to define them directly. It is an extremely ambitious and broad theme of which we will make a brief presentation based on Ferreira & Serpa (2017), Serpa & Ferreira (2018), and Serpa & Ferreira (2019).

 Scientific knowledge may be regarded as a body of verified and verifiable knowledge, obtained by a systematic process and demonstrated in a rigorous and controlled manner. This rigor and control must be present both in the process (in the execution of a research) and in the product of a research (in its result, such as, for example, an article, a book, a report or a presentation, among others).

 Sociology as a science and as a profession (in the diversity of roles and inherent professional cultures) studies the (dis)order of the social world, and deals with interactions, which result from the interaction and have implications in this interaction among human beings, such as objects, practices, representations and values, inserting them in their social context.

As a science, Sociology is recognized in the scientific field as a scientific discipline that specifically visualizes social reality, producing plural theoretical themes, formulating research problems in the context of these themes and developing methodological strategies that drive empirical research. Specifically, Sociology, in order to make social reality intelligible, can only accomplish this objective through the study of parts selected by the instruments it uses as a specific form of scientific knowledge, through the formulation of the sociological problem.

To accomplish this goal: Sociology, a multiparadigmatic science, seeks to articulate macro-social dynamics with local processes, allowing to connect subjective meanings with practices, and that focus on the articulations between systems and actors, between structures and practices, between the reality of social conditions of existence, and the social construction of reality. As Javeau states in his proposal on the basic axioms of sociology (1998), man is a single and species invariable in time; the social is external to the individual; social phenomena have a meaning that can be highlighted by the application of scientific methods. These axioms materialize in the following characteristics of Sociology as a science (Javeau, 1998, pp. 64 and 65).

 Sociology, while scientific knowledge, consolidates itself as a reflexive science whose purpose is to critically analyze what it does at various levels (its possibilities, its limits, its procedures), evaluate the conditions under which it does it, as well as the effects of its activity (Costa, 1992). Sociology not only studies society, but is also part of it. Sociology, as a privileged scientific space of (self)reflection on its own activity and the resulting product, contributes to specialized knowledge with the limitations that this implies; it is therefore important, on the one hand, to foster a sociological perspective that stimulates, in the process of construction and analysis of its objects, the influence of cultural, economic and political aspects and, on the other, to foster dialogue with other disciplinary and scientific spaces.

 As an implication, sociology, as a scientific representation of the social, can be complicated by helping to dismantle commonly shared preconceived ideas about the instituted social order that are not correct.


Note: Text based on Ferreira, & Serpa (2017); Serpa, & Ferreira (2018) and Serpa, & Ferreira (2019). For further development see these texts.



Costa, A. F. (1992). Sociology. Lisbon: Cultural Diffusion.

Ferreira, C. M., & Serpa, S. (2017). Challenges in the Teaching of Sociology in Higher Education. Contributions to a discussion. Societies - Models and Practices of Training in Sociology. 7(4), 30, 1-11. hurts: 10.3390/soc7040030

Javeau, C. (1998). Lessons of Sociology. Oeiras: Celta Editora.

Serpa, S., & Ferreira, C. M. (2018). Sociological Problem and Social Problem: Contributions to a Discussion. Sociology and Anthropology, 6(11), 840-844, doi: 10.13189/sa.2018.061104

Serpa, S., & Ferreira, C. M. (2019). Sociology as Scientific Knowledge. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 9(3), 178-184. doi: 10.2478/jesr-2019-0035.


Cite this article

Sandro, Serpa. Sociology, Encyclopedia, 2019, v2, Available online: