Because of its central importance in our subject matter we must begin with a simple definition of human societies. The human part is obvious our subject is societies made up of human rather then nonhuman organism. Society refers to habitually interacting groups of humans with a common culture a common territory and relative autonomy. By referring to habitually interacting humans we exclude groups of people who have not formed common lasting patterns of behavior. If placed on a previously uninhabited island a collection of people form all over the world would not instantly constitute as society. This does not men that all individuals with in the society must interacted with every one else. It simply means that enough of them must do so to form lasting patterns of interaction. The requirement of a common culture further limits society to a group of people with some shared understandings. The most fundamental type of shared understanding is language. As we well see however many other common understandings must develop if social interaction is to be possible, finally by a common territory and relative autonomy we men a group of people occupying a common geographical area with little control form an outside group are a group an a higher level.
This definition of human societies thus includes American society, British society, and soviet society and so on it excludes sub groups with in a society like college students Republican Party members and the national association of manufactures. These groups with in a society do not alone constitute a society. They are not relatively autonomous but part of a broader collective. The requirement of relative autonomy however is stressed because many societies do experience some out side domination. For example we recognize that Poland is dominated by Soviet Union and in many ways Chile is dominated by the united state. But unless these dominations is perceived as complete we can still refer to separate societies. In contrast we can say that Alaska and Wales no longer from separate societies but are a part of the United States and great Britain respectively. With over definition of human societies we can now define sociology as the scientific study of human societies and human behavior in groups. We will say more about scientific study below but it is use full to further specify human behavior in groups. Sociology is not the study of individuals is individual behavior. Sociologists may consider individual behavior but when doing so the focus is how this individual behavior is shaped by groups. A basic assumption of sociology is those humans groups are more then a collection of individuals. When individuals interact our sustained periods of time the group will developed characteristics of its own that is characteristics independent of individual group members. These groups’ characteristics take on a life of their own in a sense and come to shape human behavior. We now longer have a mere collection of individuals but a group with rules differing roles for members of the group and much more. This idea will be expanded further but the point to remember now is that the primary subject of sociology is group rather then individual behavior here. It should now be evident that the subject matter of sociology is rather broad. Because humans are extremely social animals existing almost every where in groups our subject matter in includes just about every thing people do. The broad nature of the subject matter of sociology is both a strength and weakness. The subject is so broad that few if any sociologist can master it all. Sociologist tends to specialize in a few subject areas such as the family crime and deviance social inequality are social change.
The broad nature of our subject matter how ever also provides some very important benefits. In contrast to more specialized disciplines like political science are economics, sociology brings a broader perspective to the study of specific aspects of human behavior. Put another way sociology attempts to build a general understanding of group behavior that can be applied to many aspects and areas of group behavior. Sociology’s broad perspective also encourages a focus on the interrelations among diverse areas of human societies for example rather then studying the economy in relative isolation sociologists are more likely to study the relations among politics class conflicts and the economy.
In reference to economic and culture issues a discussed in beginning this chapter economists of course can help us understand the united state. Economic position in the world system Political scientists can conflicts. Economists and political scientists can help us understand internal and external political conflicts. Economics and political scientists do not always view their specific subject matter in isolation but sociologist more consistently attempt to bring specific subjects such as economic issue. For example we might ask how changes in the family system, the schools and the state in the twentieth century have influence the American economic position in the world today. The result of this wider perspective I hope you will come to agree is a valuable and unique understanding of human societies and major issues of to day.