Sociology | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Sociology is the study of human relationships, the rules and norms that guide them, and the development of institutions and movements that conserve and change society.


Sociology is the study of human relationships, the rules and norms that guide them, and the development of institutions and movements that conserve and change society. Sociological methodology includes the analysis of data obtained through questionnaires and surveys, the analysis of official statistics, the observation of human interaction and the study of historical records. Theories developed from the analysis of such data are subjected to testing, modification and further verification by continuing research.

Within the discipline of sociology there are numerous specializations and subspecializations. Sociology of the FAMILY, of WORK and the professions, of education, and of political, economic and labour organizations are among the major specializations in the discipline today. Others include CRIMINOLOGY, statistics, social DEMOGRAPHY, and the sociology of religion, of ETHNIC AND RACE RELATIONS, of sport, of sex roles, of AGING and of knowledge.

Between 1940 and 1960, when sociology was being established in North America as an academic discipline, the drive toward scientific status led to the separation of sociology from the humanistic disciplines and the greater internal specialization of fields within the discipline, although since its emergence sociology has been closely allied for some purposes with social PSYCHOLOGY and social ANTHROPOLOGY. The 1970s witnessed a strong interdisciplinary movement, a broadening of the scope of sociological inquiry toward the inclusion of historical, economic and political aspects of human relationships. Hence the work of many sociologists has overlapped with that of scholars outside their discipline. Sociologists now study the historical development of class relations and its relationship to economic, political and ideological processes.

Origins of the Discipline and Historical Development in Canada

The intellectual origins of sociology are numerous, but as a special science it originated in France. Auguste Comte gave the name "sociology" to the new discipline and outlined a philosophy (positivism) that shaped its development. Positivism holds that only actual phenomena and facts constitute knowledge. Émile Durkheim contributed most to the emergence of sociology in France by combining empirical research and theories in the development of a general set of propositions about social relations.

The 2 other traditions that have significantly shaped modern sociology are grounded in the works of the German sociologists Max Weber and Karl Marx. The common problem that Durkheim, Weber and Marx confronted was the historical transition from feudalism to capitalism and its effects on social integration, the organization of power and SOCIAL CLASS relations. Coincident with this transition were the rapid and profound changes, often involving individual and social disorganization, that resulted from the Industrial Revolution.

In North America, the first academic course in sociology was introduced at Yale in 1876; in 1893 the University of Chicago was the first to offer a doctorate in sociology. Sociology had not made an appearance in Canada as an academic discipline in the 1890s, but by 1920 courses in sociology were being offered in a number of disciplines and were included in theology curricula. The Canadian Political Science Association, formed in 1913, accepted sociologists as members. The association was inactive during WWI and was not reactivated until 1929. The first academic appointment in sociology in Canada was that of Carl A. Dawson in 1922 at McGill. Honours programs were established at McGill in 1926 and at the University of Toronto in 1932. Still, in 1941, Harold INNIS, one of the founding figures in Canadian social science, described sociology as the "Cinderella of the social sciences."

The work of S.D. CLARK at U of T at this time was important to the subsequent recognition of sociology as a legitimate field of study, despite opposition from the entrenched disciplines. Significant SOCIAL SCIENCE research had been under way from the late 1880s to the late 1930s. This included the work of Marius BARBEAU, Carl Dawson, Léon GÉRIN, Diamond JENNESS and Everett Hughes on Canada's indigenous peoples; the human ecological approach to urban growth and planning; and studies of ethnic groups in the West, of education and Québec's rural population, and of ethnic relations (particularly FRANCOPHONE-ANGLOPHONE RELATIONS). By 1940 a substantial body of material on Canadian economic, political and social development existed.


Sociological knowledge is used indirectly in teaching and in everyday work of many kinds, and is applied directly to policy issues either through research conducted during the course of officially sponsored inquiries or through independent research. Sociology is taught primarily at the university level, although since the 1970s sociological content has permeated courses at the community-college and high-school levels. In teaching, research is used not so much as an end in itself but as a means of conveying the perspectives of sociology. Indirectly, sociological research also informs the everyday activities of people in certain jobs, eg, those employed in administration, education, marketing, recreation, SOCIAL WORK and other sectors - although it is impossible to gauge the extent of such practical applications.

It is easier to determine how sociological research feeds directly into the deliberations of those responsible for shaping social policy. For example, the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Health Services (1964-65) were strongly influenced by sociological research (4 studies and numerous submissions) conducted on behalf of the commission. The reports of this commission helped shape Canadian HEALTH POLICY. Of similar importance in the shaping of LANGUAGE POLICIES and cultural policies were the recommendations of the Royal Commission on BILINGUALISM AND BICULTURALISM (1963-69). Sociologists contributed to the Royal Commission on the STATUS OF WOMEN IN CANADA (1967-70); some of the recommendations have been accepted as public policy.

Research by sociologists was significant in developing the recommendations of La Commission d'enquête sur l'enseignement au Québec (1963-66), often referred to as the Parent Commission after its chairman. The educational reforms based on these recommendations drastically altered Québec's educational system. Sociological research in the early 1970s helped shape many of the recommendations of the Gendron Commission (Commission d'enquête sur la situation de la langue française au Québec), the policy implications of which have been profound.

Other public inquiries to which sociologists have made significant contributions include the Senate committees on poverty and on aging, and institutional research under independent and quasi-governmental sponsorship. In this latter category are the projects undertaken by the former Saskatchewan Centre for Community Studies at U Sask; by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Memorial U; and by the Bureau d'aménagement de l'est du Québec at Laval.

As these examples show, much social research and planning in Canada has been conducted collectively under the auspices of government and university research institutes. Canada has also been the subject of significant research and writing by independent scholars.

On the relationship between culture and environment and their effects on social and economic life in Québec, 2 pioneer studies were particularly important: Léon Gérin's Le Type économique et social des canadiens (1937) and Everett C. Hughes's French Canada in Transition (1943). French sociologist Marcel Giraud's Le Métis canadien (1947) remains the most comprehensive study of the Métis. S.D. Clark's Church and Sect in Canada (1948) was a major study of religious and political movements. American sociologist S.M. Lipset's Agrarian Socialism (1950) was a definitive study of the rise of the socialist movement and the rise of the CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION. John PORTER's The Vertical Mosaic (1965) challenged the conventional view of Canada as an egalitarian society. More than any other scholar of his time, Porter influenced the theoretical, empirical and critical directions of modern Canadian sociology. Many contemporary scholars have turned their attention to the effects of a resource-based economy on national and regional social organization. Rex Lucas's Minetown, Milltown, Railtown (1971) has influenced the direction of many of these studies.

Fields of Work

Most of the professional sociologists in Canada have master's or doctoral degrees in the subject. Of course, not all who have taken advanced degrees in sociology are professional sociologists; many are employed as administrators, executives, entrepreneurs and in other capacities. It is impossible to say how many people in Canada are working as professional sociologists, but it is safe to assume that the majority who do so are university teachers. Scores of others are employed part-time in universities and community-college levels. The number of professional sociologists working in research in government and other public and private agencies is in the hundreds.

In 1966 an officially bilingual independent organization, the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, was formed by members of the profession. Several affiliated regional associations represent sociologists in western Canada, Ontario, Québec and the Atlantic provinces. One of these, l'Association canadienne des sociologues et anthropologues de la langue française, caters especially to Francophones. In 1992 a retrospective of professional sociology in Canada was published by the national association. It documents the growing fragmentation of sociology into specialized subdisciplines, the decline of a national emphasis in sociological research following the discipline's formative period from 1969-74, a decline which corresponds to the devolution of the Canadian WELFARE STATE system, the emerging significance of feminist analysis of sociology along the new parardigms of the sociology of the family and of work, and the growing impact of the corporate sector on the academic context of sociology in Canadian universities and colleges.

Sociologists in Canada publish their scholarly work within and outside Canada. Within Canada their articles are published primarily in 4 journals: the Canadian Journal of Sociology, the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, Récherches sociographiques, and Sociologie et sociétés. Besides these outlets, the publications of sociologists often appear in such journals as Cahiers québécois de démographie, Canadian Ethnic Studies, the Canadian Journal of Criminology, Canadian Studies in Population, Canadian Women's Studies and Studies in Political Economy.

Anglophone and Francophone Idiosyncracies

While the social problems of the times were common to all parts of Canada, sociology developed differently in the anglophone and francophone academic communities. Francophone sociology in Québec originally took its inspiration from the encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891). The Roman Catholic Church defined the limits and content of early francophone sociology, and the Catholic Action movement became the vehicle for a Catholic sociology in Québec. By the early 1930s, Catholic sociology was taught at Laval and U de M. From the outset sociology was viewed as an instrument of "national" development in Québec and helped foster ideological self-awareness and critical debate.

During the 1940s, Father Georges-Henri Lévesque of Laval was a leading force in a movement to establish a secularized sociology in Québec. He encouraged a greater scientific sophistication and directed the attention of francophone sociologists away from la survivance of French Canadian traditions and towards the aim of aiding the INDUSTRIALIZATION and modernization of the Québec economy and society. This secularized view of sociology and its role in Québec reinforced a profederalist ideology. In the 1960s a new nationalism appeared in Québec sociology in support of an ideology of self-determination and sovereignty for Québec society. With the growth of the state bureaucracy in Québec during the 1960s and 1970s, sociologists became directly involved in the programming and administration of the new society.

Both anglophone and francophone sociology share stylistic similarities, but certain traditions are more influential in one than the other. For instance, in Québec, perspectives from Europe (and from France in particular) are more evident than they are elsewhere in Canada, where American influence is relatively stronger.

Spectacular Expansion

Beginning in the 1960s, sociology underwent a spectacular expansion everywhere in Canada. In 1960-61 there were 61 sociologists in Canadian universities, no doctorates were awarded in sociology and only 2 had been awarded up to that date. During the next 2 decades, sociology was established in virtually every academic institution; in 1985, 46 doctorates and 171 master's degrees in sociology were conferred by Canadian universities. In 1960 sociology had been organized at the departmental level in only 4 universities in Canada: Carleton, McMaster, Saskatchewan and U de M. In 1985, 44 institutions had enrolments in sociology, although not all of them had sociology departments.

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