Anthony Giddens ("Sociology", 1989) provides the following general definition:
"Sociology is the study of human social life, groups and societies. It is a dazzling and compelling enterprise, having as its subject matter our own behaviour as social beings.
The scope of sociology is extremely wide, ranging from the analysis of passing encounters between individuals in the street up to the investigation of world-wide social processes".
As you will no-doubt note, Giddens - in this particular extract - is more-concerned with describing the sociological enterprise in very general terms than with trying to nail-down a specific definition...
In "The Complete A-Z Sociology Handbook" (1996) Tony Lawson and Joan Garrod - two writers with recent experience of being am AQA Chief Examiner - provide the following definition:
"Sociology is the study of individuals in groups and social formations in a systematic way, which grew out of the search for understanding associated with the industrial and scientific revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is now an established discipline in post-16 education and has offered generations of students insights into the social world they inhabit. Often accused by the right of being left-wing, it includes individuals of every political opinion who are united by a commitment to search for knowledge and understanding through providing evidence for the theories and insights they offer".
The British Sociological Association (http://www.britsoc.co.uk) examines the question of defining sociology by considering it in terms of three basic categories.
What is Sociology? involves thinking about it's academic origins and history.
In the Beginning...
The origins of Sociology lie in the 19th century when, the BSA notes: "advances in science and technology encouraged people to believe there could be a rational explanation for everything and that scientific study could lead to the solving of all of the problems faced by human beings".
With this sense of opportunity and optimism "Auguste Comte, who gave the name to sociology, confidently expected it would provide the highest level of scientific explanation in establishing laws of human society itself".
In terms of teaching and academic sociology, modern sociology was "first taught in Britain at the beginning of this century but the expansion here took place much more recently and was at first greatly influenced by US sociology. During the 1960s, especially, it became a major social science subject, taught in universities and colleges, and with the development of the sociology A level during the 1970s it became a major subject in schools too".
The BSA notes: "From its original purpose as the science of society, sociology has moved on...to understand how society works. It seeks to provide insights into...