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Sociology and Its Others: Reflections on Disciplinary Specialisation and Fragmentation
by John Scott
University of Essex
Sociological Research Online, Volume 10, Issue 1,
Received: 28 Jan 2005 Accepted: 1 Mar 2005 Published: 31 Mar 2005
1.1 It is probably true to say that, until fairly recently, many sociologists would happily have described their subject as 'the science of society'. Nowadays we are rather more hesitant in using the 'S' words. This reflects the growing uncertainty about both the epistemological status of our discipline and its subject matter. There is also a deeper, underlying problem of the relationship between sociology and the other disciplines that comprise the social sciences and humanities. Sociologists seem to have been losing their confidence at the same time as many of these other disciplines have shown a greater concern for 'social' phenomena. It is, therefore, important to ask in what ways the existence of these 'others' threatens the practice of sociology itself.
1.2 This question was raised by John Urry (1981) at a British Sociological Association conference some 25 years ago. He posed the question in the form of an opposition between two rival visions of the sociological enterprise. On the one hand there was the view that sociology has to be seen as the Queen of the sciences, as the overarching and integrating framework for organising studies of human activity. On the other hand, there is the view that sociology is a mere parasite or scavenger living on bodies of knowledge generated elsewhere. We face a stark dilemma, held Urry: do we follow the royal road to intellectual dominance or track our way through the academic undergrowth?
1.3 The first of these views was that taken by Auguste Comte and envisages an all-embracing science of the social...