Friday, December 12, 2008
During the French Revolution, which began in 1789, France’s class system changed dramatically. Aristocrats suddenly lost their money and status, while peasants, who had been at the bottom of the social ladder, rose to more powerful and influential positions. The Industrial Revolution followed on the heels of the French Revolution, unfolding in Western Europe throughout the 1800s. During the Industrial Revolution, people abandoned a life of agriculture and moved to cities to find factory jobs. They worked long hours in dangerous conditions for low pay. New social problems emerged and, for many decades, little was done to address the plight of the urban poor. However, it was during these turbulent times that social sciences, particularly sociology, would be born.
Auguste Comte, the founder of sociology, looked at the extensive changes brought about by the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution and tried to make sense of them. He felt that the social sciences that existed at the time, including political science and history, couldn’t adequately explain the chaos and upheaval he saw around him. He decided an entirely new science was needed. He called this new science sociology, which comes from the root word socius, a Latin word that means “companion” or “being with others.”