Individuality and independence are highly valued in our society. It is sometimes easy to forget that everything we do, including our private thoughts and fantasies, grows out of or is shaped through our interactions with others, especially others close to us. Whether we like it or not we are born into groups and spend most of our social lives in those same groups. All of us assimilate, at least in part, the perspectives of these groups and thereby acquire our language, values, attitudes, beliefs and sense of identity. The most basic sociological premise is that humans are social beings, shaped in many ways by the groups to which we belong. Whether they be families, athletic teams, clubs (such as sororities and fraternities), religious groups, socioeconomic classes, complex bureaucratic organizations, or nations, much of human life is guided by group norms. Much of human life is also consumed with conflicts between groups, each of which tries to defend its own self interests.
As a discipline, Sociology involves the description and explanation of social structures and processes. These range from two-person interactions to relations between large social institutions, such as politics and the economy, to relations between nations. Sociology also ranges across time and serves as a useful complement to history. Changes in the social arrangements that people create are of special interest to the sociologist for a number of reasons.
First, Sociology increases our understanding of ourselves and our society by providing us with concepts that describe and explain our social creations and how they influence us. We learn who we are and why, and how we are similar to and different from people with different social arrangements. Second, exposure to Sociology opens our minds, prompts us to review the taken-for-granted, and encourages us to entertain alternatives. Third, it is important to be aware that the organization and institutions of our society evolved through social processes operating in a social environment. We need to learn how to collect and analyze representative information about society and its members rather than to rely on information we encounter haphazardly. We also need ideas that we can use to classify social behavior systematically and ideas that we can use to explain the trends and relationships observed. Sociology addresses all of these issues and more.
Sociological research also reveals the multifaceted nature of social reality, its multiple causes and multiple effects, and provides us with sets of methods suitable for unraveling the complexities of social life. Sociological study helps us to determine which steps are most likely to lead toward a given goal and provides ways of assessing the extent to which a given goal may be realized. In these ways Sociology helps us move beyond common sense to describe and explain more accurately the classes of social behavior and the relations between them. In short, the study of Sociology gives a view of social reality that fosters an understanding of social arrangements.