Emergence of Sociology - UPSC Mains Sociology Optional Study Material

Modernity and social changes in Europe and the emergence of Sociology

The formal inauguration of sociology as a subject occurred in 1838 when August Comte renamed his study of society from “social physics” to Sociology. But the foundation for the same was laid way back in the cultural revolution of Renaissance” in 14th century and Philosophic revolution of “Enlightenment” in 18th century. These two events had a deep and dramatic impact on the thought process of the people of Europe particularly intellectuals. It changed the basic premises of the thought process.

The upheavals occurring in the arts and humanities during “Renaissance” were mirrored by a dynamic period of change in the sciences. Some have seen this flurry of activity as a "scientific revolution", heralding the beginning of the modern age.   

Important events of Europe which lead to the modernization of Europe:

  1. Renaissance (Cultural movement spanning 14th through the 17th century)
  2. Enlightenment (Philosophic movement of 18th century)
  3. French Revolution (1789), American freedom movement (1776) (political movement)
  4. Industrial revolution (economic movement, late 18th  early 19th century)                                                              

1. Renaissance

The  Renaissance(from French Renaissance, meaning "rebirth"; Italian: Rinascimento, from re- "again" and nascere "be born")  was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life in the early modern period. Beginning in Italy in 14th century, and spreading to the rest of Europe by the 16th century, its influence was felt in literature, philosophy, art, politics, science, religion, and other aspects of intellectual enquiry. In the 15th century, the Renaissance spread with great speed from its birthplace in Florence, first to the rest of Italy, and soon to the rest of Europe. The invention of the printing press allowed the rapid transmission of these new ideas. As it spread, its ideas diversified and changed, being adapted to local culture. Renaissance scholars employed the humanist method in study, and searched for realism and human emotion in art. 

It encompassed a revival of learning based on classical sources, the development of linear perspective in painting, and educational reform. The Renaissance saw developments in most intellectual pursuits, but is perhaps best known for its artistic aspect and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who have inspired the term "Renaissance men". 

The word Renaissance has also been used to describe other historical and cultural movements, such as the Carolingian Renaissance and the Twelfth-century Renaissance.

The Renaissance was so-called because it was a "rebirth" of certain classical ideas that had long been lost to Western Europe. It has been argued that the fuel for this rebirth was the rediscovery of ancient texts (Plato, Cicero and Vitruvius) that had been forgotten by Western civilization, but were preserved in the Eastern Roman Empire, some monastic libraries and in the Islamic world, and the translations of Greek and Arabic texts into Latin

The works of ancient Greek and Hellenistic writers (such as Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, and Plotinus) and Muslim scientists and philosophers (such as Geber, Abulcasis, Alhacen, Avicenna, Avempace, and Averroes), were reintroduced into the Western world, providing new intellectual material for European scholars. Particularly in the case of mathematical knowledge, some of the work of Muslim scholars was itself a compilation or translation of the earlier work of Indian mathematicians.

Greek and Arabic knowledge was not only assimilated from Spain, but also directly from the Greek and Arab speaking world. The study of mathematics was flourishing in the Middle East, and mathematical knowledge was brought back by crusaders in the 13th century. The decline of the Byzantine Empire after 1204 - and its eventual fall in 1453 - led to a sharp increase in the exodus of Greek scholars to Italy and beyond. These scholars brought with them texts and knowledge of the classical Greek civilization which had been lost for centuries in the West and they transmitted the art of exegesis.

Renaissance thinkers sought out learning from ancient texts, typically written in Latin or ancient Greek. Scholars scoured Europe's monastic libraries, searching for works of antiquity which had fallen into obscurity. In such texts they found a desire to improve and perfect their worldly knowledge; an entirely different sentiment to the transcendental spirituality stressed by medieval Christianity. They did not reject Christianity; quite the contrary, many of the Renaissance's greatest works were devoted to it, and the Church patronized many works of Renaissance art. However, a subtle shift took place in the way that intellectuals approached religion that was reflected in many other areas of cultural life.

2. Enlightenment 

Enlightenment,  a general term applied to the loosely organized movement of intellectual liberation, secular, rationalist, and egalitarian in outlook and values,  that developed in Western Europe from the late 17th century to the late 18th (the period often called the ‘Age of Reason’), especially in France and Switzerland. In France, Enlightenment has often been associated with the Revolution and the values espoused by republicans and the Left. d' Alembert's accounts it as a move from darkness to light.  Emblematically, the single most famous publication of the Enlightenment was the French Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisoné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers (1751–1772; Encyclopedia, or, Rational dictionary of the sciences, arts, and professions), a massive compendium of theoretical and practical knowledge edited in Paris by Jean Le Rond d'Alembert and Denis Diderot. The Enlightenment culminated with the writings of Jean‐Jacques Rousseau and the Encyclopédistes(contributors in encyclopaedia), the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and the political ideals of the American and French Revolutions, while its forerunners in science and philosophy included Bacon, Descartes, Newton, and Locke. Its central idea was the need for (and the capacity of) human reason to clear away ancient superstition, prejudice, dogma, and injustice. Kant defined enlightenment (die Aufklärung) as man's emancipation from his self‐incurred immaturity(tutelage) and declared that its motto should be sapere aude—"dare to know." implying both critical and constructive thinking.

In his famous 1784 essay What is Enlightenment?, Immanuel Kant described it as follows:

Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is the incapacity to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. Such tutelage is self-imposed if its cause is not lack of intelligence, but rather a lack of determination and courage to use one's intelligence without being guided by another. 

Kant reasoned that although a man must obey in his civil duties, he must make public his use of reason. His motto for enlightenment is Sapere aude! or "Dare to know."

Enlightenment thinking encouraged rational scientific inquiry, humanitarian tolerance, and the idea of universal human rights. In religion, it usually involved the sceptical rejection of superstition, dogma, and revelation in favour of ‘Deism’–a belief confined to those universal doctrines supposed to be common to all religions, such as the existence of a venerable Supreme Being as creator. The advocates of enlightenment tended to place their faith in human progress brought about by the gradual propagation of rational principles, although their great champion Voltaire, more militant and less optimistic, waged a bitter campaign against the abuses of the ancien régime under the virtually untranslatable slogan écrasez l'infâme! (for which a rough equivalent would be ‘smash the system!’). In English, the attitudes of the Enlightenment are found in the late 18th century, in the historian Edward Gibbon and the political writers Thomas Paine and William Godwin, as well as in the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. The flourishing of philosophy and science in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the 18th century is known as the Scottish Enlightenment; its leading figures included David Hume and Adam Smith

Writers and thinkers associated with the Enlightenment were certainly capable of profound disagreement among themselves. But the common aspiration defined by Kant—knowledge as liberation—is what permits us to see a unified movement amid much diversity.

History 1450-1789: Enlightenment 

The history of enlightenment is divided into following stages:

  1. The period between about 1680 and 1715 was described by Paul Hazard as the ‘crisis of European consciousness’. In France it was the time of growing confidence in the new science and philosophy, rational examination of established beliefs.
  2. The years between 1715 and c.1745 are those of the early (or first-generation) Enlightenment. They see the acceleration of scientific enquiry and philosophical speculation, the growing attraction of deism (Deists asserted that reason could find evidence of God in nature and that God had created the world and then left it to operate under the natural laws he had devised), the radical discussions of the Club de l' Entresol, and above all the emergence of two major figures, Montesquieu and Voltaire. Voltaire, while at first more poet than philosophe, emerged in 1734 as the militant leader of Enlightenment thought. It is significant that this work was inspired by Voltaire's stay in England, where he had admired political liberty, religious tolerance, and the work of Newton and Locke. 

One of the most important developments of this period is indeed the rise of the periodical press, with the appearance of many journals in which Enlightenment ideas were expressed and criticized. Equally important is the creation of provincial academies; these provided a socially mixed forum in which philosophy and science could be advanced on a broad front. In addition, the major Parisian salons were increasingly permeated by philosophe ideas as the century progressed.

  1. The years from about 1745 to 1770 are those of the High Enlightenment, in which the philosophes form a party around the Encyclopédie; this great production, for all its faults, is the summation of Enlightenment thinking, and its chequered history reflects the battle between the philosophes and their many enemies (the most prominent of these, the Jesuits, were expelled from France in 1764). This is the most militant period, marked by the materialistic theses of Helvétius, the anti-religious propaganda of Holbach and his associates, and Voltaire's campaign against the infâme. Rousseau, offered a more radical critique of the status quo and a visionary ideal.
  2. From c.1770 Enlightenment thinking acquired power and respectability.
    This thesis remains controversial, but it is certain that the ‘late Enlightenment’ sees an explosion of radical political thought (much influenced by Rousseau), often messianic or Utopian in tone.  


In a long-term perspective, the Enlightenment can be regarded as the third and last phase of the cumulative process by which European thought and intellectual life was "modernized" in the course of the early modern period. Its relation to the two earlier stages in this process—Renaissance and Reformation—was paradoxical. In a sense, the Enlightenment represented both their fulfillment and their cancellation. As the neoclassical architecture and republican politics of the late eighteenth century remind us, respect and admiration for classical antiquity persisted throughout the period. Yet the Enlightenment was clearly the moment at which the spell of the Renaissance—the conviction of the absolute superiority of ancient over modern civilization—was broken once and for all in the West. The Enlightenment revolt against the intellectual and cultural authority of Christianity was even more dramatic. In effect, the Protestant critique of the Catholic church—condemned for exploitation of its charges by means of ideological delusion—was extended to Christianity, even religion itself. At the deepest level, this is what Kant meant by "emancipation from self-incurred tutelage": the Enlightenment marked the moment at which the two most powerful sources of intellectual authority in Europe, Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian, were decisively overthrown, at least for a vanguard of educated Europeans.

What made this intellectual liberation possible? The major thinkers of the Enlightenment were in fact very clear about the proximate origins of their own ideas, which they almost invariably traced to the works of a set of pioneers or founders from the mid-seventeenth century. First and foremost among these were figures now associated with the "scientific revolution"—above all, the English physicist Isaac Newton, who became the object of a great cult of veneration in the eighteenth century. Hardly less important were thinkers who are more typically classified as "philosophers" today, including the major figures of both the rationalist and the empiricist traditions—René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz on the one hand, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke on the other. Similarly honored were the founders of modern "natural rights" theory in political thought—Hugo Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, and Samuel Pufendorf. These thinkers did not see themselves as engaged in a common enterprise as did their successors in the Enlightenment. What they did share, however, was the sheer novelty of their ideas—the willingness to depart from tradition in one domain of thought after another. Nor is it an accident that this roster is dominated by Dutch and English names or careers. For the United Provinces and England were the two major states in which divine-right absolutism had been successfully defeated or overthrown in Europe. If the ideological idiom of the Dutch Revolt (1568–1648) and the English Revolutions (1640–1660, 1688) remained primarily religious, their success made possible a degree of freedom of thought and expression enjoyed nowhere else in Europe. The result was to lay the intellectual foundations for the Enlightenment, which can be defined as the process by which the most advanced thought of the seventeenth century was popularized and disseminated in the course of the eighteenth.

Ideas inherent in enlightenment

What were the key ideas of the Enlightenment, beyond the challenge to inherited intellectual authority noted by Kant? The Enlightenment never presented itself as a single theoretical system or unitary ideological doctrine—if nothing else, the necessities interpreter has characterized the movement in terms of "the rise of modern paganism" (Gay, 1966). It is certainly the case that the majority of adherents to the Enlightenment shared an intellectual aversion to theism in its inherited forms: specific objects of criticism included belief in miracles and other forms of divine intervention, the status accorded "holy" Scripture, and claims about the divinity of Jesus. At the same time, most Enlightenment thinkers regarded traditional churches, Catholic and Protestant, as engines of institutional exploitation and oppression. Hostility toward theism and a general anticlericalism did not, however, preclude an enormous variety of attitudes toward the supernatural and the "sacred" among followers of the Enlightenment. Forthright atheism did indeed make its public debut in Europe during the eighteenth century, in the works of figures such as Hume, Julien Offroy de La Mettrie, and Paul Thiry, baron d'Holbach. But this was a minority position. The bulk of Enlightened opinion opted for the compromise of "deism" or "natural religion," which had the stamp of approval of Newton himself and which continued to attract a good deal of sincere devotion, in a wide variety of forms.

Science. It is a commonplace that the demotion of religion by the Enlightenment went hand in hand with the promotion of science—indeed, the very notion of a generic "science," as a sphere of cognition distinct from religious "belief," was undoubtedly a gift of the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment discovery or construction of science, in this sense, owed everything to the idea of a heroic age of scientific achievement just behind it, in the development of modern astronomy and physics from Nicolaus Copernicus to Newton. For all of the prestige that now attached to science, however, it would be a mistake to exaggerate agreement during the Enlightenment with regard to either its methods or findings. The philosophical heritage from the seventeenth century was far too various for that. Looking back at the eighteenth century, the last great philosopher of the Enlightenment, Kant, described an anarchic battlefield, divided ontologically between materialism and idealism and epistemologically between rationalism and empiricism. Moreover, there was also profound disagreement as to the social consequences of scientific advance, however defined. For every Condorcet, celebrating the beneficent effects of cognitive "progress" for liberty and prosperity, there was a Rousseau, decrying the contribution that science made to technological violence and social inequality.

Politics. The seventeenth century had seen a profound revolution in political thought, with the emergence of the modern "natural rights" tradition of Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, and Pufendorf. By the mid-eighteenth century, the basic conceptual vocabulary of the natural rights tradition—"natural rights," "state of nature," "civil society," "social contract"—had entered the mainstream of Enlightenment political thought, which embraced, nearly unanimously, the belief that the only legitimate basis of political authority was consent. The path toward the vindication of "inalienable natural rights" in the founding documents of the American and French Revolutions lay open. Still, beyond this basic agreement about legitimacy, the practical substance of Enlightenment political thought was extraordinarily various. Only one major thinker, Rousseau, actually produced a theory of republican legitimacy—but in a form so radically democratic as to preclude its widespread acceptance prior to the era of the French Revolution. In terms of practical politics, the majority of Enlightenment thinkers accepted a pragmatic accommodation with monarchy—overwhelmingly still the dominant state-form in Europe—and instead pursued what might be termed a program of "proto-liberalism," concentrating on securing civil liberties of one kind or another—freedoms of religion, self-expression, and trade.of adaptation to different national contexts made unity of that kind unlikely. But the variety of its ideas was not infinite. The best way to approach them is perhaps in terms of a sequence of domains of thought or "problem-areas," in which a certain general consensus—often negative—can be discerned, together with a significant spectrum of differences of opinion.

Religion. No idea is more commonly associated with the Enlightenment than hostility toward established forms of religion—indeed, at least one major religion, Christianity.

Social science. Meanwhile, the most influential work of political theory of the Enlightenment turned its back on natural rights theory altogether. In De l'esprit des lois (1748; The spirit of the laws), Montesquieu set forth a global taxonomy of state-forms, dividing the world into a West that had seen a transition from the martial republics of antiquity to the commercial monarchies of modern Europe, and an East dominated by unchanging "despotism." A succeeding generation of French and Scottish thinkers then developed Montesquieu's legacy in two different directions. One was the genre of "conjectural" or "stadial" history, which traced the historical development of societies through specific socioeconomic stages—huntergatherer, nomadic, agricultural, and commercial in the most famous of these, known retrospectively as the "four stages" theory. The other direction was toward an entirely new social science, that of economics or "political economy"—probably the most important single intellectual innovation of the Enlightenment. Within the ranks of "conjectural" historians and political economists, however, there was significant disagreement about the political and moral upshot of their findings. Thinkers as close in outlook as Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson could disagree profoundly about the effects of economic progress on political life. The field of political economy itself was sharply divided between two quite different theoretical schools, French Physiocracy and the "system of liberty" set forth in Smith's Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Finally, more conventional narrative historiography, which underwent a great flowering in the Enlightenment in the work of practitioners such as Voltaire, Hume, and Edward Gibbon, showed a not dissimilar variety. In the face of every legend about the shallow optimism of the Enlightenment, it is worth noting that its historiographical masterpiece, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788), recounted a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions: the destruction of the classical world at the hands of "barbarism and religion."

Reform and Revolution

This brings us in fact to an initial question about the place of the Enlightenment in the wider currents of European history. Its maturity as an intellectual movement coincided with the start of a cycle of political revolutions that ended, after a half-century of social convulsion and warfare, with the destruction of the Old Regime of early modern Europe. What was the relation between the Enlightenment and what the American historian R. R. Palmer called "the age of the democratic revolution"? For conservative critics of the French Revolution such as Edmund Burke or Joseph de Maistre, the answer was simple and dramatic: the Enlightenment caused the Revolution—Voltaire and Rousseau sketched a scenario for political transformation that was then willfully enacted by the Abbé Siéyès and Maximilien Robespierre. The idea is easy to dismiss in its hyperbolic or conspiratorial forms. But how in fact should we conceive of the relation between the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment and the political revolutions that overthrew the Old Regime?

Many scholars have stressed the practical thrust of the Enlightenment critique of political, social, and religious institutions, which certainly appeared to express a desire not merely to analyze but to change the world. At the same time, it also seems clear that the basic orientation of this criticism was reformist and not revolutionary. No major Enlightenment thinker ever advocated "revolution," in the sense of a conscious change of political regime, even by peaceful means—the memory of the last serious example of such a project, the failed Commonwealth that issued out of the English Civil War, was a potent warning against such presumption. On the whole, the practical political energies of the Enlightenment were devoted to a far more modest set of ends, the securing of a set of basic civil liberties—freedom of religion, self-expression, trade—nor did many thinkers contemplate the extension of these liberties beyond an elite minority of white male property owners. It is perfectly appropriate that the most celebrated examples of Enlightenment activism should be the one-man campaigns mounted by Voltaire to "crush the infamy," as his motto put it, of anachronistic religious persecution. Of course, Voltaire was not the only Enlightenment thinker to become more directly involved with affairs of state, on occasion. But the oxymoron of "enlightened despotism" suggests the limits of such episodes. In eastern Europe, this was largely a matter of rendering the rule of divine-right absolutism more rational and efficient. In the West, experiments in the practical application of Enlightenment ideas—for example, efforts to deregulate the grain trade in France, inspired by Physiocracy—tended to be short-lived fiascoes.

The immediate origins of both the American and the French Revolutions can be traced, not to the conscious plans of revolutionaries dreaming of overthrowing regimes, but to fiscal crises brought on by debts incurred in international warfare—disputes over the escalating costs of imperial defense in the case of the first, state bankruptcy brought on by bankrolling the American revolt itself, in the case of the second. The Enlightenment cannot be said to have "caused" either, in any plausible sense of the term. This is not to deny any relation between them, however. On the contrary, if the Enlightenment played a minimal role in the origins—largely spontaneous and contingent—of the American and French Revolutions, it was absolutely central to the processes of political and social reconstruction undertaken by both, once old regimes had collapsed. The various declarations of "natural rights" that accompanied every step of this saga, from Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (1776) and the American state constitutions to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) and the American Bill of Rights (1791) and beyond, tell their own story—so many variations on the basic civil libertarianism of the Enlightenment. Politically, the Age of Revolutions afforded opportunities for state construction beyond what any Enlightenment thinker had envisaged. But the ensuing experiments in republican constitution making were all conducted in self-conscious continuity with eighteenth-century political thought. The one great success story here, the American constitution of 1787, with its antidemocratic machinery of "checks and balances," is notoriously a creature of the Enlightenment. Neither the French Revolution nor the wars of liberation in Latin America succeeded in creating comparably durable state structures, of course. But by far the most significant sociopolitical accomplishment of the former, the Napoleonic Civil Code (1804), was itself a straightforward expression of the egalitarian and rationalizing designs of the Enlightenment. Moreover, the fact that the restoration of monarchy that followed the overthrow of Napoleon was so unstable and short-lived is a testament to the long-term impact of the Enlightenment in altering the social and political expectations of Europeans. When the dust settled after another cycle of political revolutions a half-century later—unifying and modernizing Italy, Germany, the United States, and Japan by means of revolution "from above"—the social and political landscape to be seen in Europe and North America was very much in line with the hopes and aspirations of the Enlightenment.

The Intellectual Legacy of the Enlightenment

In the long run, then, the Enlightenment can be said to have succeeded in changing the world, much as the Renaissance and the Reformation had before it—through a complicated interweaving of intended and unintended consequences. There is, however, one important difference between the first two and the last of these episodes of intellectual "modernization." On the whole, the great issues and passions of the Renaissance and the Reformation have long since receded into history, their very success having also canceled their actuality. There is no sign yet that the Enlightenment is "over" in the same sense. Despite the claims once made on behalf of Marxism or psychoanalysis in their heydays, the Enlightenment has yet to be coopted or surpassed by any later intellectual movement, in the way it did the Renaissance and Reformation.

There is no surer sign of this than its fate in twentieth-century scholarship. For alongside a massive professional literature on its thought, probably exceeding that devoted to the Renaissance, the Reformation, or the "scientific revolution," the Enlightenment has inspired a polemical and philosophical commentary on it that is unprecedented in modern intellectual history. On the one hand, the movement has attracted a powerful series of advocates, concerned to defend its intellectual and political legacy, typically by straightforward identification with it. These include Ernst Cassirer, whose Philosophie der Aufklärung (Philosophy of the enlightenment), published on the eve of his exile from Nazi Germany in 1932, launched the serious academic study of its subject, and, above all, Peter Gay, whose two-volume study, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966, 1969)—which ended with a ringing vindication of Enlightenment liberal humanism, still incarnated today in the American constitution—remains the most authoritative single synthesis of the field. On the other hand, the Enlightenment has also been the object of an endless series of polemical attacks in the twentieth century. What is perhaps most striking is that the greatest of these have not come from the right of the political spectrum, as in the tradition descending from Burke and Maistre to Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, but from its center—Carl Becker's perennially popular The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers—as well as its far left—Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's classic of Western Marxism, Dialektik der Aufklärung (1947; Dialectic of enlightenment) and virtually the entire early oeuvre of the French historian Michel Foucault. For Becker, the fatal flaw of the Enlightenment was its naive utopianism, modeled on that of its ostensible Christian opponents. Both Horkheimer and Adorno and Foucault regarded Enlightenment rationalism less as utopian than as inherently authoritarian in nature, its fundamental will to power plainly visible in twentieth-century fascism, Stalinism, and consumer capitalism alike.

Today this field remains divided between contemporary representatives of these positions. The descendents of Becker, Horkheimer and Adorno, and Foucault can be found among the major theorists of postmodernism, who continue to attack the Enlightenment both for its utopianism—its supposed addiction to "grand narratives" of progress and emancipation—and its intellectual authoritarianism, embodied in its various philosophical "essentialisms" or "foundationalisms." If successors to Cassirer and Gay are somewhat less vocal today, it is perhaps precisely because the Enlightenment might not seem to require such strenuous advocacy, in a world dominated by a triumphant neoliberalism claiming direct descent from it. The contemporary politics of the Enlightenment remain unpredictable, however. Paradoxically, by far the most visible promoter of its values today is in fact the most famous living representative of the tradition of Horkheimer and Adorno—Jürgen Habermas, who has long urged the Left to embrace what he terms the "unfinished project" of the Enlightenment. The note of modesty, acknowledging the gap between goal and accomplishment, in fact captures the self-definition of the Enlightenment far better than any kind of self-congratulation. It was Kant himself who answered the question, "Do we now live in an enlightened age?" by saying: "No, but we live in an age of enlightenment"—a judgment that perhaps remains as true today as when it was first rendered.

3. French revolution: (Political revolution)


The Feudal order began in France during ninth century and comprised a local way of economic and political life. The Feudal economy was entirely rural, land was used solely for agricultural processes, and there was a complete absence of towns life. Predicated on the allotment of large parcels of land to a political aristocracy. Feudal estate were managed by an aristocratic class who used the land as a Source of economic livelihood. The principal activity of the estate was agricultural production. Estates ere politically and legally automomous and comprise a total way of life including a parish (area under the influence of a particular church), village and various branches of rural economy.

At the center of Feudal Society was the production of a food supply, a production highlighted by the relation between the landholder and the peasant cultivator. Peasants occupied agricultural holdings comprised of small undertakings, in which they cultivated land and produced their economic lively hood. While the landholder was the legal and political head of the estate, a complex system of obligations and customary rights linked the peasant to the lord. Among these four distinct social bond stand out as significant.

  1. Corvee right – A series of economic obligations were imposed upon the serf by the lord, and chief among these were the corvee system of labour rights. Corvee rights allowed landholders to compel unpaid labour service from the serf in the form of work on the lord’s agricultural holdings or labor with the manor. 
  2. Serfs were legitimately subordinated to the lord through a system of legal and social distinction while resting formally on physical coercion, the subordination of the serf was mediated by a political, legal and religious distinctions. In many respects, the social relation between the ford and serf duplicated the coercive mechanism of slavery,  even though the Social Fabric of Feudal Society was such as to link individuals by obligations and customary rights.
  3. A third right inherent in feudal system was the system of economic exactions in the form of taxes, dues and fees levied by lords upon the serf.
  4. A fourth characteristic was its fixed social hierarchy and system of social distinctions, backed up by legal and religious sanctions. Great distinctions between Lord and Serf.

In the years preceding the revolution France retained the political and economic characteristics of Feudal society: rigid social hierarchy. Social and economic inequality, a system of taxation on peasants and mandatory unpaid labour.  By 1870. France began to show signs of economic distress and, in the year preceding revolution, tenant farmers found it difficult to maintain their livelihood while paying excessive dues and taxes. Evenly, poor crops, rising prices and economic mismanagement led to crisis calling for economics and political reform. As the crisis deepened, demands for reform became more urgent and antagonism between peasants and aristocracy grew. By 1787, Members of the middle class began to form a revolutionary committee and drew up a set of demands which were submitted to the central authority of the French state, the Estate General – a 300 year-old political body comprised of three main orders of society the aristocracy, clergy and peasants. The demands or grievances as they were called, became the central political focus of reforms and received extra-ordinary philosophical sanction by upholding in human rights, equality and liberty.

By September, of 1788, the revolutionary committee challenged the authority of the King who in response, called a meeting of the Estates General hoping that the aristocracy and clergy would outvote the peasants and avoid a crisis. But by the time the Estates general had assembled, the loyalties of the clergy had shifted in support of the peasants and a turbulent debate broke out over voting procedures.  Members of the aristocracy favored a vote canvassing the three Estates, while representatives of the people demanded a vote by head. On June 17, 1789, the third Estate had split off from the Estates general, claming a new political body called the National Assembly. On June 27 the King backed down from the confrontation, leaving [he national assembly as the party of social and political refoffi1. Between June and July of 1789, riots swept French and Troops appeared in Paris. In July, after an armed mob stormed the Bastille -a military garrison on the outskirts of the city -the revolution had become a political reality.

Shortly, after these events, the National assembly drafted the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man', a central political document defining human rights and setting out demands for reform. The Rights and freedoms proclaimed by the 'Declaration' were so wide-ranging in their human emancipation that it set the standard for social and political thinking, and formed the central raIlying point of the revolution. The 'Declaration' stated at the outset that all human beings were born tree and equal in their political rights and proceeded to set up a system of constitutional principles based on liberty, securities and resistance to oppression. With philosophical authority the 'Declaration' proclaimed that all invidividuals had the prerogative to exercise their natural rights' and that the law rather than the monarch was the expression of the common interest. By August, the National Assembly began to deal directly with political and legal reforms, first by eliminating feudal dues and corvee privileges and  then by abolishing serfdom. Secondly, by compelling the church to give up the right of tithes. The National Assembly altered, the hierarchical authority of the clergy. Third, in declaring that all citizens. without distinction, can be admitted to all ecclesiastical, civil and military posts and dignities' it proclaimed an end to all Feudal Social distinctions.

As the criticism of Social and political inequalities spread throughout society, there was widespread critique of economic inequality and this led to the putting into question of all other forms of Subordination. With this came the idea that human beings without distinctions, were the bearers of natural rights -a concept which had a corrosive effect on all forms of inequality. Finally, from the assertions inherent in the 'Declaration of Rights a new category of social person came into being which came fundamentally to rest in the concept of the ‘citizen’, whose social and political rights were brought within the framework of the state. 

Impact of French Revolution

The French revolution of 1789 was one of the most decisive determinants leading to the development of a theory of Society, history and politics. First in asserting the reality of individual freedom and rights, the revolution shook the political and social foundations of individual second, the economic and political consequences of the revolution rocked the foundation of Feudal Society in its Social and Economic existence. Third, the political and Social changes of the revolution shook the framework of philosophy in its inward-looking and introspective existence. This set the stage for the development of an autonomous social theory by creating a division in philosophy along two distinct lines of development. First, it necessitated a break with the philosophic tendency to look inward  in favour of direct encounter with reality and history. As Herbert Marcuse points out, this tended to bring Philosophy into the sphere of History. Secondly, all of the philosophic concepts which had been preoccupied with abstraction began to pattern themselves after social and historical content.

The impact of historical developments on philosophy was fully realized in the work of George Hegel. Previously, history was seen fixed in its political and social existence. The rapid decline of French Society led Hegel to observe that one form of social and political existence was replacing another and this led to the view that history itself changes from one form to another. This made it evident that economy and politics were obviously linked to society and history. 

Hegel clearly understood that historical change had taken a social form which is manifested in terms of distinct stages of development. In showing a direct line or political development from slavery to the modem democratic state, he made political functions the focus of historical development. Further Hegels' philosophy was forward - looking in its focus on individual freedom and self-realization. In making the individual part of Historical development, he made individual experience the subject matter of historical and social analysis, became fully developed in the work of Marx. Lastly to the extent Hegel believed that history was marked by stages of development each of the stages represented actual ways or thinking and being could be separately investigate in terms or distinct social and political function of societies.

The writings of Marx converted critical elements of Hegel's philosophy and began to turn more distinctly into social theory. But, where Hegel has used philosophic concepts Marx used economic ones to explain historical and social development where French revolution had shaped Hegel's historical philosophy it was economic and industrial changes in England which shaped Marx’s and Engel’s thinking.

4. Industrial revolution: (Economic revolution)

Industrial Revolution is an outcome of development of New technical forces, new tools and techniques which changed Feudal economy into capitalist economy. According to Marx, emergence of new source of energy leads to development of new forces of production. It gave rise to Factory System of production. This change had a great impact on overall Society. As capitalism became more and more complex, the development of banks, insurance companies, finance corporations took place. New class of industrial workers, manager, capitalists emerged, Landed and Landed Aristocracy got subdued.

The significant themes of industrial revolution which concerned the early sociologists were:

(i) The condition of Labour: - In early years of industrialization working class lived in poverty which was recognized as not natural but artificial. 

  • The transformation of property the traditional emphasis on land lost its value while money and capital became important. The Feudal landlords became less significant while the new capitalists gained power. Change in property system changed the fundamental character of society.
  • The Industrial Society, i.e. urbanism: Along with growth of industry, clusters of populations in the form of modern cities grew which we different from ancient cities. Ancient cities were known as repository of civilized graces and virtues while the new cities were known as repository of misery and inhumanity. This aspect of cities concerned social thinkers.
  • Technology and Factory System Ied to large scale migration of people to the new production centers i.e. cities. Women and Children joined the work force in the factories. Family relations changed. Machine dominated the work. Relation between the labourer and the product of his labour changed. Life and work became depersonalized.  

Note: most of the studies and interpretation of society is of industrial society. And the study of industrial society runs through whole syllabus. So one should not feel the material incorporated here is very small. We have to use our knowledge in this section which we will acquire later.

Emergence of sociology: Excerpts from T.B.Bottomore

It is not that Society was never studied before the emergence of modem sociology. But those studies didn’t have scientific base. They can be found in the writings of philosophers religious teaches and legislators of all civilization and epochs which are relevant to modern sociology. But these writings do not give a comprehensive view rather they are just speculations. Kautilya’s Arthsahstra and Aristotle’s politics are still of interest to the sociologists. In real sense, a new science of society emerged in nineteenth centuries in the Writings of Hegel, Saint Simon, Comte, Marx and further developed by Durkheim, Weber, Parsons, Merton etc.

The conditions which gave rise to Sociology were both intellectual and social. The chief intellectual antecedents of sociology is four fold: political philosophy of history, biological theory of evolution, and the movements for social and political reform which found it necessary to undertake surveys of social conditions. Out of these philosophy of history and social survey were particularly more important. The Biological theory of evolution helped in adopting a model to analyse society. 

Philosophy of History

As a distinct branch of speculation is the creation of eighteenth-century writers viz. Saint-pierre and Giammbatista, Montesque. Herder, Voltair, Vico etc. The general idea of progress influenced men’s concept of history. This is clearly expressed in Dugald Stewarts “Memoir of Adam Smith”, “when in such a period of society as that in which we live, we compare our intellectual acquirements, our opinions, manners and institutions, those which prevail among rude tribes it cannot fail to occur to us as an interesting question, by what gradual steps, transition has been made from the first simple efforts of uncultivated nature, to a state of things so wonderfully artificial and complicated.

In the early part of the nineteenth century the philosophy of history became an important intellectual influence through the writings of Hegel and or Saint Simon. From these two thinkers stems the work of Marx and Comte. Philosophy of history contributed the notions of development and progress and on the scientific side, the concept of historical period and social types. Philosophical historian conceived society more than 'Political Society' or state. They were concerned with the whole range of Social institutions and made a careful distinction between the state and what they called 'Civil Society'.

Adam Ferguson in his "Essay on the History of Civil Society" and other writings discusses the nature of society, population, family and kinship, the distinctions of rank, properly, govt. custom, morality and law: that is, he treats society as a system of interrelated institutions. Further, he is concerned to classify societies into types, and to distinguish stages in Social Development. Similar features are found in the writings of other philosophical historians.

The second important clement to modern sociology is provided by the Social Survey, which itself has two sources; first, the growing conviction that the methods of the natural sciences should and could be extended to the study of human affairs: that human phenomena' could be classified and measured. Secondly, the concern with poverty in industrial society which was no more considered as a natural phenomenon. It was considered as a result of human ignorance or of exploitation. Under these two influences the prestige of natural Science and the movements for social reform, the social survey came to occupy an important place in the new Science of Society.

These intellectual movements, the philosophy of history and the Social Survey, were not isolated from the Social Circumstances of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Western Europe. The new interest in the history and in social development was aroused by the rapidity and profundity of Social Change, and by the contrast of cultures which the voyages of discovery brought to men attention. The philosophy of history was not merely a child of thought; it was born also of two revolutions, the industrial revolution in England, and the political revolution in France. Similarly, the social survey did not emerge only from the ambition of applying the methods of natural science to the human world, but from a new conception of social evils, itself influenced by the material possibilities of an industrial society. A social survey, of poverty or any other social problem, only makes sense if it is believed that something can be done to remove or mitigate such evils. It was the existence of widespread poverty in the midst of great and growing productive powers which was responsible for the change of outlook whereby poverty ceased to be a natural problem(or a natural condition) and became a social problem, open to study and amelioration. This was, at the least, an important element in the conviction that exact knowledge might be applied in social reform; and later, that as man had established ever more complete control over his physical environment so he might come to control his social environment.


  • Importance of Material life grew.
  • Growing scientific ethic.
  • Centre of Production shifted from Rural to Urban area.
  • Breaking of Traditional kinship structure. 
  • Growing Anonymity due to migration (spatial mobility as well as social mobility).
  • Changing interpersonal obligations. 
  • Currency Notes replacing all traditional bond and system of exchange.
  • Religious head loosing importance who decided what was moral, what was not.
  • Instead of Land, Factory became Centre of Production. Expansion of Trade.

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