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Sociology is the study of society and human social action. A sociologist studies the social rules and processes that organize people in society as individuals and as members of associations, groups, and institutions, as well as how these rules and processes develop. Sociological research ranges from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes. Most sociologists work in one or more specialties or subfields.
The word sociology comes from the suffix "-logy" which means "study of," derived from Greek, and the stem "socio-" which is from the Latin word socius, meaning member, friend, or ally, thus referring to people in general. It is a social science involving the study of the social lives of people, groups, and societies, sometimes defined as the study of social interactions. As an academic discipline, sociology is relatively young, having evolved in the early 19th century.
Because sociology is such a broad discipline, it can be difficult to define, even for professional sociologists. One useful way to describe the discipline is as a cluster of sub-fields that examine different dimensions of society. For example, social stratification studies inequality and class structure; demography studies changes in a population size or type; criminology examines criminal behavior and deviance; political sociology studies government and laws; and the sociology of race and sociology of gender examine the social construction of race and gender as well as race and gender inequality in society. New sociological sub-fields continue to appear—such as network analysis—many of which are cross-disciplinary in nature.
Many sociologists perform research useful outside the academy. Their findings aid educators, lawmakers, administrators, developers, business leaders and people interested in resolving social problems and formulating public policy.