Sociology and Anthropology

Ethnocentric Trends in Sociology: A Critical View

Sociology was developed in the western intellectual ethos within a distinct sociopolitical milieu rooted in a postrevolutionary Europe characterized by new trends of thought that represented serious and sharp reactions to the prevailing social situation. Social thinkers of the period expressed an intense desire to develop a new science of Society that, once equipped with adequate methods and theoretical constructs, could be used to study and better understand society and social phenomena. This new tool would then be used to analyze how the construction and reconstruction of society could be carried out to ameliorate the lot of people.

During the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, European society passed through a tumultuous state and witnessed drastic changes in its Social and intellectual fabrics. The expansion of trade in the seventeenth century led to the crumbling of the economic order and the emergence of its new masters: guilds and charted corporations. The eighteenth century replaced this system with that of free labor and competitive production. The emergence of large-scale industries structured the economic organization anew and accelerated both production and profit. Competition forced industries to develop new technology in order to increase production and produce better quality goods. Markets were explored and expanded, and trade was encouraged. This economic reorganization affected the pattern of social life, as the ensuing population shift from the rural to urban areas altered the extant family structure. In addition, the rule of law began to be considered necessary for the smooth functioning of the new economic order. These developments gradually transformed the feudal order and the transitory mercantile order into a capitalist economic system that created new social classes and initiated changes in the thinking of people about humanity and its social environment.

The French revolution (1789) further helped overthrow the traditional feudal system that was already crumbling due to drastic and dramatic changes. Peasants were becoming landowners, and the nobility, due to their declining economic situations, had to limit their activities within the estates. The bourgeois purchased land and noble titles and ranks sold by monarchs who n d e d money. These changes made the French monarchy ineffective and functionless. The centralized government, while undermining feudal lords, was dominated by professional administrators and bureaucrats belonging to the bourgeois class. Independent financiers collected tares and earned handsome returns. This helped them to emerge as major bankers and providers of loans even to the elite. These developments made it possible for a new political order to emerge.

The economic, political, and social changes eroded further the hold of religion on the people. The church-state controversy, as well as the elites' use of religion to justify and maintain their positions and privileges, continued to alienate the people from religion. As new ideas and a more comfortable life gained ground among the masses, the influence of religion declined and the feudal lords and elites could no longer justify the traditional political and social order through religious mystique.

The emerging social order forced social thinkers to ascertain the reliability and relevance of the existing thoughts, models, and paradigms to the new circumstances. Most thinkers saw the need to develop new ideas, concepts, and theoretical frameworks to cope with the new challenges and problems faced by society. Some developed new models to justify the changes. These, in turn, prepared the way for further changes, thus accelerating the alteration and modification of the social and intellectual fabrics. This initiated an intellectual struggle for a "vision of human beings and society," which dominated the thinking of the period and has since been characterized as the Enlightenment.

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