I was reading a sociology literature in which I found about a student-written university course guide who jokingly defined sociology as the study of “everything in the whole wide world.” That definition is not entirely untrue; sociologists study just about everything people do. And how sociologists study just about everything people do, defines sociology.
Arguably, an erudite professor of Sociology from Bayero University, Kano once defines sociology as the systematic study of “everything under the SUN”. I could remember a question from some layman who wanted to test my understanding of sociology, he arrogantly asked; what is sociology? I replied; ‘Sociology is the systematic study of everything under the SUN’, he looked so confused while I added, ‘Sociology is the science of US’. That was a point where I left him scientifically unconscious and sociologically ‘missing’.
Clarification and further explanation of facts are part of the reasons why sociology is sociology. To further illuminate the understanding of the layman, I went ahead to decipher the scientific confusions in my conceptualisation of the crowning edifice.
Sociological questions are in the general category of questions known as empirical questions. An empirical question is a question that can be answered by gathering facts. To best understand how to construct an empirical question for sociological study, you may find it helpful to consider the differences among the following types of questions:
THEORETICAL QUESTION: A question about ideas, which can be answered with other ideas. If I ask, “What is Likimo?” I’m asking a theoretical question, I’m looking for a general definition of what is called “Likimo.”
MORAL QUESTION: A question about how things “should” or “should not” be. If I ask, “Should Likimo be our major concern?” I’m asking a moral question – I’m asking you to make a value judgment about whether it is right to put more emphasis on Likimo.
EMPIRICAL QUESTION: A question that can be answered by gathering facts. If I ask, “Does Likimo exist in this society?” I’m asking an empirical question – I’m looking for information about the term that can be determined by making observations.
In this case, if I want to understand the widely used (on social media) term ‘Likimo’, I can do so more effectively if I have accurate information about how, where, and why people engage in the act. Sociologists are strong believers in the value of seeing society as it actually is, not as they want it to be.
Sociological questions are questions about society, but of course, you cannot just look at “society.” You have to look at a society, at specific people in a specific place at a specific time. Still, sociologists want to understand how human society works in general, so they try to ask and answer questions in a way that allow them to generalize as much as possible to other places and times.
‘Thank You’, said the layman.
Sulaiman Bala Idris
First published in 2017.