(i) Industrial Revolution and Industrialisation:
Industrial Revolution that took place first in England during the 18th century brought about sweeping changes throughout Europe. Never before in history did social changes take place on such a massive scale. Sociology emerged in the context of the sweeping changes.
Factory system of production and the consequent mechanisation and industrialisation brought turmoil’s in society. New industries and technologies change the face of the social and physical environment.
The simple rural life and small-scale home industries were replaced by complex urban life and mass production of goods. Industrialisation changed the direction of civilisation. It destroyed, or radically altered, the medieval customs, beliefs and ideals.
Industrialisation led to urbanisation. Peasants left rural areas and flocked to the towns, where they worked as industrial labourers under dangerous conditions. Cities grew at an unprecedented rate providing an anonymous environment for people.
Social problems became rampant in the fast developing cities. Aristocraties and monarchies crumbled and fell. Religion began to lose its force as a source of moral authority. “For the first time in history, rapid social change became the normal rather than an abnormal state of affairs, and people could no longer expect that their children would live much the same lives as they had done.
The direction of social change was unclear, and the stability of the social order seemed threatened. An understanding of what was happening was urgently needed’ [Robertson’s’ "Sociology”]
It is clear from the above that sociology was born out of the attempt to understand the transformations that seemed to threaten the stability of European society. Social thinkers like Comte, Spencer and others argued that there was an urgent need to establish a separate science of society. They believed that such a science would be of great help in understanding the nature and problems of society and to find out solutions for the same.
(ii) Inspiration from the Growth of Natural Sciences:
Nineteenth century was a period in which natural sciences had made much progress. The success attained by the natural scientists inspired and even tempted good number of social thinkers to emulate their example.
If their methods could be successful in the physical world to understand physical or natural phenomena, could they not be applied successfully to the social world to understand social phenomena? As an answer to this question Comte, Spencer, Durkheim, Weber and others successfully demonstrated that these methods could be used to study the social world.
(iii) Inspiration provided by the radically diverse societies and cultures of the colonial empires:
The colonial powers of Europe were exposed to different types of societies and cultures in the colonial empires. Their exposure to such diversities in societies and cultures provided an intellectual challenge for the social scientist of the day. Information about the widely contrasting social practices of these distant peoples raised fresh questions about society:
Why some societies were more advanced than others? What lessons could the European countries learn from comparisons of various societies’? Why the rate of social change was not the same everywhere? The new science of society called “sociology” had emerged as an independent science in an attempt to find convincing answers to these questions.