No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

...working in the 19th century

“Sociology is what individuals identifying as sociologists do when practicing sociology”

– Ralf Dahrendorf

Sociology emerged in response to societal issues and the need for problem-solving capacities. The central sociological problem is that society changes because of contradictions between different spheres of society.

In the 19th century,

  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel focused on the emergence of the bourgeois nation-state.
  • Auguste Comte envisioned sociology as a key player in societal planning after the French Revolution.
  • Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, a conservative romanticist, stressed the need to integrate different social classes – focusing on wage-earning laborers - back into the "body of the people".
  • Lorenz von Stein, a professor of national economics, addressed the "social question" and explored the legitimacy of class inequalities brought about by industrial capitalism.
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels emphasized the economic movement of modern society and the role of the proletariat in transforming the existing social order.


The common theme among these thinkers is the recognition of radical societal transformations, and the common problem for them was the alienation of social relations within society itself. Unlike the old world, where everything followed a timeless order, the modern world lacks a clear foundation for its order. The dynamics of the modern society are marked by radical changes in economy, law, science, transportation, and governance, leading to a dual situation where the security provided by traditional worldviews is lost, but new opportunities for innovation emerge.


The early sociological thinkers set the stage for the discipline by recognizing society's various facets. Sociology's unique role lies in its ability to reveal societal weaknesses and blind spots. The modern challenge for sociology is not only to analyze how to shape society actively but also to reflect on whether active shaping is even possible in the complex and contingent nature of contemporary society.


Nassehi, A. (2008), Soziologie - Zehn einführende Vorlesungen, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.