13 Types of Sociology
Reviewed by Jacob Imm
Feb 15, 2023
13 Types of Sociology
What is sociology, exactly? Sociology is a social science that allows us to better understand humans’ social behavior and how they’re influenced by different factors.
As an area of study, sociology is quite broad. One could explore the dynamics of a single family or relationship or the social factors that hold influence over societies at the global level. Given this wide range, various subfields have developed in sociology over time, allowing for more in-depth study of particular social dynamics and other subject matters or related sociology topics.
And if you’re considering declaring a major in this field, those different types of sociology you choose to study can go on to inform the decisions you make in your personal life and throughout your career. So, what options are out there for you to explore? You’ll find some of the most common branches of sociology below.
What Are The Different Types of Sociology?
To understand the different types of sociology, it helps to familiarize yourself with how professionals in this field generally define it. The American Sociological Association (ASA) defines sociology as the study of “social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior.”
Sociologists study how people interact within various contexts, ranging from the interpersonal to the societal level. (Or, as one would say in the discipline, on micro, mezzo, and macro levels.)
Per the ASA, these include:
- Family dynamics
- Relationship dynamics between two people
- Brief interactions among strangers
- Race, gender, and class interactions or divisions in a culture
- Social power dynamics among various groups
- Shared religious or cultural beliefs
In these examples alone, there is already plenty of ground a sociologist could dedicate their career toward covering.
Why Is It Important to Understand the Differences Among Different Branches of Sociology?
Each subfield of sociology examines different individuals, groups, and their social influences through a different lens, allowing for more in-depth explorations of specific social dynamics.
In turn, each one offers the opportunity for you to discover something new, whether it’s about yourself, your own or others’ relationships, the social group or system you’re studying, or human society as a whole. And one of the many subfields you encounter may lead to your next academic fascination—and who doesn’t love discovering a new passion?
Branches of Sociology
The following are major branches of sociology. While this is far from a complete list, these are some of the more common subfields you will likely come across.
#1 Theoretical Sociology
Just like it sounds, theoretical sociology focuses on social theories and theoretical frameworks that guide sociologists in their particular areas of study. You can think of it as the field’s meta-analysis of itself.
#2 Historical Sociology
Studies in sociology don’t only need to be confined to the present. Historical sociology investigates the different types of social structures and dynamics of the past. You might find this interesting in and of itself, but it can also inform the way societies today operate and help us come to new understandings about it. With this branch, students can trace the development of our current human society.
#3 Sociology of Knowledge
Sociology of knowledge studies human thoughts and ideas and how they’re influenced by social structures—as well as how they influence them in return.
#4 Sociology of Criminology
Criminology is one of the most commonly studied branches of sociology, investigating sociological influences that can lead to crime. If you’ve ever been interested in analyzing crime from a macro viewpoint, this could be your top pick. Additionally, criminology students will look at how offenders, victims, officers, judges, and other personnel interact with and behave around each other.
#5 Sociology of Law
Sociology of law complements the previous branch, continuing the investigation into how sociological factors surrounding laws, criminal justice systems, various legal processes, punishments, and more affect social structures.
#6 Sociology of Religion
Sociology of religion studies the various aspects of religion—like faith-based moral codes, rituals, and social institutions—from a sociological perspective. Students will examine how religious beliefs influence all levels of interaction, from political and social issues to personal relationships.
#7 Sociology of the Economy
Sociology of economy studies the interplay between economics and social systems. This subfield explores how individuals and groups are interconnected and influence each other through their economic behavior, market factors, financial structures, and labor, among other things, according to Investopedia.
#8 Urban Sociology
Urban sociology studies social structures in urban areas, as well as the events, dynamics, and challenges that are present there. If you’re interested in the subfield of urban sociology, you may want to look at institutions set in urban areas that would allow you to study the subfield in an urban environment.
#9 Rural Sociology
Rural sociology is like urban sociology, except that its focus is instead on rural environments. It studies social structures in rural areas and the major problems, conflicts, and phenomena that arise in them.
Adding population density to urban and rural sociology makes this field even more interesting.
#10 Political Sociology
Political sociology analyzes the relationships among individuals, societies, and political powers—all of which can be influenced by factors like race, ethnicity, class, and gender. Students will explore first-hand accounts alongside media representations, political movements, community action and organization, and how power is gained, maintained, and wielded through political institutions.
As Thomas R. Bates writes, the theory of hegemony considers how ruling social classes create, influence, and maintain society's value systems through interactions and alliances with various groups. If this theory interests you, you might find this subfield of sociology particularly riveting.
#11 Sociology of Demography
Demography studies various characteristics of a population over time, such as birth rates and migration, and how these demographic trends change, hold steady, break down, and their relationship with social dynamics. These examinations also extend to the consequences of demographics changing (or not) over time.
Familiar with the different types of research methods in sociology? Studying social demography can help supplement research in other branches of sociology by shedding light on what characteristics families and households have, what poverty rates are like in a community, or an area’s immigration or emigration trends.
Social demography can also identify structural inequalities among certain demographics within the same location (represented through statistical comparisons) so that they can be further studied and addressed.
#12 Industrial Sociology
Industrial sociology examines industry, its relationships among individuals and social groups, and how it influences them.
Students studying industrial sociology examine labor movements, formations of unions, dynamics within different types of workplaces, or how relationships are impacted by changes in technology or globalization.
#13 Sociology of Family
Sociology of family explores behaviors and dynamics among family groups based on factors like age, class, race, and gender, which makes it an especially important area of study for social workers and educators.
It can examine how families form, fracture, and everything between. It can also study how families are structured and how roles and responsibilities are dispersed among family members.
The List Goes On
Again, the subfields mentioned above may be some of the most common in sociology, but plenty more exist. Other branches include (but are far from limited to) art, social anthropology, medicine, military, race, gender, immigration, conflict, cyberspace, social change, and childhood. And many of these disciplines are regularly combined.
Essentially, if you can imagine a social structure or a factor that influences it, you could probably create a sociological framework around it. And who says you won’t be the one to do so?
How to Know Which Branch of Sociology to Study
What branch or branches of sociology you should study depends on a few considerations, including:
- What interests you most about the discipline
- Whether there are any current social problems you want to address or learn more about
- What you’re looking for in a career
A sociology degree is useful in a wide variety of contexts. Sociology majors commonly go on to become teachers, administrators, lawyers, policymakers, market research analysts, social workers, urban planners, and more.
It’s possible for particular areas of focus in sociology to further benefit certain career goals. Coursework in urban sociology, for example, would present obvious benefits for an urban planner. Sociology of law courses could benefit someone seeking a career in law or social work. Someone hoping to influence policies at a macro level would benefit from exploring a diverse array of sociological areas.
What Types of Sociology Can I Study at North Central College?
If you’re interested in sociology, then you’ll want to find a program that is the best fit for you. You want to consider institutions that provide educational experiences that will expose you to and allow you to engage with multiple branches across the discipline. In fact, you want to look for programs with curriculum that explores a variety of topics, like the Sociology program at North Central College, which includes courses like:
If you have a deep curiosity about a particular branch of sociology, you could look for institutions that offer ways for you to learn more about a sociology subfield while earning your degree. As an example, sociology students at North Central College can choose a concentration in:
- Crime and law
- Families and intimate relationships
- Health, illness, and care
- Religion and spirituality
- Inequalities across gender, race, ethnicity, and social class
- Quantitative and qualitative analysis
- Community and urban life
Another unique opportunity you have at North Central College is to add a Chicago Area Studies Minor to your sociology studies. The minor allows students to explore urban sociology by studying the dynamics of the city’s social structures.
To learn more about North Central College’s sociology program, you can request more info.
Jacob Imm is the associate director of communication in the North Central College Office of Institutional Communication. He has 13 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.
American Sociological Association. (n.d.). “What Is Sociology?.” Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.asanet.org/about/what-sociology
Bates, Thomas R. (1975). “Gramsci and the Theory of Hegemony.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 351-366. JSTOR. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/2708933
Hayes, Adam. (2022, July 31). “Economic Sociology Definition.” Investopedia. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.investopedia.com/economic-sociology-5248697#toc-who-are-some-prominent-economic-sociologists