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Sociology is an academic discipline that studies human behavior in societies. Those working in the field of sociology are known as sociologists and most professional sociologists can be found working as academics in universities or colleges. The word sociology comes from the Greek suffix "-logy" which means "study of," and the Latin stem "socio-" meaning member, friend, or ally. The Latin roots of the word are useful for directing attention at the particular way sociologists understand human behaviour. Unlike psychologists, who generally rely on cognitive structures associated with the mind, personality, or the brain, sociologists explain behaviour by situating humans, their actions, and their thinking in a social context.

Sociology is generally considered a social science, one that is relatively young compared to other social science disciplines, having emerged only in the early 19th century. There is, however, a long history of scholars and philosophers--since at least the time of Plato--who have worked to situate human behaviour in a social context. Thus while it is a relatively new field of study, sociology is grounded in a long history of philosophical and scholarly inquiry.

As a field of study, sociology is quite broad and the substantive research interests of professional sociologists can be quite disparate. In any sociology department one can find sociologists who study economic inequalities, changes in a population size or type, criminal behavior and deviance, government and laws, and race and gender relations. At the centre of these disparate foci, however, is the shared belief that human behaviour must be understood, to a large degree, as an effect of the social context in which we live.