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Sociology has its origins in the 19th century. As a science, it was based on experiment and measurement rather than philosophical speculation. Until an experimental basis for the testing of theory and speculation was devised, the study of society remained in the area of philosophy and not in that of science. Auguste Comte, a French mathematician, is generally credited with being the originator of modern sociology. He coined the term, which is derived from the Latin socius, meaning companion. His idea was that sociology should become the science that would draw knowledge from all sciences to produce fundamental understandings of human society. It was his feeling that once all sciences were blended together, human society could be viewed as a totality. Comte's theories are not now widely held among scientists; in fact, the development of sociology through the past century has been basically in the opposite direction. It was Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, who initiated the use of scientific study and research methods to develop and support sociological theories in the early part of the 20th century.

The field has become more specialized as it has grown. The study of the nature of human groups has proved to be all encompassing. Only by specializing in one aspect of this science can scholars hope to form fundamental principles. For example, such areas as criminology and penology, while still technically within the field of sociology, have become very specialized. Working in these areas requires training that is different in emphasis and content from that which is required in other areas of sociology.