When it was first founded in 1928, the Institute of Social Sciences of the Academia Sinica was composed of four divisions: Law and Institutions, Ethnology, Economics, and Sociology. Establishing the Institute of Sociology (IOS) as a separate body, however, took a long time. In 1954, a revision to the Academia Sinica's organizational charter planned to make IOS one of its 23 institutes. Yet, this idea did not materialize until forty-one years later, in 1995.
In the 1980s, the Academia Sinica received several petitions calling for an Institute of Sociology. In response to one of these petitions, which came in 1981 from the Convention of the Chinese Sociological Association (of Taiwan), the Academia Sinica agreed to form an ad hoc committee to assess the rationale and feasibility of the IOS. Unfortunately, little progress was made. In 1988, a group of 28 overseas Chinese sociologists, including Professor Lin Nan, made another petition, but the project was halted for lack of office space.
In 1994, soon after his appointment as vice-president of the Academia Sinica, Academy Fellow Chang Kwang-chih initiated the IOS, with unanimous support from sociologists already working at the Academia Sinica. Chiu Hei-yuan, of the Institute of Ethnology, served as the convener of the planning committee. Other members of this committee were from various Academia Sinica institutes and included Hsiao Hsing-huang, Chen Kuan-jeng, Tsai Shu-ling, Sheu Jia-you, Ko Chyong-fang and Chen Chao-nan. With valuable input from many professors and researchers around Taiwan, and from Academy Sinica Fellow Bruce Kim and from Professors Sun Te-hsiung, Wu Tsung-shien, and Yeh Chi-cheng, the committee completed the necessary planning in less than one year.
In March 1995, after receiving Academia Sinica's submission, the President's Office of the Republic of China granted to found the Preparatory Office of the IOS. On May 1, Chiu Hei-yuan became Director of the Preparatory Office. Fourteen sociologists already working within the Academy soon transferred to this new institute, with six joint appointments from other Academia Sinica institutes and three joint appointments from the Office for Survey Research.
In January 10, 2000, after five years of preparation, and with the support of the first meeting of the 17th Academia Sinica Review Board, the Preparatory Office passed review and became a full institute, with Chiu Hei-yuan as the first director. Today, the institute has 26 full-time faculty members, and its current director is Shieh Gwo-Shyong (2015- ).