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Paradigms and Assumptions

(Perdue 1986:43-45, 167-170, 303-305)

Perdue, William D. 1986. Sociological Theory: Explanation, Paradigm, and

Ideology. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.


Human Nature

1. Human nature is more private than public, individualistic than social, competitive than
cooperative. Left unchecked, the force of self-interest may reduce a community of
people to a mob of strangers.

2. The order conception of human nature is one of the power of reason. While subject to
the dangers of unbridled passion or undisciplined wants, the species is capable of
establishing those controls necessary to ensure survival. The principle of existence is
embodied in a rationalism by which people surrender to social authority those
reasonable powers essential to societal cohesion.

3. Personal inequalities are a part of the natural order. That is, there are fundamental
and innate differences in talent, potential, and ultimate social worth.

The Nature of Society

1. Given the natural human disposition toward disorder, survival can be ensured only
through the coming of powerful and integrated social institutions. Such institutions must
be preserved because anarchy is tantamount to the mutual destruction of society and
the individual.

2. Given the natural conditions of personal inequality, the good society will divide its
tasks so as to reflect these innate differences (Durkheim [1893] 1933; Plato [c. 377 B.
C.] 1974).

3. The nature of society is that of interdependent institutions and a supportive normative

system that constrains private behavior. Remember that Plato, Durkheim, and others
conceived society in organismic terms, while Talcott Parsons . . . employed the
mechanical metaphor of a system. The natural state of society is therefore one of
equilibrium, with each part or element contributing to the maintenance of the whole.
4. Institutions and norms exist in any given society because of a consensus on the part
of members of that society.

5. Given a consensually validated social order, all members of a society should be

expected to conform. Thus legitimacy logically follows the assumption of consensus.

6. Given the legitimacy of the existing order and the naturally adaptive properties of the
social system, social change assumes a primarily evolutionary nature.

7. Forced social change represents a clear and present danger to the cohesiveness of
society and the solidarity of its members.

The Nature of Science

1. As there is a systematic order in the natural universe, so there is system and order in
the social universe. Social relationships reflect unique properties that can be discovered
through the methods of science.

2. A positive science of society commands a search for certainty in relationships.

Sociology shares with the natural sciences a quest for laws that yield prediction and

3. A science of society is empirical. Sensory-based knowledge and rigorous observation

replace detached rationalism with its emphasis on pure reason.

4. Social facts have quantitative properties. Such may be measured and assigned
numerical value. Quantitative change in one or more social facts (now variables) may
be directly or indirectly connected to change in others. Thus lawful relationships may
assume mathematical form.

5. The social milieu is distinctive and independent of the physical environment.

However, a science of society need not be unique. The phenomena under examination
may vary, but the nature of science does not. Chemists may study compounds,
physicists thermodynamics, and sociologists society. Science does not alter its nature or
methods simply because of a difference in the subject matter.

6. Theoretical relationships should be stated in clear language with all terms clearly
defined. Modern positivists call for operational definitions that allow key concepts to be
measured and uniformly understood by those testing theoretical propositions through
research. To illustrate, if in a theory on human learning intelligence is a key concept,
then the operational definition of intelligene might be: what intelligence tests measure.

(Perdue 1986:43-45)

Human Nature

1. The interactionist conception of human nature is a strongly intimate one. There is

great emphasis on the private world of the actor (Bendix 1977:1-10).

2. Human behavior is assumed to be intentional and voluntary. This does not mean that
there are no outside influences. For example, we may play one role in the presence of
one person and yet another role when we are with somebody else. Still, the pluralist
would argue that external conditions do not simply determine our behavior. In a basic
sense, people know what they are doing. We act with purpose and our conduct reflects
a contemplated design (Berger 1963:125-126).

3. As can be gleaned from the thought of Rousseau, freedom and a socio-political

system that ensures it will be crucial for pluralist theory. However, for Rousseau and
many pluralist thinkers, this freedom is primarily individual and personal rather than
collective. Thus, members of society remain sovereign parties to the social contract.
The right of the person to speak her mind or to be all she can be, is an example of
personal freedom. The concept of collective freedom (more in keeping with the conflict
paradigm) stresses the welfare of the whole. For example, freedom does not exist
unless all are free from want.

4. Human nature reflects an abiding dualism; it is both sociable and self-assertive.

The Nature of Society

1. Society ultimately is a social reality, a state of consciousness based on the shared

ideas and meanings of its members. Thus, society does not exist outside but rather
inside. Its essence is the subjective world of definitions and perceptions that we create
through contact with others.

2. The cornerstone of a society is reciprocity--not in the sense of the sharing of rewards

stressed by theories of social exchange but in the sense of orientation to others. If each
member of a group behaves on the basis of what others are thought to be doing or
thinking, the relationship is reciprocal (Freund 1969:118-123).

3. The meaning of reciprocal relationships, symbols, and conceptions of self must be

understood as part of a bigger picture. Failure to achieve this leaves the study of human
conduct at a psychological level. For example, while human beings create culture, they
do not recreate it from scratch each time they interact. Guidance is provided by larger
patterns of meaning such as customs, laws, and ideas. This point was driven home by
Max Weber when he held that Protestant ideals are crucial to understanding the
motivations for entrepreneurial behavior.

4. The broader institutional patterns of a society (such as the state, religion, education,
the economy, the family) can best be conceived as an organization of roles that are
interpreted and shaped by human action. Order and conflict sociologists also employ
the concept of role. However, they are more deterministic than the pluralists. While
interactionists understand that roles are not invented anew by each member of a
society, they would stress that role content varies and is subject to reinterpretation.
Hence, what it means to be a woman can be redefined over time.

5. People do not share the same world of meanings. The pluralist view is one of a
heterogeneous society representing perhaps many cultures and certainly more than a
few interest groups. Though members of most groups will share the most important
meanings that hold a society together, they may disagree on customs and the choice of
life-style. Also, not all groups will have the same influence or power.

It is crucial to note that pluralist theories do not assume a conflict of classes in society
(at least not to the extent that the conflict tradition does). Nor do they embrace the value
consensus of the order paradigm. The pluralist vision of society is rather one of the
ongoing opposition of interest groups, and the clash of cultures. Tolerance and diversity
are embraced, and forms of social control such as law are viewed with ambivalence. On
the one side, law can be an instrument of arbitrary state power and the means by which
the interests of dominant groups (not a dominant class) are advanced. On the other
side, law, when it is the expression of a freely developed social contract, can be the
means of reform.

6. This vision of ambivalence toward the law is quite consistent with the larger pluralist
vision. The nature of society is one of an abiding dualism, an antagonistic cooperation.
At one level we see the rise and fall of competing interests and the battle of
organizations. At another level we find a general commitment to the order born of the
social contract. One faction, no matter how influential for the historical moment, does
not realize total and continuous control. It is checked by countervailing organizations
and the sovereign right of people to dissolve their convenants, if the state persists in the
unjust support of one group over others. Thus, the idealized pluralist portrait is one of a
balance of power, where force is checked by force, and tyranny is eliminated by the
means of the covenant.

The Nature of Science

1. The truly distinctive thing about people and their relationships evolves from their
ability to think, to create a world of ideas and attach meaning to human conduct. Thus,
for the pluralist paradigm, the philosophy of idealism is the basis for human science. Put
simply, no object has meaning apart from a perceiving mind. The "stuff" of theory, its
major concepts and logical linkages, must conform to this subjective imperative.

2. Human action has a strongly unpredictable quality to it. Thus, the explanations and
methods of social science cannot be founded on concepts such as determinism, laws,
or even statistical probability. Theories based on the pluralist paradigm ordinarily seek to
explain the multiple realities of the social world (Freund 1969:37-47). However, this
does not mean that pluralists habitually reject any sort of scientific generalization.

As a case in point, Weber distinctly rejected both nomothetic and idiographic

conceptions of history. Whereas the former holds that the course of history follows
general laws (cycles, linear progress, dialectical change), the latter conceives of history
as unique and specific events. For example, the nomothetic approach would seek to
find the general law or laws underlying all revolutions. On the other hand, the
idiographic method would center on one unique case such as the Chinese Revolution.

Weber believed that similar events may share common analytic properties and that
these together form an ideal type. Thus, he sought to resolve the nomothetic/idiographic
controversy by arguing that phenomena are not unique but representative of such
general analytic categories. Hence, the understanding of a specific phenomenon (such
as the Chinese Revolution) is possible only if referred to the larger classification (such
as all revolutions). Weber's use of the ideal type constitutes a kind of generalization.
However, this remains quite apart from the quest for laws.

3. The primary unit of sociological investigation is the individual. The target of theory
(and research) is consciousness, and consciousness is a property of the person
(Freund 1969:112).

4. Sociological theory will not answer the question why in an absolute fashion. Nor will
theory be constructed to valiantly resist falsification. Systems of thought will enhance
our understanding of interpersonal action and the social construction of reality. This will
be done through the discovery of ideas that heighten our awareness of how social
actors interpret and make the empirical world about them. Given this assumption, it
follows that pluralist theories will give rise to qualitative rather than quantitative

(Perdue 1986:168-170)


Human Nature
1. The conflict conception of human nature is a strongly public one. There is a great
emphasis on the cooperative nature of social beings.

2. Human nature is assumed to be rational and contemplative. Yet, it is in no sense

independent of the historically founded structure of society. Thus, people do not
individually choose their institutional reality. For example, they do not personally and
intellectually "create" a mode of production. Nor do they freely create the existing forms
of state power. They do not freely choose their class and other categorical positions or
the ideologies to which they are systematically exposed. For this reason, what we think
is strongly related to who we are, that is, to our real position in society. People do
possess the potential to transcend the images of the ideology by means of experience,
reason, and education. And on the basis of such understanding, they may organize to
become a force for change.

3. Men and women become human through distinctively social activity (such as
productive labor). Our humanity is discovered and confirmed in our collective attempts
to shape the material world. Our essence is not subjective; we are not merely spirit,
mind, or self-concept. Instead, we are real, objective, material beings.

4. Perhaps above all, human nature is perfectible.

The Nature of Society

1. Society ultimately is a structural reality, an institutional state of being that emerges in

accordance with historical laws. Human beings routinely interpret that reality, sometimes
correctly and sometimes falsely. However, there is a society "out there" to be discovered
and understood.

2. Given the natural disposition toward a social existence, any society can be
considered human only to the extent that its institutions facilitate cooperation, sharing,
and the common interest. Such institutions have no scared standing, no life of their own,
and their nature is dynamic rather than static.

3. Given a society of institutionalized inequality, marked by vast differences in wealth,

power, and status, the social nature of human existence is denied.

4. The unequal society is marked by inherent conflict (both overt and covert, recognized
and unrecognized) between and among groups with opposing interests. The existing
order carries within both the seeds of its own destruction and the embryo of its

5. Given inequality, the legitimacy of social order is in question. Conformity, adaptation,

and adjustment become problematic, and real structural change (toward greater
equality) is mandatory. Hence, from the conflict vantage point, the society of the future
fits a utopian image: Human society as human nature is perfectible.

The Nature of Science

1. As humans are objective beings living in a real social universe, the philosophy of
materialism is the basis for human science. Put simply, thought, will, and feeling exist,
but they can only be explained in terms of a material social reality. What are referred to
by the pluralists as multiple social realities are best understood as multiple "perceptions"
of structural reality. Thus, the stuff of theory (including major concepts and logical
linkages) must conform to this objective imperative.

2. The place of history in human science is indispensable. Historical research can

reveal the general laws by which societies change, as well as discern the seeds of the
present order in its predecessor.

3. Human science is a quest to understand the relational properties of social order.

Things like institutions, organizations, classes, and so forth cannot be studied in
isolation. Because societies are structurally interrelated "wholes," they must be studied

4. Given the historical sweep and holistic thrust of conflict theories, it follows that they
will be macrosociological in form. Explanations will be centered at a high level of
abstraction. Given the constancy of change, the reality of contradiction, and the fact that
social phenomena are frequently both cause and effect, conflict theories will often
reflect the use of dialectic logic.

5. One criterion by which the practice of human science is judged is its ability to make a
better world. Sociology, specifically, is not, cannot, and should not be "value free." Marx
complained that philosophers are content only to understand a world that desperately
needed change. Many conflict sociologists would doubtlessly agree.

(Perdue 1986:303-305)


Bendix, Reinhard. 1977. Max Weber. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Berger, Peter. 1963. Invitations to Sociology. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Durkheim, Emile. [1893] 1933. The Division of Labor in Society. Translated by George
Simpson. New York: Macmillan.

Freund, Julian. 1969. The Sociology of Max Weber. New York: Random House.
Plato. [c. 377 B. C.] 1974. The Republic. Translated by G. M. A. Grube. Indianapolis, IN:
Hackett Publishing Company.

Perdue, William D. 1986. Sociological Theory: Explanation, Paradigm, and Ideology.

Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.