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Introduction to Sociological Theory I. Orientation Who am I? What am I doing here? How? Why? So What?

These are the questions that motivated the classical sociological theorists (Marx, Durkheim, and Weber), who offered answers to these types of general questions. You should consider these questions as you explore classical theory and as you write your way toward your first analytical paper. II. What is Sociological Theory? For our purposes, it is useful to have a working definition of sociological theory. Thus I offer the following definition, for your consideration: Sociological theory is a set of assumptions, assertions, and propositions, organized in the form of an explanation or interpretation, of the nature, form, or content of social action. Social Action, according to Max Weber, is action that takes others into account. -at the individual or group level this refers to interpersonal influence: how people are affected by co-present others or the expectations associated with generalized others, so that they dress, talk, and act in predictable ways
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- but social action also includes groups, organizations, and institutions, however, and influence within and across these levels of analysis - Why are pre-adolescent peer groups sex-segregated? - Why do men earn more than women? - Why are wages lower in the service sector? - Why are suicide rates higher in Protestant countries? - Why does capitalism thrive in these same countries? These are all sociological questions III. Why Did Sociological Theory Develop in Western Europe and the United States in the late Nineteenth Century? One might think that people have always asked sociological questions, that they are always interested in understanding social influence. But, in fact, people generally take the social world for granted. They begin to ask questions when the taken-for-granted world appears to be problematic, most especially, when the social world changes fundamentally. Thus it should not be surprising to learn that sociological theory developed (in the West) in the wake of fundamental changes in western society.

The revolutions of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries produced fundamental changes in the relations between parents and children, men and women, rulers and ruled. In the wake of these changes intellectuals, politicans, and ordinary people asked why and how these changes had occurred and how they should cope with this new world. Society changed from rural to urban, collective to individual, catholic to protestant, agricultural to industrial, local to national, feudal to capitalist, and monarchy to republic. The old world was populated by lords and peasants, living on small estates that were essentially self-sufficient. Children inherited the status of their parents. Tradition and personal obligations governed the relations between people and determined the schedule of daily life. Religion, economics, politics, education, and family were indistinguishable components of daily life. This world was destroyed by violent revolutions, 1688-1871: civil wars and religious wars in England, culminating in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 - revolutions in France in 1789 and 1848, with two empires, restored monarchies, and general political turmoil until 1871 - similar struggles throughout Europe, 1848-1871, culminating in the defeat of Napoleon III, the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the foundation of the German Empire, in 1871.
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By 1871, Europeans were not simply speculating about the nature of the ideal society (as philosophers, such as Aristotle had done). They were desperately trying to understand what had happened to the old world and what was likely to happen next. There was a protracted debate between the liberal enlightenment thinkers, who defended the new social order, and the reactionaries who wished to return to the old world of lords and peasants, governed by the divine right of kings. In response to this debate between republicans and monarchists (or Bonapartists), sociology developed as an independent force. Marx, Durkheim, and Weber offered alternative perspectives: they were critical of both republicans and monarchists. Thus they were able to offer their theories, which developed as French and German Schools of sociology, as alternatives to the political debate that raged within the developing political parties. This story of the history of Western Sociology differs from conventional (textbook) accounts in two ways.
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First, what the textbooks call conservative or conservative reaction is actually a reactionary political perspective defended by people who are not only pessimistic about human nature (and therefore concerned about establishing order and morality). They
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are equally pessimistic about the newly established republican form of government (and seek to reestablish a monarchy or to establish an empire).
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Second, in response to this protracted debate between defenders of liberal enlightenment and their reactionary opponents, sociology developed as an orthogonal (independent) debate between radicals (like Marx) and conservatives (like Durkheim). The orthogonal nature or the sociological debate was critical in maintaining sociology as relatively independent from the state: thus it was neither coopted nor repressed. Instead, once the liberal enlightenment forces effectively vanquished their foes, liberal social scientists (most notably, Weber) attempted (with varying degrees of success) to institutionalize this debate between radicals and conservatives under the umbrella of a liberal defense of value free social science. From my perspective, we must add (to conventional accounts) the fact that sociology was engaged in its own debate and the fact that this debate was orthogonal to (or independent of) the protracted struggle between liberal enlightenment and reaction. This is critical to our understanding of the uneasy relationship between sociology and the state. Sociology cannot exist independently of the state, lest it become dependent on the private sector (Fords Sociology Department) or totally without support. At the same
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time, however, state sponsored sociology is equally problematic, as we have seen in Nazi German, the Soviet Union, and Maos China. - we will consider this problem again in contemporary theory, particularly in the U.S. IV. National or Regional Differences in Sociological Theory Since sociology developed in response to fundamental changes in social life and protracted political debates centered on the cause and consequence of those changes, sociological theory differs according to the structure of social institutions, the nature of social change, and the nature of political struggles, particularly as these touch on institutional change (or revolution). Sociological theory thrives on protracted political struggle. That is why German and French sociology dominates the international theoretical discourse. In England and the U.S., where the liberal enlightenment perspective was less challenged, the evolutionary theory of Herbert Spencer was dominant (in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). This theory was particularly well suited to the leading industrial powers, which were, according to Spencer, superior to the agricultural, military societies of the less industrial countries.

Here, especially in the U.S., method is more powerful than theory and sociology is more applied (as opposed to theoretical). That is why you are required to take one methods and one statistics course but only one theory course. That is why it is easier to hire more statisticians and to offer more statistics courses. As the dean told me, There is no money for theory. So what are we doing here? What do you think?