Basic perspectives and schools of developing sociology in the XX century


Belarus State Economic University


«Basic perspectives and schools of developing sociology in the XX century»

Minsk 2008

In the XX century sociological science has undergone considerable changes. Modern sociology presents an extremely complex system of theories, conceptions, hypotheses, methods and ways of investigating social phenomena. Of importance is the fact that the evolution of main perspectives and schools of modern Western sociology went along simultaneously on its three levels: theoretic, applied and empiric. Empiric researches had been carried out before but they didn’t bear a systematic character; neither had they some developed methodology and methods of research.

An empiric direction that appeared in the XX century can be considered an opposition to the theoretic constructions of classical sociology of the XIX century. It was given birth by the attempts to overcome theorizing of social philosophy, on the one hand, and by the necessity to solve practical issues of governing social processes, on the other hand.

Most actively sociology developed in the USA to meet some significant needs; first, to extend beyond the framework of the European tradition, second, due to the necessities required by a fast development of American industrial society and practical implementation of newly appeared social problems.

American sociology is represented by numerous schools and directions and the Chicago school is one of them. When the University of Chicago was founded in 1892, it established the nation’s first department of sociology. The study of sociology was still a relatively undeveloped field, but by the 1920s the department had become nationally famous as the department pioneered research on urban studies, poverty, the family, the workplace, immigrants, ethnic and race relations, and developed important research methods using mapping and survey techniques. From the 1920s to the 1930s, urban sociology was almost synonymous with the work of the Chicago school.

The major researchers in this school included William Thomas, Florian Znaniecki, Robert Park, Louis Wirth, Ernest Burgess, Everett Hughes, and Robert McKenzie. The books which opened the school were The City: Suggestion for the Investigation of Human Behaviour in the City Environment by R. Park and a big monograph Polish peasant in Europe and America1918-1920 by F. Znaniecki and W. Thomas.

Florian Znaniecki (1882-1958) is a philosopher and sociologist who taught and wrote in Poland and the United States. He gained international fame as the co-author with William Thomas (1863-1947) of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America that is considered the foundation of modern empirical sociology and humanist sociology. In this work, analyzing private documents (letters, diaries, memoirs etc.) the sociologists investigated the problems of migrants’ adaptation to a new social and cultural milieu.

The Chicago School of Sociology grew to prominence under Robert E. Park(1864-1944). Along with E. Burgess and L. Wirth, Park created a theoretical basis for a systematic study of the society. Along with W. Thomas, he gave major impetus to the movement which shifted sociology from social philosophy to an inductive science of human behaviour. A partial list of the fields in which Park made significant contributions includes social psychology and the theory of personality; studies on the community; the city; human ecology (he coined the term); the social survey (as an institution); crowd and public – the field of collective behaviour (R. Park is often called the sociologist of collective behaviour); and most of all, race relations and conflicts of cultures. In the field of method he made valuable contributions as to the use of life histories, guided and unguided, for the investigation of personality.

But in the 1940-50s the leadership in developing empiric sociology was captured by Columbia and Harvard Universities. An important role was played by Robert Merton, a student of P.A. Sorokin who was actively engaged in applied sociological researches at Columbia University. His activities greatly encouraged the growth of prestige of empiric sociology in the USA as being unity of theory and method.

At Harvard University Elton Mayor (1880-1949) and his colleagues were also actively engaged in applied sociological researches. They conducted experiments at Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant outside Chicago, starting in 1924 and running through 1936. The Hawthorne experiments or Hawthorne Studies were intended to bring about a greater understanding of the effects of working conditions, wages and other social factors on worker productivity. The results of the experiments were contrary to the management theory of the time and were a key in understanding motivation factors in employment. Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... 1933 was a common year starting on Sunday (link will take you to calendar). ...They were:

· revision of the role of the human factor in production and retreat from the previous conception of a worker as an “economic” man whose pragmatic aims were of primary importance;

· discovery of the informal organization within the labour collective that became indicative of complex mechanisms of social life in the organization;

· people’s work performance is dependent on both social issues and job content;

· tension between workers’ “logic of sentiment” and managers’ “logic of cost and efficiency” could lead to conflict within organizations.

The Hawthorne Effect originally referred to the increase in worker productivity observed when a worker is singled out and made to feel important. ... Western Electric (sometimes abbreviated WECo) was a US electrical engineering company, the manufacturing arm of the Bell Telephone Company from 1881 to 1984 . ... Scientific management or Taylorism is the name of the approach to management and Industrial/Organizational Psychology initiated by Frederick Winslow Taylor in his 1911 monograph The Principles of Scientific Management. ..The Hawthorne studies had a profound effect on the field of organizational development and with publishing Mayor’s book, The Human Problems of an Industrialized Civilization, The field of organizational development (OD) is concerned with the performance, development, and effectiveness of human organizations. ..initiated development of industrial sociology, in particular, sociology of management, the human relations movement in management and organizational thinking.

Structural functionalism. Another important direction in sociology of the XX century became structural functionalism headed by Talcott Parsons (1902-1979), a central figure at Harvard University who was the best-known sociologist in the United States, and one of the best-known celebrities in the world for many years. Structural functionalism occupies an intermediate position between classical and contemporary sociology. But T. Parsons and his functional approach became so influential and dominant that by the late 1950s sociology and functionalism became more or less identical. This meant that sociology studied the roles of institutions and social behaviour in the society, the way these are related to other social features, and developed explanations of the society in social terms. It was developed in T. Parsons’ major publications such as The Structure of Social Action (1937), The Social System (1951), Structure and Process in Modern Societies (1960) etc.

Structural functionalism is built on two emphases: application of the scientific method to the objective social world and use of an analogy between the human’s organism and society. The emphasis on the scientific method leads to the assertion that one can study social world in the same way as one can study physical world. Thus, functionalists see social world as “objectively real”, observable with such techniques as social surveys and interviews. In this way functionalism was not new as many of these ideas go back to E. Durkheim who was one of the first sociologists to make use of scientific and statistical techniques in sociological research.

The second emphasis, a key to T. Parsons’ theory, is on the organic unity of the society, i.e. each society is a system of social structures (economic, legal, educational, gender ones) with certain needs which must be met by social institutions for a social system to exist. Goods and services must be produced and distributed in order for people to survive, there must be some administration of justice, a political system must exist, and some family structure must operate to provide a means to reproduce the population and maintain social life on a daily basis. In the structural functional model, individuals carry out these tasks in various institutions and roles that are consistent with the structures and norms of the society.

Four “functional imperatives” that every group or society tends to fulfill are often coded as AGIL:

· adaptation to the physical and social milieu;

· goal attainment, which is the need to define primary goals and enlist people to strive to attain these goals;

· integration, the coordination of the society or group as a cohesive whole;

· latency, maintaining the motivation of people to perform their roles according to social expectations.

In the society the function of adaptation is fulfilled by economy, that of goal-attainment – by politics, integration – by law and culture and latency – by family, school, church etc.

One of the central categories in T. Parsons’ theory is the category of social action the components of which are an actor, a situation and the actor’s orientation toward the situation. T. Parsons sees an actor – an individual or a collectivity as motivated to spend energy in reaching a desirable goal, as defined by the cultural system. So the actor operates in a situation with conditions he can’t control and means as things he can have control over, but within a certain normative framework. The norms have been internalized by the actor so that the actor is “motivated to act appropriately”. T. Parsons asserted that action is rooted in norms and bounded by values.

So, functionalist analysis often focuses on the individual, usually with the intent to show how individual behaviour is moulded by broader social forces. Though individual actors are spoken about as decision-makers, some critics suggested that functionalists treated individuals as puppets, whose decisions are a predictable result of their location in the social structure and of the norms and expectations they have internalized. In any case, functionalists tended to be less concerned with the ways in which individuals can control their own destiny than with the ways in which the limits imposed by the society make individual behaviour scientifically predictable.

As for T. Parsons, he also contributed to the field of social evolutionism. He divided evolution into four subprocesses:

1) division, which creates functional subsystems from the main system,

2) adaptation, where those systems evolve into more efficient versions,

3) inclusion of elements previously excluded from the given systems and

4) generalization of values, increasing the legitimization of the ever more complex system.

He shows those processes on three stages of evolution: 1) primitive, 2) archaic and 3) modern. Archaic societies have the knowledge of writing, while modern have the knowledge of law. T. Parsons viewed the Western civilisation as the pinnacle of modern societies, and out of all Western cultures he declared the United States as the most dynamically developed. This caused him to be attacked as an ethnocentrist.

T. Parsons’ late work focused on a new theoretical synthesis around four functions common to all systems of action, from behavioural to cultural, and a set of symbolic media that enable communication across them. This attempt to span the world with four concepts was too much for many American sociologists, who were then undergoing a retreat from the grand pretensions of the 1960s to a more empirical approach.

Another prominent functionalist Robert Merton (1910-2003) proposed a number of important distinctions to avoid potential weaknesses in the basic perspective. First, he distinguishes between manifestandlatent functions: respectively, those which are recognized and intended by actors in the social system and hence may represent motives for their actions, and those which are unrecognized and, thus, unintended by the actors. Second, he distinguishes between consequences which are positively functional for a society, those which are dysfunctional for the society, and those which are neither. Third, he distinguishes between levels of the society, that is, the specific social units for which regularized patterns of behaviour are functional or dysfunctional. Finally, he concedes that the particular social structures which satisfy functional needs of the society are not indispensable, but that structural alternatives may exist which can also satisfy the same functional needs.

Sociological positivism of P.A. Sorokin. Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin (1889-1968), a migrant from Russia, was one of the most colorful, erudite and controversial figures in American sociology. His merit consisted in formulation of scientific principles of the system of sociology. After coming to the USA P.A. Sorokin started working at the University of Minnesota. Fame came to him there after he had written six books in six years; four of them defined their fields at the time: Social Mobility (1927), Contemporary Sociological Theories (1928), Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology (1929) and A Systematic Source Book in Rural Sociology (1929).

Then P.A. Sorokin worked at Harvard University where he explored a lot of different directions. He came to Harvard as a positivistic, comparative and scientific sociologist that’s why his doctrine is called sociological positivism. Later he moved towards philosophy of history. His monumental work, Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937-1941) spanned over 2,500 years and attempted to isolate the principles of social change. The problems described in Dynamics took P.A. Sorokin to the analysis of civilization’s crisis and social, political and economic calamities inherent in modern culture. Diagnosing the times as those of a decaying sensate civilization, the sociologist speculated that world was moving towards a difficult and bloody period of transition. With these concerns in mind his research turned to the analysis of conflict, war and revolution, to the search for a comprehensive philosophical foundation for knowledge and to a direct means for dealing with social problems and improving the human condition. For the next twenty years he wrote mainly on war, integralism and altruism. As a humanistic scholar, he wanted to understand the conditions which led to war and the methods by which they could be treated and reduced. Similar values informed his later works on revolution and institutional violence.

Another merit by P.A. Sorokin is his theory of social stratification and social mobility. It states that the society is divided into strata (layers) that differentiate from each other by their wealth, activities, political views, cultural orientations etc. Thus, they serve as the basis for identifying the main forms of social stratification such as economic, political and occupational ones.

Social mobility is understood as any transition of an individual or social object from one social position to another. There are two principal types of social mobility, horizontal and vertical. Horizontalmobility, or shifting, is a transition of a person or social object from one social group to another situated on the same level. Transitions of individuals from one family (as a husband or wife) to another by divorce and remarriage, from one factory to another in the same occupational status, are all instances of horizontal mobility. So, too, are transitions of social objects, such as fashion, scientific or political ideas from the country of origin to other ones. In all these cases, “shifting” may take place without any noticeable change of the social position of a person or social object in the horizontal direction. Verticalmobility is a transition of a person or a social object from one social stratum to another which is accompanied with noticeable changes in his or its characteristics.

One more problem P.A. Sorokin tried to solve is that of social equality. He considered necessary to provide an individual with as much material and spiritual wealth as much socially useful labour he invested (or by his merit). The egalitarian system of any society (social equality) suggests everybody’s equality to be subject to law, equal rights to occupy public posts, equal political rights (as those of freedom of speech, conscious, union etc.) and equal rights to education.

Though P.A. Sorokin had a lasting influence on methods and theory in social sciences and his views were respected, academic conflicts affected his career. His professional interactions also brought him into conflict with Talcott Parsons. He set himself in direct opposition to both the Chicago School and Social Darwinism, considering them too philosophical and too unconcerned with real-world issues.

Social conflict theory. Conflict theory is an extension of the sociological theory that discusses various social issues leading to conflict in any society. Numerous theorists worked on different issues and provided their conflict theory, which is directly or indirectly related to the society. Conflict theory was elaborated, for instance, in Britain by M. Gluckman and J. Rex, in the USA by Ch. Mills, L. Coser and R. Collins, and in Germany (later the UK) by R. Dahrendorf, all of them being more or less influenced by K. Marx, L. Gumplovicz, V. Pareto, G. Simmel and other founder fathers of European sociology.

Social conflict is a confrontation of social powers. So, conflict theory is related to the society and organization whereby each individual participates with his group in the struggle to maximize its benefit to bring any social change in the society. Such changes include political change, social change or revolutions. Hence conflict theory is best applied to explain the conflicts between social classes and clash of ideologies within the society like socialism. The theory attempts to refute functionalism that considers societies and organizations function harmoniously so that each individual and group plays a specific role, like organs in the body.

Modern conflict theory is built on three assumptions which are the basic elements of conflict within a class society:

· interests commonly presented in various groups of the society,

· power that develops inequalities and leads to coercion among various groups of the society,

· coercion related to the unequal distribution of resources within various classes of the society that develops different power groups. This aspect is related to the clash of ideologies and conflicting values among various classes of the society.

Charles Mills (1916-1962), a professor of Columbia University, is the one who elaborated the methodological principles of conflict theory. In his works, The Power Elite (1956), The Sociological Imagination (1959) Ch. Mills was especially critical of structural functionalism because it rejected the idea of antagonism, rebel, revolution, and suggested the idea that harmony of interests was natural for any society. He didn’t deny that order, stability, harmony are needed by a class in power but social life is full of both disorders and conflicts, and is always instable. He considered social conflict as struggle for social power, values and status benefits, struggle whereby the opposite side tries not only to acquire benefits but neutralize or even liquidate the opponent. Its basic functions are seen in integration of the social structure, maintenance of solidarity within the group, strengthening of relations between humans and governing of social changes. In other words, Ch. Mills considers social conflict a natural component of the social organism.

Another elaborator of social conflict Lewis Coser (1913-2003) put forward the goal of making structural functionalism deeper and more perfect. In contrast to classical theorists of the functional approach who analyze harmony, not conflict, L. Coser proves that conflicts and confrontations are products of the internal life of the society and order of things and relations between people and groups existing in this society. If functionalists see in conflict a manifestation of disorder in the society, L. Coser makes a focus on its positive functions trying to show its integrative and stabilizing role there. He believes that taking place in the society struggle of interests on redistribution of means of production, public wealth and share of this wealth, bears a positive character. Thus, in his theory conflicts perform a number of positive functions which are described in the book, The Functions of Social Conflict (1956). For example, conflict within a group frequently helps to resolve tension between antagonists, revitalize existent norms; or it contributes to the emergence of new norms or it may help to establish unity or re-establish unity and cohesion where it has been threatened by hostile and antagonistic feelings among the members.

Another contribution into development of conflict theory was made by Ralf Dahrendorf (born in 1929), a German-British sociologist. His theory is deeply rooted in the Marxist theory but it is also an extension according to the contemporary sociological theory of class and class conflict in an industrial society.

R. Dahrendorf assumes that various elements of the society directly or indirectly participate in conflicts of any society, so conflicts exist between these elements of the society. Therefore, social change is ubiquitous that instigates conflicts between different classes and among various elements of the society. So his theory states that conflict occurs in every society and class but the roots of conflict in any society or class lies in integration. When two groups or classes are living in a society, they cohere either due to a clash of interests, ideologies or any other reason. This ultimately results in conflict within a society.

On the other hand, when two groups or classes integrate in the society, one becomes dominant over the other due to the unequal distribution of resources. This results into difference of division of power and authority. So the powerful and the weak become principle conflicting groups, and this stimulates conflict among classes.

R. Dahrendorf asserted that conflict can be regulated through negotiations, mediation, arbitrage etc. The acuteness of the conflict and efficiency of its regulation depend on the type of the social structure and level of its openness. A democratic, open, highly mobile society is most adequate for the regulation of conflicts as in such a society conflicts are extremely formalized.

Although conflict theory of R. Dahrendorf is depicted from the Marxist theory of class struggle which relates to the class conflict in an industrialized society, his theory differs from the theory of K. Marx in many aspects. For instance, R. Dahrendorf disagrees to the principle that economic interests are the only interests among classes in the industrialized society that lead to a conflict. He does not agree either that revolution is the only way to abolish a class conflict. Moreover, he does not believe that the upper class is the only class that owns and controls the means of production of any society.

Therefore, R. Dahrendorf believes in a system where managers belonging to various classes of the society actually control economy of various industries and business corporations. At the same time, he believes that in modern society economic division of power is altered due to unequal distribution of resources, and that allows the middle class to grow side by side. This is basically a result from changing trends of globalization and regionalism.

Social psychology is a sub-discipline of both sociology and psychology. If sociology deals with social categories and groups, psychology – with individuals, social psychology involves the intersection of the social and the individual where the individual is influenced by the social and, in turn, interacts with the social and influences on it as well.

Another way of looking at social psychology is that it is the study of how micro- and macro-social phenomena – the individual and society – interact. Social psychology tries to answer the following questions: How does an individual develop his self-concept or personality? Or, how do social situations affect the way a person thinks or acts?

Two of the many perspectives in social psychological thought are symbolic interaction and social exchange. Such perspectives are of importance because they are based on the assumption that people, in order to meet their basic needs and fulfill their desires, must interact with others in the process of social exchanges. For example, very few people produce the food they eat but obtain it in exchange for goods, services, and money they provide through a network of others in roles and organizations that specialize in one or another aspect of food production and distribution. Without these complex, interdependent social exchanges most of people would starve. From the symbolic interaction and social exchange perspectives in social psychology, one might say that individuals are able to interact – and indeed must interact with each other as individuals and as members of social groups – through shared meanings and values that they learn. They also play various social roles in the process of social exchanges with others.

Symbolic interactionism, or theory of symbolic interaction, has a long intellectual history, beginning with the German sociologist and economist Max Weber and American philosophers Charles Cooley (1864-1929)and George Mead (1863-1931), who emphasized the subjective meaning of human behaviour, the social process and pragmatism. It was later developed by Herbert Blumer, who is responsible for coining the term, “symbolic interactionism”, as well as for formulating the most prominent version of the theory. It also continues to develop and grow popular today.

Symbolic interactionism explains how individuals are socialized through social interactions with others. In the process of developing a self, or personality, language and other symbols and values become meaningful through social interaction with significant others, primary groups, reference groups and generalized others. Through this process of interactions, individuals also learn roles that they play as they act in their social groups and in the larger society. For instance, if a lecturer sees a student’s raised hand, he interpret it as a sign to stop the lecture and get to know whether the student wants to ask a question on the issue or ask for permission to leave the class. Somebody’s raised hand in another situation or in another culture may be interpreted in a different way.

For interactionists, humans are pragmatic actors who must continually adjust their behaviour to the actions of other actors. We can adjust to these actions only because we are able to interpret them, i.e., to denote them symbolically and treat the actions and those who perform them as symbolic objects.

The social exchange perspective complements symbolic interaction but emphasizes the exchanges that cohere individuals with each other and with groups. It has been influenced by many including B. F. Skinner, John Thibaut, Harold Kelly etc. but its main contributors were George Homans (1910-1989) and Peter Blau (b. 1918). Social exchange concepts include value, punishment, sanctions, cost, profit, reward, and behaviour.

The first problem is that of names. GeorgeHomans’s famous work, “Social Behaviour as Exchange” led sociologists to refer to it as exchange theory. Anyway, the researcher never liked this term, preferring instead “social behaviourism”. He wanted to emphasize the behaviourist aspect of his work. That is, he wants the theory to explain whether observable behaviours increase or decrease based on actors’ rewards and costs. So his interest is the individual who enters into exchange relationships, in which social rewards and costs determine individual choices.

G. Homans interprets social behaviour as an exchange of activity, tangible or intangible, and more or less rewarding or costly, between at least two people. According to his point of view, actors are profit seekers who want to maximize their wealth while interacting with others with minimum efforts. It follows from it that social exchange is based on a rational principle: a rewarded action tends to repeat, and the higher is the reward, the more possible is the action. G. Homans developed several propositions on success, stimuli, value, satiation and aggression that explain how social exchange works at the individual level. By doing it the researcher tried to bring sociology nearer to economy by estimating behaviours in the context of a number of economic categories such as cost, profit, reward etc.

On the other hand, P. Blau does offer an exchange theory. His interest is in how exchange as a form of social activity gives rise to different forms of association and different organizational forms. He supplements the exchange concepts to understand a more complex social process of institutionalization. Therefore, he attaches great importance on the abstract concepts such as value, conscience, ideas, and impression, strains and social norms that bind the society together. It is through P. Blau’s works that account of the emergence of large-scale organizations and institutions governed by cultural norms and values.

According to P. Blau, rewards that are exchanged can be either intrinsic (love, affection, respect) or extrinsic (money, physical labor); the parties cannot always reward each other equally; when there is inequality in the exchange, a difference of power will emerge within an association. The theorist is concerned with what holds large-scale social units together and what tears them apart. Therefore, he takes pains in discussing groups, organization, collectivities, societies, norms and values. That’s why P. Blau’s exchange theory is usually regarded as macro-theoretical perspective.

Sociometry. The word sociometry comes from Latin “socius” (social) and “metrum” (measure). As the roots imply, sociometry is a way of measuring a degree of interpersonal relationships between people. The term was coined by the psychiatrist Jacob Levi Moreno (1892-1974). A student of S. Freud, J. Moreno migrated from Rumania to the USA and in New York conducted the first long-range sociometric study (1932-1938). As part of this study, J. Moreno used sociometric techniques to assign residents to various cottages. He found that assignments on the basis of sociometry substantially reduced the number of runaways from the facility.

Sociometry is based on the fact that people make choices in interpersonal relationships. Whenever people gather, they make choices – where to sit or stand; choices about who is perceived as friendly and who is not, who is central to the group, who is rejected, who is isolated. So measurement of relationships can be useful not only in assessment of behaviour within a group, but also for interventions to bring about positive change. For a labour group, sociometry can be a powerful tool for reducing a conflict and improving communications because it allows the group to see itself objectively and analyze its own dynamics. It can also be applied to identify informal leaders, social rankings and isolated individuals as it shows the patterns of how individuals associate with each other when acting as a group toward a specified end or goal.

Among sociometric tools of frequent use are various tests, sociomatrix and sociograms. When members of a group are asked to choose others in the group, everyone in the group makes a choice and describes why he does so. From these choices a description (a drawing, like a map) called a sociogram emerges. The data for the sociogram may also be displayed as a table or matrix of each person’s choices.

There are other important trends and perspectives in sociology of the XX century developed by theorists of all continents.

Phenomenology is another approach to sociological theory that has been gaining popularity. The approach is based on the ideas of Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), a German philosopher, who insisted that the phenomena we encounter in sensory perceptions are the ultimate source of all knowledge. His perspective was brought to the United States by sociologist Alfred Schutz (1899-1959) and developed further by Harold Garfinkel (b. 1917). Another important development in phenomenological thinking can be found in works by Thomas Luckmann (b. 1927) and Peter Berger (b. 1929), whose landmark book, The Social Construction of Reality (1966), has been widely influential, especially among contemporary feminists. P. Berger is perhaps best known for his view that sociology is a form of consciousness. Central to his work is the relationship between the society and the individual. In his book, The Social Construction of Reality P. Berger develops a sociological theory “society as objective reality and as subjective reality”. His analysis of the society as subjective reality studies how reality has produced and keeps producing individuals. He writes about how new humans concepts or inventions become a part of our reality (a process he calls reification). His conception of social structure resolving around the importance of language “the most important sign system of human society,” is similar to G. Hegel’s conception of Geist.

Among other current sociological theories one can note postmodernism, globalization theory by I. Wallenstein, European industrial sociology, feminism, ecological movement, communicative theory by N. Lumann etc. Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929), a leading German sociologist, Anthony Giddens (b. 1938), a leading British sociologist, and American sociologist Randall Collins (b. 1913) are all noted for having constructed theories which synthesize ideas drawn from several theoretical traditions.

Postmodernism is a perspective developed on the French intellectual scene, that has had considerable influence on American sociologists in recent years. Contrasted by modernism, whose authors attempted to come to new terms with old ideas in attempt to find the “deep structure” of the human experience, postmodernism is identifiable by authors who were highly skeptical of any “deep structure,” regarding all structures as subjective and ideologically tainted.

Feminism, though not a unified theory, is among the most influential of current theoretical perspectives. Focusing their analyses on gender inequalities and on the institution of patriarchy, feminists have sought to understand the society from the standpoint of women. Feminists have criticized all three of the traditionally dominant theoretical perspectives – functionalism, symbolic interactionism and conflict theory – as biased toward male points of view. However, the feminist movement has also had its limitations. Most feminists have been white middle-class women, and feminist literature from the early days of the movement (1965-1985) often neglected the concerns of working-class women and women of colour. In recent years, however, some feminists have begun to analyze the ways that race, class, and gender inequalities intersect. For instance, Patricia Hill Collins in her book, Black Feminist Thought (1990), argues that the common experiences of African American women have given them a unique perspective on social theory. Feminists come in a variety of theoretical stripes. Early feminists divided themselves up into liberal, radical, or socialist camps, depending on their political points of view. Today, many feminist sociologists continue to draw heavily on the conflict theory tradition, while many others have been influenced by symbolic interactionism. A few even call themselves functionalists or rational choice theorists.

So modern sociology can be viewed not as an integral mono-science but as a broad scientific movement aimed at studying various social problems faced by industrialized countries. Sociology is in a theoretical ferment, as sociologists seek new ways to understand the formidable complexity of the social world. So the student’s point is not to memorize all these names, but to be aware of the multiple points of view and theoretical differences among contemporary sociologists.


AGIL – Adaptation, Goal attainment, Integration, Latency (by T. Parsons).

Anarchism – a political belief that the society should have no government, laws, police, or other authority, but should be a free association of all its members.

Behaviourism – a movement which sees human behaviour as something which can be moulded by punishment and reward.

Chicago schoolof sociology – refers to a group of sociologists at the University of Chicago who made the first major attempt to study the urban environment by combined efforts of theory and ethnographic fieldwork in Chicago. They pioneered research on urban studies, poverty, the family, the workplace, immigrants, ethnic and race relations, developed important research methods using mapping and survey techniques. In 1920-30s, urban sociology was almost synonymous with the work of the Chicago school. The major researchers in this school included William Thomas, Florian Znaniecki, Robert Park, Louis Wirth, Ernest Burgess, Everett Hughes, and Robert McKenzie.

Discrimination – unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice.

Elite – a selected group of people whose personal abilities, specialized training or other attributes place them at the top of any field.

Elitism – a belief or attitude that elite are the people whose views on a matter are to be taken most seriously, or who are alone fit to govern.

Feminism – a doctrine that advocates social equality of the sexes; political, social, and cultural movement dedicated to promoting equal rights for women in all aspects of life.

Gemeinschaft (by F. Toennis) – a group formed around an essential will of an actor who sees himself as a means to serve the goals of the social group; community.

Gesellschaft (by F. Toennis) – a group formed around the arbitrary will of an actor who sees a social group as a means to further his individual goals, so it is purposive and future-oriented; society.

Goal attainment – the need to define primary goals and enlist individuals to strive to attain these goals.

Hawthorne experiments – studies at Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant outside Chicago (1924-1936), which were intended to bring about a greater understanding of the effects of working conditions, wages and other social factors on worker productivity.

Ideal type (by M. Weber) – a type formed of characteristics and elements of the given phenomena but it is not meant to correspond to all of the characteristics of a particular case.

Integration – the coordination of the society or group as a cohesive whole.

Latency – maintaining the motivation of individuals to perform their roles according to social expectations.

Marxist sociology – materialistic interpretation of history influenced by G. Hegel’s claim that reality (and history) should be viewed dialectically, through a clash of opposing forces.

Pareto index – a measure of the inequality of income distribution.

Phenomenology – a philosophical doctrine proposed by Edmund Husserl based on the study of human experience in which considerations of objective reality are not taken into account.

Populism – a doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite.

Positivism – a dominant theory in sociology of the XIX century that genuine knowledge is acquired by science and that metaphysical speculation has no validity. It was based largely on the ideas of the French philosopher Auguste Comte, which were further elaborated in works of D. Mills, H. Spenser and other researchers.

Postmodernism – contrasted by modernism, whose authors attempted to come to new terms with old ideas in attempt to find the “deep structure” of the human experience, postmodernism is identifiable by authors who were highly skeptical of any “deep structure,” regarding all structures as subjective and ideologically tainted.

Rationalization – the move away from supernatural to rational and empirical modes of thought.

Social conflict – a confrontation of social powers.

Social Darwinism – an attempt to adapt Charles Darwin natural selection principles to human society, thus producing a culture that embraces the “survival of the fittest”. Natural selection, when applied to a society, also includes such factors as organizational ability, talent to inspire others, creativity, perseverance, mental flexibility, etc., in addition to physical fitness.

Social exchange theory – a theory that focuses on the exchanges that cohere individuals with each other and with groups; it is based on a central premise that the exchange of social and material resources is a fundamental form of human interaction.

Social equality – everybody’s equality to be subject to law, equal rights to occupy public posts, equal political rights (as those of freedom of speech, conscious, union etc.) and equal rights to education (by P.A. Sorokin).

Social mobility – any transition of an individual or social object from one social position to another.

Social psychology – a sub-discipline of both sociology and psychology which involves the intersection of the social and the individual where the individual is influenced by the social and, in turn, interacts with the social and affects it as well.

Social stratification – division of the society into strata (layers) that differentiate from each other by their wealth, activities, political views, cultural orientations etc.

Sociometry – the quantitative study of social relationships; a way of measuring the degree of interpersonal relationships between people.

Structural functionalism – a theoretical perspective headed by T. Parsons with a particular emphasis on function, interdependence, consensus, equilibrium, and evolutionary change. The structure part of the approach is that institutions and structures exist in the society as a whole. The functional part is that different parts of each society contribute positively to the operation or functioning of the system as a whole. These parts usually work together in an orderly manner, without great conflict. Different parts are usually in equilibrium, or moving toward equilibrium, with consensus rather than conflict governing the inter-relationships of the various parts. Change tends to be orderly and evolutionary, rather than revolutionary or with dramatic structural breaks.

Symbolic interactionism – a sociological perspective which studies how individuals and groups interact, focusing on the creation of personal identity through interaction with others. Of particular interest is the relationship between individual action and group pressures.

Weberian sociology – a doctrine elaborated by M. Weber which is based on the concept of social action understood as behaviour to which humans attach a specific meaning or set of meanings; it is to interpret and suggest understanding of what subjective motives of human actions are, that’s why Weberian sociology is called Interpretive or Understanding sociology.

Additional literature

· Blau P. Exchange and Power in Social Life. (3rd edition). – New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1992. – 354 p.

· Bourdeiu P. Logic of Practice. – Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990. – 382 p.

· Coser L. The Functions of Social Conflict. – Glencoe, Ill: Free Press, 1956. – 188 p.

· DurkheimE.The Division of Labour in Society. – New York, NY: Free Press; 1997. – 272 p.

· DurkheimE.Suicide. – New York, NY: Free Press; 1951. – 345 p.

· Goldthorpe J. H. Class Analysis and the Reorientation of Class Theory. – British Journal of Sociology, 1996, # 47.

· Homans G.Elementary Forms of Social Behavior. (2nd edition) – New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974.