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Sociological theory

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Sociological theory

In sociology, sociological theories are statements of how and why particular facts about the social world are related.[1] They range in scope from concise descriptions of a single social process to paradigms for analysis and interpretation. Some sociological theories explain aspects of the social world and enable prediction about future events,[2] while others function as broad perspectives which guide further sociological analyses.[3]


  • Sociological theory vs. social theory 1
  • History of sociological theories 2
  • Central theoretical problems 3
    • Subjectivity and objectivity 3.1
    • Structure and agency 3.2
    • Synchrony and Diachrony 3.3
  • Classical theoretical traditions 4
    • Functionalism 4.1
    • Conflict theory 4.2
    • Symbolic Interactionism 4.3
    • Utilitarianism 4.4
  • List of contemporary theories 5
  • Theories in subfields of sociology 6
    • Criminology 6.1
    • Sociology of science and technology 6.2
    • Social movements 6.3
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Sociological theory vs. social theory

Kenneth Allan[4] proposed the distinction between sociological theory and social theory. In Allan's usage, sociological theory consists of abstract and testable propositions about society.[4] It often heavily relies on the scientific method, which aims for objectivity, and attempts to avoid passing value judgments. In contrast, social theory, according to Allan, focuses on commentary and critique of modern society rather than explanation.[4] Social theory is often closer to Continental philosophy; thus, it is less concerned with objectivity and derivation of testable propositions, and more likely to pass normative judgments.[5] Sociological theory is generally created only by sociologists, while social theory can frequently come from other disciplines.

Prominent sociological theorists include Harrison White, Theda Skocpol, Gerhard Lenski, Pierre van den Berghe and Jonathan H. Turner.[5] Prominent social theorists include: Jürgen Habermas, Anthony Giddens, Michel Foucault, Dorothy Smith, Alfred Schütz, Jeffrey Alexander, and Jacques Derrida.[5] There are also prominent scholars who could be seen as being in-between social and sociological theories, such as Harold Garfinkel, Herbert Blumer, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Pierre Bourdieu and Erving Goffman.[5]

History of sociological theories

The field of sociology itself—and sociological theory by extension—is relatively new. Both date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The drastic social changes of that period, such as relationships.[6]

Central theoretical problems

Overall, there is a strong consensus regarding the central theoretical questions and the central problems that emerge from explicating such questions. Sociological theory attempts to answer the following three questions: (1) What is action? (2) What is social order? and (3) What determines social change? In the myriad attempts to answer these questions, three predominately theoretical (i.e. not empirical) problems emerge. These problems are largely inherited from the classical theoretical traditions. The consensus on the central theoretical problems is: how to link, transcend or cope with the following "big three" dichotomies:[7] subjectivity and objectivity, structure and agency, and synchrony and diachrony. The first deals with knowledge, the second with agency, and the last with time. Lastly, sociological theory often grapples with the problem of integrating or transcending the divide between micro, meso and macro-scale social phenomena, which is a subset of all three central problems. These problems are not altogether empirical problems, rather they are epistemological: they arise from the conceptual imagery and analytical analogies that sociologists use to describe the complexity of social processes.

Subjectivity and objectivity

The problem of subjectivity and objectivity can be divided into a concern over the general possibilities of social actions, and, on the other hand the specific problem of social scientific knowledge. In the former, the subjective is often equated (though not necessarily) with the individual, and the individual's intentions and interpretations of the objective. The objective is often considered any public or external action or outcome, on up to society writ large. A primary question for social theorists, is how knowledge reproduces along the chain of subjective-objective-subjective, that is to say: how is intersubjectivity achieved? While, historically, qualitative methods have attempted to tease out subjective interpretations, quantitative survey methods also attempt to capture individual subjectivities. Also, some qualitative methods take a radical approach to objective description in situ.

The latter concern with scientific knowledge results from the fact that a sociologist is part of the very object they seek to explain. Bourdieu puts this problem rather succinct:

How can the sociologist effect in practice this radical doubting which is indispensable for bracketing all the presuppositions inherent in the fact that she is a social being, that she is therefore socialized and led to feel "like a fish in water" within that social world whose structures she has internalized? How can she prevent the social world itself from carrying out the construction of the object, in a sense, through her, through these unself-conscious operations or operations unaware of themselves of which she is the apparent subject
— Pierre Bourdieu, "The Problem of Reflexive Sociology" in An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology,1992, pg 235

Structure and agency

Structure and agency, sometimes referred to as determinism versus voluntarism,[8] form an enduring ontological debate in social theory: "Do social structures determine an individual's behaviour or does human agency?" In this context 'agency' refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and make free choices, whereas 'structure' relates to factors which limit or affect the choices and actions of individuals (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, and so on). Discussions over the primacy of either structure and agency relate to the core of sociological epistemology ("What is the social world made of?", "What is a cause in the social world, and what is an effect?").[9] A perennial question within this debate is that of "social reproduction": how are structures (specifically, structures producing inequality) reproduced through the choices of individuals?

Synchrony and Diachrony

Synchrony and diachrony, or statics and dynamics, within social theory are terms that refer to a distinction emerging out of the work of Levi-Strauss who inherited it from the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure.[10] The former slices moments of time for analysis, thus it is an analysis of static social reality. Diachrony, on the other hand, attempts to analyze dynamic sequences. Following Saussure, synchrony would refer to social phenomena as a static concept like a language, while diachrony would refer to unfolding processes like actual speech. In Anthony Giddens' introduction to Central Problems in Social Theory, he states that, "in order to show the interdependence of action and structure...we must grasp the time space relations inherent in the constitution of all social interaction." And like structure and agency, time is integral to discussion of social reproduction. In terms of sociology, historical sociology is often better position to analyze social life as diachronic, while survey research takes a snapshot of social life and is thus better equipped to understand social life as synchronic. Some argue that the synchrony of social structure is a methodological perspective rather than an ontological claim.[10] Nonetheless, the problem for theory is how to integrate the two manners of recording and thinking about social data.

Classical theoretical traditions

The contemporary discipline of sociology is theoretically multi-paradigmatic.[11] In Social Darwinism, which brings the logic of Darwinian biological evolution and applies it to people and societies.[16] This tradition often aligns with classical functionalism and is associated with several founders of sociology, primarily Herbert Spencer, Lester F. Ward and William Graham Sumner. Contemporary sociological theory retains traces of each these traditions and they are by no means mutually exclusive.


A broad historical paradigm in both sociology and

  • American Sociological Association - Section on Theory
  • European Sociological Association: Social Theory Research Network (RN29)
  • International Sociological Association: Research Committee on Sociological Theory (RC16)
  • Sociological Theory (journal)
  • CliffsNotes - Three Major Perspectives in Sociology
  • Teng Wang, Social Phenomena

External links

  • Adams, B. N., & Sydie, R. A. (2001). Sociological Theory. Pine Forge Press.
  • Bilton, T., Bonnett, K., & Jones, P. (2002). Introductory sociology. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-94571-9
  • Babbie, E. R. (2003). The Practice of Social Research: 10th edition. Wadsworth: Thomson Learning Inc. ISBN 0-534-62029-9
  • Gerber, Linda. M. & Macionis, John. J. (2011). Sociology, Seventh Canadian Edition. Pearson Education, ISBN 978-0-13-700161-3
  • Goodman, D. J., & Ritzer, G. (2004). Sociological Theory, Sixth Edition. McGraw Hill
  • Hughes, M., Kroehler, C. J., & Vander Zanden, J. W. (2001). Sociology: The Core. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-240535-X Online chapter summary
  • Germov, J. (2001). '"A Class Above the Rest? Education and the Reproduction of Class Inequality'". In J. Allen (Ed.), Sociology of education: possibilities and practices (pp. 233–248). Tuggerah, NSW: Social Science Press. ISBN 1-876633-23-9

Further reading

  1. ^ Macionis and Gerber, John J. and Linda M. (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, Inc. p. 14.  
  2. ^ Keel, Robert. "What is Sociological Theory?". Robert Keel. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  3. ^ Craig J. Calhoun (2002). Classical sociological theory. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 1–.  
  4. ^ a b c Kenneth Allan, (24 March 2006). theory: visualizing social worlds sociological and social Contemporary. Pine Forge Press. pp. 10–.  
  5. ^ a b c d Sanderson, SK (2006). "Reforming theoretical work in sociology: A modest proposal". Perspectives (1360-3108), 28 (2), p. 1.
  6. ^ Craig J. Calhoun (2002). Classical sociological theory. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 5–.  
  7. ^'subjectivism%20and%20objectivism',%20'agency%20and%20structure'%20&f=false Rational Choice Theory: Resisting Colonization
  8. ^ Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach
  9. ^ Giddens, A (1996). The Constitution of Society. California: University of California Press. pp. 14–19.  
  10. ^ a b Lizardo, Omar. "Beyond the antinomies of structure: Levi-Strauss, Giddens, Bourdieu, and Sewell." Theory and society 39.6 (2010): 651-688.
  11. ^ Abend, Gabriel. 2008. "The meaning of 'Theory'." Sociological Theory, 26:2
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Sociological Rational Choice Theory
  15. ^ Coleman, James S., and Thomas J. Fararo. "Rational choice theory." Nueva York: Sage (1992)
  16. ^ Southern theory: the global dynamics of knowledge in social science
  17. ^ Urry, John (2000). "Metaphors". Sociology beyond societies: mobilities for the twenty-first century. Routledge. p. 23.  
  18. ^ "Department of Anthropology College of Arts and Sciences The University of Alabama: Anthropological theories". Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  19. ^ Giddens, Anthony "The Constitution of Society" in The Giddens Reader Philip Cassell (eds.) MacMillan Press pp.88
  20. ^ Aghababa, Hossein (October 4, 2011). "There Will Be Blood". Independent Film Reviews. 
  21. ^ Gerber, John J. Macionis, Linda M. Sociology (7th Canadian ed.). Toronto: Pearson Canada. p. 15.  
  22. ^ a b c John J. Macionis, Linda M. Gerber, "Sociology", Seventh Canadian Edition, Pearson Canada
  23. ^ Macionis, John J. (2012). Sociology 14th Edition. Boston: Pearson. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-205-11671-3
  24. ^ Gerber, John J. Macionis, Linda M. Sociology (7th Canadian ed. ed.). Toronto: Pearson Canada. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-13-700161-3.
  25. ^ John J. Macionis, Linda M. Gerber, "Sociology", Seventh Canadian Edition, Pearson Canada
  26. ^ "Pragmatism and the untenable dualism of means and ends: Why rational choice theory does not deserve paradigmatic privilege" Theory and Society 31 (2002): 325-363.
  27. ^ Emerson, R M. "Social Exchange Theory." Annual Review of Sociology 2.1 (1976): 335-362.
  28. ^ a b Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc.. pp. 134.
  29. ^ a b Macionis, John J. (2012). Sociology 14th Edition. Boston: Pearson. ISBN 978-0-205-11671-3.
  30. ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed.. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc.. pp. 16.
  31. ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc.. pp. 16.
  32. ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc.. pp. 19.
  33. ^ Macionis and Gerber, John J. and Linda M. (2010). Sociology, the 7th Canadian Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, Inc.. pp. 134. ISBN 978-0-13-700161-3.
  34. ^ Lyons, Tickle-Degnen, KD, L (2003). "Dramaturgical challenges of Parkinson's disease". OTJR-OCCUPATION PARTICIPATION AND HEALTH 23 (1): 27 - 34. ISSN 1539-4492.
  35. ^ "Feminism – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  36. ^ Hird, Myra J (2003). "New Feminist Sociological Directions". The Canadian Journal of Sociology 28 (4): 447–462.  
  37. ^ Macionis, John (2010). Sociology. Pearson. p. 185.  
  38. ^ Template:
  39. ^ a b Macionis and Gerber, John J. and Linda M. (2010). Sociology, the 7th Canadian Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, Inc.. pp. 132. ISBN 978-0-13-700161-3.
  40. ^ Merton, Robert. "Social Theory and Social Structure."
  41. ^ Berger, Joseph. 2000. "Theory and Formalization: Some Reflections on Experience." Sociological Theory 18(3):482-489.
  42. ^ Cohen, Louis; Maldonado, Antonio (2007). "Research Methods In Education". British Journal of Educational Studies (Routledge) 55 (4): 9.
  43. ^ John J. Macionis and Linda M. Gerber (2011). Sociology Seventh Canadian Edition. Pearson Education, Inc. p. 10.  
  44. ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc. p. 53. 
  45. ^ ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc.. pp. 19.
  46. ^ Donald Black (2011). Moral Time. Oxford University Press.  
  47. ^ Swedberg, Richard (2007). "Max Weber's Interpretive Economic Sociology". American Behavioral Scientist 50 (8): 1035 - 1055. ISSN 0002-7642.
  48. ^ Billingham, M. (2007) Sociological Perspectives p.336 In Stretch, B. and Whitehouse, M. (eds.) (2007) Health and Social Care Book 1. Oxford: Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-435-49915-0
  49. ^ Macionis, John J., and Linda M. Gerber. Sociology. Toronto: Pearson Canada, 2011. Print.
  50. ^ Mawson A R., Durkbeim and contemporary social pathology. BriL J. So&l. 21:298-313, 1970. "The Anomie Deviant Behavior Connection: The Theories of Durkheim, Merton, and Srole"
  51. ^ Patricia Yancey Martin & Barry A. Turner, "Grounded Theory and Organizational Research," The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, vol. 22, no. 2 (1986), 141.
  52. ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc. p. 204. 
  53. ^ a b Macionis and Gerber, John J. and Linda M. (2010). Sociology, the 7th Canadian Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, Inc. p. 203.  
  54. ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc. p. 204. 
  55. ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc. pp. 204–205. 
  56. ^ Weiten, W. (2010). Psychology: themes & variations (8th ed.). Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning pp. 532.
  57. ^ Macionis, John J. (2012). Sociology 14th Edition. Boston: Pearson. p. 197.  
  58. ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc. p. 199. 
  59. ^ Halpern, Diane; Weiten, Wayne; McCann, Doug (2010). Psychology themes & variations 2nd Canadian Ed. United States of America: Nelson Education Ltd. p. 614. 
  60. ^ a b c Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc. pp. 198–199. 
  61. ^ a b c Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc. p. 206. 
  62. ^ a b c d Macionis and Gerber, John J. and Linda M. (2010). Sociology, the 7th Canadian Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, Inc. p. 206.  
  63. ^ Macionis, Gerber, John, Linda (2010). Sociology 7th Canadian Ed. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc. pp. 208, 209. 


See also

Sociologists have developed various theories about social movements [Kendall, 2005]. Chronologically (by approximate date of origin) they include:

American Civil Rights Movement is one of the most famous social movements of the 20th century. Here, Martin Luther King is giving his "I Have a Dream" speech, in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Social movements

Sociologists have been active in developing theories about the nature of science and technology:

Sociology of science and technology

Physical traits do not distinguish criminals from non criminals, but genetic factors together with environmental factors are strong predictors of adult crime and violence.[60] Most psychologists see deviance as the result of "unsuccessful" socialization and abnormality in an individual personality.[60]

  • The general theory of crime: States that the main factor behind criminal behaviour is the individual's lack of self-control.
  • Differential association theory: The theory was developed by Edwin Sutherland and it examines the acts of a criminal from the perspective that they are learned behaviours.[52]
  • Labeling theory: It is the main idea that deviance and conformity result not so much from what people do as from how others respond to these actions.[53] It also states that a society's reaction to specific behaviors are a major determinant of how a person may come to adopt a "deviant" label.[54] This theory stresses the relativity of deviance, the idea that people may define the same behavior in any number of ways. Thus the labelling theory is a micro-level analysis and is often classified in the social-interactionist approach.[53] Bryant, Lee. "The Labelling Theory", History Learning Site, 2000-2012, retrieved March 13, 2013.
  • Control theory: The theory was developed by Travis Hirschi and it states that a weak bond between an individual and society itself allows the individual to defy societal norms and adopt behaviors that are deviant in nature.[55]
  • Rational choice theory: States that people commit crimes when it is rational for them to do so according to analyses of costs and benefits, and that crime can be reduced by minimizing benefits and maximizing costs to the "would be" criminal.
  • Social disorganization theory: States that crime is more likely to occur in areas where social institutions are unable to directly control groups of individuals.
  • Social learning theory: States that people adopt new behaviors through observational learning in their environments.[56]
  • Strain theory: States that a social structure within a society may cause people to commit crimes. Specifically, the extent and type of deviance people engage in depend on whether a society provides the means to achieve cultural goals.[57]
  • Subcultural theory: States that behavior is influenced by factors such as class, ethnicity, and family status. This theory's primary focus is on juvenile delinquency.
  • Psychopath: serious criminals who do not feel shame or guilt from their actions. They do not fear punishment and have little sympathy for the people they harm.[58] These individuals are said to have a psychological disorder as psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder. They exhibit a variety of maladaptive traits such as rarely experiencing genuine affection for others. They are skilled at faking affection, are irresponsible, impulsive, tolerate little frustration and they pursue immediate gratification.[59] Robert Hare, one of the world's leading experts on psychopathy, developed an important assessment device for psychopathy, the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. For many, this measure is the single, most important advancement to date toward what will hopefully become our ultimate understanding of psychopathy (McCann, Weiten, 641).
  • Containment theory: when an individual has a stronger conscience it will make one more tolerable to frustrations and therefore are less likely to be involved in criminal activities.[60]
  • White-collar crime: defined by Edwin Sutherland as crime committed by persons of high social position in the course of their occupation (Sutherland and Cressey, 1978:44).[61] The white-collar crime involves people making use of their occupational position to enrich themselves and others illegally, which often causes public harm.[61] In white-collar crime, public harm wreaked by false advertising, marketing of unsafe products, embezzlement, and bribery of public officials is more extensive than most people think, most of which go unnoticed and unpunished.[62]
  • Corporate crime: refers to the illegal actions of a corporation or people acting on its behalf. Corporate crime ranges from knowingly selling faulty or dangerous products to purposely polluting the environment. Like white-collar crime, most cases of corporate crime go unpunished, and many are not never even known to the public.[62]
  • Italian Mafia.[62]
  • Hate crime: a criminal act against a person or a person's property by an offender motivated by racial, ethnic, religious or other bias. Hate crimes may refer to race,ancestry,religion, sexual orientation and physical disabilities. According to a Statistics Canada publication, "Jewish" community has been the most likely the victim of hate crime in Canada during 2001-2002. Overall, about 57 percent of hate crimes are motivated by ethnicity and race, targeting mainly Blacks and Asians, while 43 percent target religion, mainly Judaism and Islam. A relatively small 9 percent is motivated by sexual orientation, targets gays and lesbians.[63]
Criminology - The scientific study of crime and criminals.


Theories in subfields of sociology


Social Exchange Theory says that the interaction that occurs between people can be partly based on what someone may "gain and lose" by being with others. For example, when people think about who they may date, they'll look to see if the other person will offer just as much (or perhaps more) than they do. This can include judging an individual's looks and appearance, or their social status.[22]

Socialization theory is an approach to understanding the means by which human infants begin to acquire the skills necessary to perform as a functional member of their society[48] Sociologists use the term socialization to refer to the lifelong social experience by which people develop their human potential and learn culture. Unlike other living species, humans need socialization within their cultures for survival.[49]

Social constructionism is a sociological theory of knowledge that considers how social phenomena develop in particular social contexts.[47]

Rational choice theory models social behavior as the interaction of utility maximizing individuals. "Rational" implies cost-effectiveness is balanced against cost to accomplish a utility maximizing interaction. Costs are extrinsic, meaning intrinsic values such as feelings of guilt will not be accounted for in the cost to commit a crime.

Pure sociology is a theoretical paradigm developed by Donald Black that explains variation in social life with social geometry, that is, locations in social space. A recent extension of this idea is that fluctuations in social space - called social time - are the cause of social conflict.[46]

Postmodernism is a theoretical perspective approach that criticises modernism and believes anti-theory and anti-method and has a great mistrust of grand theories and ideologies. Due to human subjectivity, theorists believe that discovering the objective truth is impossible or unachievable.[43] This is due to a perspective that sees society as ever-changing along with the assumption that truth is constantly subject to change. A post-modern theorist's purpose is to achieve understanding through observation, rather than data collection. This approach uses both micro and macro level analysis.[44] A question that is asked by this approach would be, "How do we understand societies or interpersonal relations, while rejecting the theories and methods of the social sciences, and our assumptions about human nature? or How does power permeate social relations or society, and change with the circumstances? "[45] An example of a prominent postmodernist is the French philosopher Michael Foucault.

Post-colonial theory is a post-modern approach that consists of the reactions to and the analysis of colonialism.

Phenomenological sociology is an approach within the field of sociology that aims to reveal what role human awareness plays in the production of social action, social situations and social worlds. In essence, phenomenology is the belief that society is a human construction. The social phenomenology of Alfred Schütz influenced the development of the social constructionism and ethnomethodology. It was originally developed by Edmund Husserl.

Network theory is a structural approach to sociology that is most closely associated with the work of Harrison White, who views norms and behaviors as embedded in chains of social relations.[39]

Positivism is a philosophy developed by Auguste Comte in the middle of the 19th century that stated that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge, and that such knowledge can only come from positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific method.[42] Society operates according to laws like the physical world. Introspective and intuitional attempts to gain knowledge are rejected. The positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of western thought, from the Ancient Egyptians to the present day.

Mathematical theory, also known as formal theory, is the use of mathematics to construct social theories. Mathematical sociology aims to take sociological theory, which is strong in intuitive content but weak from a formal point of view, and to express it in formal terms. The benefits of this approach include increased clarity and the ability to use mathematics to derive implications of a theory that cannot be arrived at intuitively. The models typically used in mathematical sociology allow sociologists to understand how predictable local interactions are often able to elicit global patterns of social structure.[41]

Middle Range theory is an approach to sociological theorizing aimed at integrating theory and empirical research. It is currently the de facto dominant approach to sociological theory construction, especially in the United States. Middle range theory starts with an empirical phenomenon (as opposed to a broad abstract entity like the social system) and abstracts from it to create general statements that can be verified by data.[40]

Interpretive sociology is a theoretical perspective based on the work of Max Weber, proposes that social, economic and historical research can never be fully empirical or descriptive as one must always approach it with a conceptual apparatus.[39]

Grounded theory is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the generation of theory from data.[38]

Field theory examines social fields, which are social environments in which competition takes place (e.g., the field of electronics manufacturers). It is concerned with how individuals construct such fields, with how the fields are structured, and with the effects the field has on people occupying different positions in it.

Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.[35] The theory focuses on how gender inequality shapes social life.[36] This approach shows how sexuality both reflects patterns of social inequality and helps to perpetuate them. Feminism, from a social conflict perspective, focuses on gender inequality and links sexuality to the domination of women by men.[37]

Engaged theory is an approach that seeks to understand the complexity of social life through synthesizing empirical research with more abstract layers of analysis, including analysis of modes of practice, and analysis of basic categories of existence such a time, space, embodiment, and knowledge.

Dramaturgy or Dramaturgical Perspective is a specialized symbolic interactionism paradigm developed by Erving Goffman, seeing life as a performance. As "actors," we have a status, which is the part that we play, where we are given various roles.[31] These roles serve as a script, supplying dialogue and action for the characters (the people in reality).[32] They also involve props and certain settings. For instance, a doctor (the role), uses instruments like a heart monitor (the prop), all the while using medical terms (the script), while in his doctor's office (the setting).[28] In addition, our performance is the "presentation of self," which is how people perceive us, based on the ways in which we portray ourselves.[33] This process, sometimes called impression management, begins with the idea of personal performance.[34]

Critical theory is a lineage of sociological theory, with reference to such groups as the Frankfurt School, that aims to critique and change society and culture, not simply to document and understand it.[30]

Anomie theory, seeks to understand normlessness, where society provides little moral guidance to individuals.[28] Sociologist Emile Durkheim observed that social periods of disruption in greater anomie and higher rates of suicide and crimes.[29] Merton theorizes that anomie (normative breakdown) and some forms of deviant behavior derive largely from a disjunction between “culturally prescribed aspirations” of a society and “socially structured avenues for realizing those aspirations. In The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim described anomie as one result of an inequitable division of labour within the society. Broadly speaking, then, during times of great upheaval, increasing numbers of individuals’ ‘cease to accept the moral legitimacy of society,” as sociologist Anthony R. Mawson, University of Keele, UK, notes.[29]

List of contemporary theories

Utilitarianism is often referred to as ASA president James Coleman.


Peter Blau. It is also in this tradition that the radical-empirical approach of Ethnomethodology emerges from the work of Harold Garfinkel.

Symbolic Interactionism

Social conflict is the struggle between segments of society over valued resources.[20] From the perspective of social conflict theory, in the West, by the nineteenth century, a small population had become capitalists. Capitalists are people who own and operate factories and other businesses in pursuit of profits. In other words, they own virtually all large-scale means of production. However, capitalism turned most other people into industrial workers, whom Marx called proletarians. Proletarians are people who, because of the structure of capitalist economy, must sell their labor for wages. Conflict theories draw attention to power differentials, such as class, gender and race conflict, and contrast historically dominant ideologies. It is therefore a macro level analysis of society that sees society as an arena of inequality that generates conflict and social change.[21] Karl Marx is the father of the social conflict theory, which is a component of the four major paradigms of sociology. Other important sociologists associated with this theory include Harriet Martineau, Jane Addams and W.E.B. Du Bois. This sociological approach doesn't look at how social structures help society to operate, but instead looks at how "social patterns" can cause some people in society to be dominant, and others to be oppressed.[22] However, some criticisms to this theory are that it disregards how shared values and the way in which people rely on each other help to unify the society.[22]

Conflict theory

[19] states: "Functionalist thought, from Comte onwards, has looked particularly towards biology as the science providing the closest and most compatible model for social science. Biology has been taken to provide a guide to conceptualizing the structure and the function of social systems and to analyzing processes of evolution via mechanisms of adaptation ... functionalism strongly emphasizes the pre-eminence of the social world over its individual parts (i.e. its constituent actors, human subjects)."Giddens. As social evolutionism Classical functionalist theory is generally united by its tendency towards biological analogy and notions of [18]. It is in Radcliffe-Brown's specific usage that the prefix 'structural' emerged.Alfred Radcliffe-Brown and Bronisław Malinowski, Marcel Mauss The perspective was implicit in the original sociological positivism of Comte, but was theorized in full by Durkheim, again with respect to observable, structural laws. Functionalism also has an anthropological basis in the work of theorists such as [17]

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