Sociological Foundations II:
Founders of Sociological Thought
Key Terms and people:
• August Comte
• Emile Durkheim
• Social Solidarity
• Max Weber
• Karl Marx
• Materialist Approach
• Class conflict
• Social Class
• Harriet Martineau
• Critical Race Theory
Postmodern Social Theory:
• Societies characterized by postindustrialization, consumerism, and global
communications bring into question existing assumptions about social life and the
nature of reality
• Reaction against modern theory
• Deconstruct—take apart—modern theories
• Key terms:
• Inspired often by the postmodern culture in which we live
• Attempt to rethink a number of Enlightenment concepts that are taken for granted
by other theorists
• All the different paradigms can be applied to the same topic—but the analysis will
be different Sociological Paradigms
• Structural functionalism stability
• Conflict theory inequality
• Symbolic interactionism symbols and interaction
• Feminism gender
• Postmodernism deconstruction
Emergence of Sociology as a Discipline
Sociology emerged in the late 19th and the early 20th century as an attempt to
understand the rapid social change accompanying the transition to ‘Modernity’
The founders focus:
• Each founder focused on the transition from feudalism to industrial capitalism,
premodern to modern society.
• Change and Stability
Early thinkers: a concern with social order and stability
• Natural scientists had been using reason, or rational thinking, to discover the laws
of physics and the movement of the planets.
• Social thinkers began to believe that by applying the methods developed by the
natural sciences, they might discover the laws of human behaviour and apply
these laws to solve social problems.
August Comte and the emergence of sociology:
We should study social reality using a scientific approach. We should call this sociology
What holds individuals together in social institutions? What holds society together?
Emile Durkheim (1858–1917)
• Wanted to establish sociology as a legitimate science that could make a positive
contribution to social order.
• Overriding concern: Social order and stability.
• Intense dislike of social disorder.
1. The degree to which group members share beliefs and values
2. The intensity and frequency of their interactions
• Breakdown of social norms • Norms no longer control the activities of members in society
• Social disorder
Durkheim argues that weak social bonds can lead to selfdestructive behaviour
Exs: Lindsay lohan and Amanada Bynes
Max Weber (18641920):
How do social actors conceptualize their social action?
• Considered sociology to be about understanding and explaining individual social
Human social action:
• Social behaviour and actions have subjective meanings to the actor.
• We should try to uncover and understand these motives and subjective meanings.
• German word which means ‘understanding’ or ‘insight’
• Weber used it to mean understanding arrived at through empathetic connection
with the actor.
• Stresses the importance of taking into account people’s emotions, thoughts,
beliefs, and attitudes
• Weber was also concerned that largescale organizations (bureaucracies) were
becoming increasingly oriented toward routine administration and a specialized
division of labour,
• He believed this was destructive to human vitality and freedom.
Weber today: rationalization:
• The process by which traditional methods of social organization, characterized by
informality and spontaneity, are gradually replaced by efficiently administered
formal rules and procedures
• McDonaldization is the term invented by George Ritzer
• Refers to products that are standardised all over the world.
“The process by which the principles of the fastfood restaurant are coming to dominate
more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world” (Ritzer 1993:
In a country so rich how can so many people be so poor?
Karl marx (18181883):
• Inequality was the key feature of any society
• Society’s system of production shapes everything