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Theoretical Ideas of Talcott Parsons (Lectures).docx

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David Young

A Biographical Sketch of Talcott Parsons a) Early life  1902 in Colorado Springs  Religious & intellectual background  Father a professor at Colorado College  1924 – graduated from Amherst College (Massachusetts)  Fluent in German b) University Education  1925 – Started a Ph.D at University of Heidelberg (Germany)  Had a connection with Weber’s widow & had intellectual discussions with her  Parsons did an analysis of how capitalism has been addressed by German Scholars c) Marriage and Family  1927 – married Helen Walker, met Helen when he had started graduate work at the London School of Economics  Had 3 children d) University Career  1927 - Became a prof at Harvard University  Started in the dept. of economics, transferred to sociology  1930 - Published an English translation of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism  1939 – published The Structure of Social Action  Provided an analysis of the writings of Durkheim & Weber  Book important in bringing the work of Durkheim & Weber to American sociologists  1944 – became the chair of the dept. of Sociology at Harvard  1951 – published The Social System  Parsons set out many of his main theoretical ideas about structural functionalism  Became the dominant figure in American sociology for a time e) End of Life  1973 – Retired from Harvard  1979 – died at the age of 76  Gave a lecture to well known German sociologists the day before he died The Theoretical Ideas of Talcott Parsons A) Theoretical Approach 1) Grand Theory  Describes Parsons’ Work  C. Wright Mills called the work of Parsons “grand theory”  Mills being sarcastic because he did not like Parsons’ work  Several characteristics:  1 – extremely elaborate & highly abstract  2 – at the macro level of analysis (entire society), and tries to explain all aspects of society  3 – seeks to have universal application to every society 2) Theory and Research  Interested in developing a broad, general, theory of society that other sociologists could apply in their research on various societies  Emphasized deduction  Deduction: Theory  Hypotheses  Observations (research)  Sociologists would take aspects of his theory and use it to create hypotheses  Once sociologists had applied his theories, he thought that research would feed back into the theory B) The AGIL Scheme  Function: a complex of activities directed towards meeting a need, or needs of the systems’  Certain functions have to be met within a system, if that system is going to survive  Adaptation (A): a system must cope with external conditions in the environment  Goal Attainment (G): the system must define and achieve its primary objectives  Integration (I): a system must regulate the interrelationships among the component parts  Latency (L) or pattern maintenance: system must generate and sustain the motivation of individuals C) Overview of the Action Systems 1) Action Systems and AGIL  The Behavioural Organism (Adaptation)  Adjusts and transforms the external environment  The Personality
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