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Lecture 14

2S06 Lecture 14.5.docx

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David Young

Fox 1 Lecture 14.5 Monday October 28, 2013 (No class Thursday October 31) A Biography Sketch of Talcott Parsons A. Early life - Born in 1902, in Colorado Springs, Colorado - He came from a religious and intellectual background and that’s because his father was a minister and his father was also professor at Colorado College B. University life - Graduated from Amherst College - Started his graduate school at London School of Economics - He decided not to stay and decided to go to a German University as he was fluent - In 1925 he left London School and started his PhD at Heidelberg (where Weber started his Law School, left and then returned as a professor) - Parsons and Weber never met - However, there was a connection o Came through Weber’s widow, Marianne o She was a leader of the German feminist movement where Parson attended some meetings - Parsons was greatly influenced by Weber’s work and read his work - He decided to deal with Weber in part of his PhD dissertation - He decided to do an analysis of how capitalism has been addressed by German scholars and that would include Weber’s work C. Marriage and Family - He married Helen Walker- 1927 - Met her at London school of Economics - Had 3 children D. University Career - Parsons became a professor at Harvard University - He started out in the department of economics but a few years later he transferred to sociology at Harvard in 1930 - Published English Translation of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and got it published in 1930 - He makes Weber’s work more accessible to English language audiences - 1939 published The Structure of Social Action o This book provided an analysis of the writings of Durkheim and Weber and since most American sociologists were not familiar with Durkheim and Weber, the book brought the work of these 2 classical theorists to American Sociologists - 1944 he became the Chair of the Department of Sociology at Harvard - 1951 published The Social System o Importance: in The Social System that Parsons set out his main theoretical idea about structural functional o Due to the influence of this book, he became the dominant figure in American Sociology E. Later Life and Death - He retired from Harvard in 1973, he stayed there for his entire career - He died in 1979 at the age of 76 - At the time he died, he was in Munich, Germany to deliver a lecture to social theorists The Theoretical Ideas of Talcott Parsons A. Theoretical Approach 1. Grand theory - This is not a term that Parson used to describe his own work, rather a term someone else came up with to describe his work - The term comes from C. Wright Mills - What did Mills mean? o He was being sarcastic here, not complementary because Mills did not like Parson’s work  He saw it as problematic - Mills did capture different aspects of his work through this term and has several characteristics 1. Grand theory is extremely elaborate and highly abstract 2. It is at the macro level of analysis, grand theory is at the entire society and it tries to explain all aspects of society 3. It seeks to have universal application – in seeking to have universal application, it is applicable to every society – general theory of society and then can be applied to different societies 2. Theory and Research - He was interested in developing a broad and general theory of society that other sociologists could apply in their research - He emphasised deduction Deduction Theory  hypothesis  observation (research) How is this connected to Parson’s work? - Sociologists would take aspects of his general theory of society and out of those aspects sociologists would formulate hypothesis - Hypothesis are empirical expectations of what you want to find - Even though he emphasised deduction, he made some observations that fed back into theory o Even though he say this, he believed theory had primacy over research B. The AGIL Scheme - A function is a complex of activities directed toward meeting a need or needs of the system - His idea was that certain functions would have to be met within a system if that system is going to survive - He identified 4 functions which work toward meeting the system o Adaptation  A system must cope with external conditions in the environment o Goal attainment  That a system must define and achieve its primary objectives o Integration  A system must regulate the inter relationships among component parts o Latency (L) or Patten Maintenance  This function involves that a system must generate and sustain motivation of individuals - This is the foundation for his work, he used it for his work C. Overview of the Action System 1. - First system o Behavioural organism (adaptation) - handles the function of adaptation because it adjusts and transforms the external environment - Second system o The Personality system (goal attainment)- defines the goals and mobilizes resources to achieve these goals - Third system o The Social system (integration)- the social system controls relations between its component parts - Fourth system o Cultural system (latency)- the cultural system provides people with norms and values that motivate and guide their actions 2. Parson was very interested in Social Order - These action systems provided social order for society - How is this the case? o They all have their function for society and that function is geared towards maintaining society just the way it is - How is this the case? o The social system controls the relations between its component parts, then the social system is contributing to social order o Issue of order in other systems- cultural system o The cultural system provides norms and values – they are
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