Week 1 and 2 Lecture, Sept 6/2013
Theoretical concepts have a role in:
Shaping the direction of research
Comte: came up with the term (LOGY: study a high level, SOCIO: points to society)
Social Philosophy is much older than sociology, came up in ancient Greece, blossomed during the
enlightenment. Social philosophers study what ought to be where as sociologists study what is
Sociologists are often interested in reoccurring pattern; similar to historians they look at past events
but keep an eye out for patterns
Historically, Sociological Classical theory written between the time of the great French Revolution
17891799 and WW1 (1919)
Monday, September 9 , 2013
2. THE VALUE OF THEORY:THE CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE OF OLD
THEORY theories are explanations – models, social theories suggest causes
Identification of causes are the heart of theories. ‘Models’ are approximations of how society works.
Models are theories when we choose to see society in a particular way (i.e. society can be seen as
a complex computer system used as a means of communication).
theories are road maps (Hurst)
Hurst said theories are like road maps allowing us to explore reality and understand its terrain. This
is limiting in the way that some readers/road maps are better than others. Different perspectives
see it differently. Applying different theoretical orientations will get different results.
different sociological perspectives see problems in unique ways
‘The Sociological Imagination’ – social science should aim at helping people understand their
“private troubles” in terms of “public issues” (C. Wright Mills, early to mid 1900’s
• Mills argues – adequate social science should have practical importance for the average citizen
Mills: social science should allow us to solve our own personal issues. Social science theories
should have practical importance for everyday people.
What could be so practical about looking at these older theorists?
1) All living in societies undergoing wide ranging social changes
2) Each concerned with the character and direction of modern society
e.g. division of labor, bureaucracy, alienation, class struggle (these all examined these in different
3) All were involved in the societies of their time
Marx – newspaper, he believed the division of labor wasn’t just, some have more opportunities than
Weber – political activities
Durkhiem – socially involved, he thought the division of labor was just
Simmel – love, conflict, life(We won’t be discussing him in the course), he reached out to non
Harriet Martineau – women’s issues
Large frameworks for sociology: Functional
Interpretive: how people view or measure society and the meaning attached to them
The Women Founders of the Social Sciences by Lynn McDonald (1996) Women:
Women: did not have the institutions to support them that men did, excluded from universities, no
schools promote their work, few biographies
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
3. THE NATURE AND TYPES OF SOCIOLOGICAL THOUGHT: POSITIVISM,
Did not have the institutions men have had to support each other’s work excluded from
universitiesno schools to promote their workfew biographies
Positivism is nomothetic – it seeks generalizable, universally applicable laws
prediction and control
logic of explanation – ability to predict environments
Interpretive Theory – study of society that focuses on the meanings people attach to their
social worlds (hermeneutical theorists)
symbols are learned
relies on qualitative data
Critical Theory – focus on the need for social change
• the concept of authority and power relations and power dynamics between individuals
Didn’t become a part of human understanding until the enlightenment. It develops an
understanding of how dominance is institutionalized in society. PracticalApplication of Positivism and CriticalApproach
• positivist uses scientific method to study factory labourers
• critical theorist looks at conditions of labour – is it just? th
Social Philosophy was originally more descriptive, but once on the 18 century they
realized it wasn’t solving problems and they then turned to science.
4. EXPANSION ON THEORTECTICAL FRAMEWORKS KEY CONCEPTS AND
requires a commitment to
determinism – cause and effect relations
Empiricism (experience in greek) empirical knowledge about the external world is grounded in
what we learn from our sense perceptions
Still, the meaning of such info has to be interpreted
Positivism and Empiricism is not the same. You can still be empirical and still hold a different
Empiricism refers to the attempt at explanation of social phenomena, the search of regularities and,
as much as possible, the search for casual relations that determine them.
determinism – causeeffect relations
empiricism (empeiria – Greek for experience) empirical knowledge about the external world is
grounded in what we learn from our sense perceptions
still, the meaning of such info has to be interpreted
empiricism refers to the attempt at explanation of social phenomena, the search for regularities
and, as much as possible, the search for
causal relations that determine them (McDonald, Women Founders, p.19) • probability
Objectivity is never fully achieved because we can’t know everything, and there are so many
perspectives in some way there will be bias and influence
objectivity is a goal – never fully achieved
subjective views guide the choice of research questions, but we must be objective when looking at
the data. Every attempt at objectively is us trying to put our own beliefs away.
Positivistic analysis contains several levels of description, including:
1) Abstract theory: theories which are specifically looking at patterns and relationships between
variables i.e. playing violent video games (because of these games, we are not more aggressive or
supportive of violence but desensitized).
2) Particular concepts: isolating important variables
3) Operational definitions: to do with measurement, i.e. how we decide to measure violence or any
4) Description of sense impressionssome argue all positivists , in a sense, are hermeneutists too
(interpretive theory). The positivists have to learn to interpret.
Critical Evaluation of Positivism – particularly by critical theorists
critical theorists – prefer to focus on human activity, they critique positivism, positivism lose the
people themselves and only pay attention to the numbers. They condemn positivism for being
passive and losing the idea that actors are critical.
Habarmas – positivism loses sight of the actors
it is inherently conservative, incapable of challenging the existing system
How can we assume that society has a “natural” order?
Limitations of Positivism
1) human behaviour is too complex for prediction, to allow sociologists to predict humans precisely
(it’s cant be the don