Classical Social Theories
o Started work in early 1900s.
o Argue that societies work the way we design them to work
o Argue that institutions do what we believe they do
The 70's: equal rights for women, Vietnam War, cold war, changed the way people thought. Began
questioning civil rights, people started to fight for civil right.
o Sociologists saw the society doesn't work the way we believe it to work (functionalist). Only
works for people who had power.
o Began to question how things worked, became critical of how things worked.
o Functionalist argument was that everything worked properly, did not believe in social change.
Influenced by Marx
o Argue that society is not operating the way we think they should and the way we've designed
o Institutions work for certain class groups; education provides a way for those who are
advantaged to maintain their advanced position
o All in competition
How people create their own social reality
How do people work things out together
Theory: statement that tries to explain how facts and events are related. Theories are positivistic
o Develop skills necessary to see the world from alternative perspectives
o Above are the sociological perspectives
o Each theory offers unique insights into our social world.
Objective vs. subjective reality. Objective = positivist, subjective = antipositivist
Epistemology: "ways of knowing". Each theory/perspective is a different way of knowing and
Philosophical Roots of Sociology
Thomas Hobbes; people were responsible for creating their social world therefore society could be
changed through conscious reflection. Conflicted with earlier belief that humans existed by virtue of
god and possessed little individual agency. First theorist to view people as responsible and
accountable for society they created. Well known for analysis on how humans existed before formal
social structures, called the natural state. Believed people existed as all other animals did, and
motivated by self interest and pursuit of power. The existence would have been brutal since
everyone was in competition, and the only way to gain peace would be to enter a collective agreement. They would have to give up some individual freedom and autonomy to an authority.
Role of government was to preserve peace and allow individuals to fulfill personal interests. Since
the government is the result of the collective will the collective has the right to revolt against it
should it fail to fulfill obligations. It was the responsibility of the collective to overthrow a corrupt
government. Asserted that individuals are the building blocks of society, and the government has a
responsibility to preserve individual's ability to achieve self interests while protecting everyone from
others' self serving inclinations.
John Locke; argued that god was responsible for the emergence of society and government. Had the
idea that everyone was born as a blank slate (tabula rasa) and no knowledge can be independent of
experience. Believed god granted certain rights to people (self preservation and private property),
and that individuals had a right to autonomy. In contrast to Hobbes, Locke believed that the state
was more about preserving an individual's right to maintain property than protection from war. In
essence, the government has no rights, just obligations to society. Again, if the government failed in
its obligations, it was the responsibility of the collective to overthrow it. Also advocated formal
separation of church and state, saying that whatever was deemed lawful was beyond the influence
of the church, and that if mistakes were made that were inconsistent with god's will, those mistakes
would be judged by god alone and not religious zealots. Contribution to social theory was advocacy
of individual freedom and autonomy.
Charles de Montesquieu; challenged views of Locke and Hobbes by suggesting that people never
existed without society, and instead of humans defining and creating society, they were defined and
created by society. Believed that analysing laws of society enable us to see what is important to
society. Employed ideal types (form closest to perfect form) to categorize three types of
government: republic (two forms, aristocracy and democracy), monarchy, and despotism. Each form
of government demonstrated different underlying social principles, virtue of the republic, honour of
the monarchy and fear of the despotism. Contribution to sociological theory is appreciation for
cultural diversity and comparative methodology (allowed social scientists to analyse various social
phenomena cross nationally)
Jean Jacques Rousseau; agreed with Montesquieu that humans existed in a state of nature that he
called presocial, believed the natural state was primitive before laws or morality. However, he did
not believe the natural state was awful and there was constant competition, instead, people existed
in symbiotic relationship based on equality. Understanding our basic nature and human condition
was necessary to build a society that most closely resembled our natural tendencies and desires
(perfect society would be like our natural state). Social problems came from inconsistency between
natural rules and social arrangements. Government was needed to protect people from each other
and secure their private property. Believed people enter into a social contract free and equal.
Contribution to social theory was analysis of social contract and belief in autonomy of the individual.
o Represents intellectual movement that began around 1650 and ended with the French
o Challenged Christian scholarship
o Philosophes: philosophers who advocated critical thinking and practical knowledge. Built on
natural sciences. Fought attempts to limit free thinking and expression and believed that
human condition could be improved for all.
o Saw humans as engaged and autonomous beings
o Sociology more focused on reaction against Enlightenment ideas
o Conservatives promoted return to earlier times when society was more stable. Challenged
basis of enlightenment thinkingo Conservatives believed society was not the product of individuals but an entity in itself. It
exists on its own, independent of individuals
o Other conservative thoughts: society is the most important unit of social analysis, it produces
the individual, not the other way around; individuals not the basic unit of social interest,
society consists of components (roles, relationships, structures) and individuals simply fill
these components; smallest unit of social analysis is the family; parts of society are
interrelated and interdependent; change is a threat to individuals and society as a whole;
social institutions are beneficial to both individuals and society as a whole; modern social
changes (industrialization, urbanization) are disorganizing and create fear and anxiety, need to
be diminished; advocate return of social hierarchies because they promote system of
differential status and reward, healthy competition is a good thing
View the social world as system of interdependent and interrelated parts. When one part fails, the
dependent parts fail as well.
Social structures exist to help people fulfill wants and desires as defined by social values;