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Lecture 2

Lecture 2 January 17.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Matthias Koenig

SOC377 -Action and structure  Dichotomy of micro and macro – society and normative background of modernity, modern society emphasizes individual freedom  Experiences of increasingly dramatic forms of social control, bureaucratic state, capitalist markets which reduce liberty of individuals to a certain extent  Normative idea of modernity, experiences of social control – background with conceptualizing action and structure  Initial works of political philosophy plus the classics (Durkheim and Weber)  Durkheim concept of order and macro Attempts to find theoretical frameworks to combine some subjective perceived reality with objective social order Today- Parsons – 40s and 50s theorists, shaped discipline with approach to sociological theory labelled as structural functionalism. He still influences today – concept of role and institution, differentiation… a lot of criticism against him… 1. Background on Parsons and background conception on science which is important in understanding his social science 2. Focus on early part of work connected to voluntaristic theory of action 3. Overview on his later work on which he moves to more systems theoretical approach – continues some of his main ideas he had developed before Good starting point in linking micro and macro 1. Background concept on science 1902-1979 - Studied biology and economics at German university where Weber taught. Here he discovered Weber’s work… - Since 1931 talk of Parsons shaped US American sociology in post war - Interest in Weber, translated much of his work + post war period retranslated Weber to German sociology which was strongly influenced by right wing writers - Post-war period and re-education run by Americans Weber was reintroduced to Germans (histothcal interest which captures dynamics of diffusion between national societies in 20 century) - Parsons was heavily influenced by philosophers of science (Henderson, Whitehead – important to understand Parsons because they formed the idea of analytical realism) - Analytical realism: a concept of science that emphasizes science deals with reality, approach to understand reality (nature or society) but it does capture reality only through conceptual framework- similar position to Kant’s framework- Henderson Whitehead applied it to more natural science rather than social sciences - Core idea- reality in which we are interested when dealing with science is only approached in the lenses of conceptual framework- *conceptual framework, lenses, try to refine - Scientific progress achieved through transformation of categories into positive part of conceptual framework which is the basic goal of science under political reality - Further development of conceptual framework - Concept of conceptual framework – is important because this is how Parsons understand “theory” ( last week narrow and wide- one concerned with testable hypotheses and the other more broad conceptual theories and concepts through which we understand) 2. His early work- - Voluntaristic theory of action – basic book he wrote was from 1937 Structure of Social Action – indicates the problem trying to be addressed- mainly how we try to analyze action as being voluntaristic based on free world which ends up in objectively discernable action – the structure that emerges from voluntaristic action- in this book he tries to lay foundation for conceptual framework trying to explain action - Book starts with a problem taken from political philosophy – philosopher used was Thomas Hobbes (17 century, theory of sovereign state- problem Parsons takes with Hobbes’ political philosophy is the question of social order and how is social order possible given the different interests of actors =- problem that comes from Hobbes’ state of nature- Hobbes’ said beings are self-interested beings in state of nature in which there is an automatic consequence of war due to pursuit of self-interest= form of social chaos and disorder) - Hobbes own theory – state of nature to civil society is the transfer of some actions in self-interest to state which exercises force to moderate pursuit of all actors. - Parsons says Hobbes’s solution is not good, we do not observe that people only bracket only self-interest- and it is not force that we only observe in social order – how are these social orders possible given differences? - Tradition of political philosophy continuing after Hobbes- 2 responses to Hobbes: 1) utilitarian action theory 2) idealistic) - 1. Utilitarian- actors pursue interests and out of interconnectedness of interests, through an invisible hand (Adam smith) social order would emerge o Problems: assume positivistic that individuals pursue interests like in behaviourism without responsive to rules - 2. Individuals act not out of interest but in response to ideas and norms they take as given and which they conform to o Conforming would be default- voluntarism Parsons basic idea in his book- Early sociological theory as converged around similar ideas which can be described as voluntaristic theory of action to which corresponds the normative theory of social order. To formulate the theory that captures the voluntaristic element in action and captures the normative element in social order. Social order is not alone, also normative- which allows voluntaristic- if only focus on force, action would not be voluntaristic. - Core idea of book How Parsons constructs order, action, norms…  theory of institutions in article Starting point for all forms of action theory in Parsons view is the assumption of an actor that pursues “ends” given certain “means” – the means ends scheme is the core concept with which we think about action. - Any form of action theory must go beyond behaviourist theory assuming actors have ends, and reach it via means - These means together with external conditions over which the actor has no control are what Parsons calls “the situation” – the actor pursues ends or goals in a given situation characterized by the availability of means to which he has access and external positions with which available means which he does not have any control - In addition to means, ends and conditions- Parsons assumes that action always takes place in the presence of norms that regulate the selection of ends and means - And together these concepts form the “unit act” - Unit act – a system composed of an actor in a situation with means and conditions pursuing certain ends in the presence of given norms - To what extent is action voluntaristic? Given these various concepts of unit act - Parsons says action is voluntaristic because in the view of the actor the pursuit of means and ends is goal oriented and at the same time there are norms taken into account in which actor is aware not of random ends – argument against utilitarian position. Parsons assumes actors can have all kinds of different ends. The choice between ends cannot be done via rationality. Rationality arrives in the selection of means to pursue given ends. – Proponent of rational choice theory in some sense. Actors do engage in rational choices of means given their ends. IF we assume position of utilitarianism we would have to chose random ends which he argues against. That would mean people would not have a reason for whatever goals or ends - Norms are the necessary elements for selection of ends, actors do not chose ends randomly but rather with a normative preference which they take from wider society and having taken these preferences there rational choice relates preferential ends to existing conditions. - If we focus on second actor- concept of harmonization of means ends scheme - Ends must be normative- when looking at two actors it is clear - Even if we look at one actor- we need concept of norms- to have basis for choosing ends Text on institutions – Parsons Starts with scheme of means and ends – refines it in some ways – tries to make the argument that there are chains of means and ends in which ends become means. And in which means are ends. These chains are not infinite but have logical end points. The one end point being ultimate conditions- that is means found and not yet conceivable yet of being ends of another actor- like available resources for pursuit of economic goals- conditions not end of another actor- There are also ultimate ends- goals that are not means for higher goals any longer. (ends cannot be transformed into means for something else) – logically the concept of values – values are ultimate ends that enter into ends mean scheme because we can pursue ends that are means to reach a given value like justice… but the values cannot become means for higher values. Institutions = introduced as a “system of norms” that are derived from the ultimate ends and that in turn facilitate the selection and relation of different ends to one another for the individual actor and also in the social to impact actors. Institutions are systems of norms, systems that make pursual of ends possible for actor by excluding some ends from choice in given situation. So degree of choice decreased through some system of ends, not all means legitimate for pursual of ends. Parsons trying to differentiate certain ends One form of means ends relationship which recei
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