Sociological Theory -2040
September 19, 13
Theory: a system of generalized statements or proposals about experiences
There is a difference between scientific theories and other idea systems such as
the ones found in religion or philosophy.
1) Explain and predict the phenomena in question
-Relate things to each other
2) Produce testable and therefore falsifiable hypothesis
Theories in social sciences are different from theories in the natural sciences
because social sciences are when we study human beings where as in natural
sciences we study objects such as atoms. Sociological theories are more
evaluative and critical than natural sciences.
There are different levels of theories:
Macro perspective vs. Micro perspective
Major approaches/Paradigms in sociology
Universal laws are intended to explain and predict events occurring in the natural
or physical world. Ex: Isaac Newton founded 3 laws of motion. 1 Law: the law of
inertia which states that objects in motion will remain in motion, while objects at
rest will remain at rest unless are acted on by another force.
What we’ll learn:
(Fall term) Classical: theories that are from mid 19 - early 20 century
(Winter term) Contemporary: from 1935 to present Theory:
Talks about social life and social reality
Example: Crime, homeless people
Theories try to make logical explanations that may explain society
A theory is a system of interconnected ideas that organizes knowledge
about the social world
Why do people commit crimes?
You try to explain crime rates and in order to explain it you need to relate it
to other factors
Ex: crime rates are increasing due to economic conditions
Ex: how does the media affect us?
Major Approaches/Paradigms in sociology:
Positivism: positivism is the approach of natural sciences. You can see how
things react in a lab you can measure it. (Sciences) it means using natural
science methods. Positivists. Say that social sciences should use the same
methods that are used in natural sciences. We should use “empiricism”, which
means you can experience, see and observe. It means it is tangible. For example
we can observe the patterns in society. Example: social science experiments
where you can put people in certain situations and see how they work.
They also use a “deductive” approach. This means that before we start working
on any problem, you have a question and a theory in your mind. For example:
how are crime rates related to economic crisis? For example if I wanted to do
research I would start with a theory that might say crime rates increase after
class. If you start with an assumption it means deductive. And then you go
observe and test your hypothesis. People who take a positivists approach means
that we should have the problem in our mind FIRST and then go observe and
test if its true. Positivists believe that we should rely on scientific statements
that are objective (value free, no judgment)
Some theorists are positivists
There are some theorists who claim that positivism wouldn’t work in social
sciences because we are working with human beings. These people are called
Interpretivism. They think that natural science methods are limited. They prefer
to use “inductive methods”, which are subjective methods. They don’t start with a
hypothesis in mind but they have an idea in mind. Example: I wonder why the
crime rates are increasing. You don’t say the reason before you observe. This is
because if you already think that you may force yourself to find something that
proves it. Your theory comes from the process of observation instead of you always having it. You should be able to understand your research subjects who
are HUMAN BEINGS. These people think we cannot be objective because we
are human beings and have values that we cannot ignore but we must include
these values and meanings into research.
-Research is not value-free because we are human beings and we have values
- Activists believe we should take action and do something to change this
- For example: although we are trying to find the reason behind the increasing
crime rates, we must do something to decrease it.
=Praxis: social theory and everyday practice work together. They do not JUST
talk about society but they change society
-They believe we should use theories to make people realize these social
injustice’s and show people what’s actually happening behind the curtains.
-Machines that replaced hand done work
-Mechanization began in the textile business
-Things became more affordable
-1 person can do the work of many
-Industrialists (people who owned these factories)
-Industrial revolution brought work to some but also brought pollution to cities
-Today we live in a global village, which is brought by technological revolution
What distinguishes a micro level theory from a macro level theory? Examples
French revolution: 1789
-Political transformation where people were experiencing problems such as an
economic crisis and people who were frustrated with the king and the church.
-People wanted to change the economical and political system.
-The French revolution started in France BUT effected Europe, America and all
over the world.
-Old-fashioned, aristocratic, religious privileges faded
-It was the first time people were given rights
-First time democracy was introduced
-Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen
-Time where people started talking about rights including womens rights The enlightenment: 17 & 18 centuries
-Big cultural movement of intellectuals
-The purpose was to change society and advance knowledge in society
-They put emphasis on scientific thinking because people didn’t rely on science
for knowledge but also relied on religion, common sense, and traditions
-This was the first time we saw the development of civil society
-It was the first time citizens thought about the economic, political, and cultural
conditions of society
-People began doing this now because they used to never have a say in anything
because the king ruled everything but after the French revolution people began
to have a say
-Enlightenment put emphasis on reasoned investigation and systematic
observation of phenomena
-Science and experiential research
-first time they divorced theories that were based on religion
In the mid 19 century a new science emerged called SOCIOLOGY
-People started thinking that we should be able to study these changes in society
-They said society could also be the subject of scientific examination
-Scientifically explain both the causes and the effects of social change
First sociological thinker:
Auguste Comte who coined the term sociology in 1839
-He use the term social physics to refer to sociology
Clearly he is a positivist
-He also talked about social evolution and how society changes in time
Emile Durkheim: talked about social facts and talked about the conditions
around us, which determine our actions, he called them social facts. He said
there are external forces that shape our behavior. To him this should be our topic
in sociology. He says we should study how these social factors change us.
PQ: What does Emile Durkheim mean when he argued that External forces that
shape our behavior?
Karl Marx (communist): talks about economic dynamics (changes) of capitalism
and social and moral problems
Max Weber: Talks about the material conditions and idea systems of modern
September 26 13
Karl Marx: Activist, communist Pursued to explain the nature of the capitalist economies that came to the
forefront in western Europe in the 18 and 19 centuries
He predicted that capitalism would be replaced by communism
Core ideas: reaction to the awful economic and social conditions brought
on by the industrial revolution.
After industrial revolution people moved to big cities to work at factories.
Working at the factory provided more money and the land was being sold.
Marx was basically writing about this new society
Marx aim was NOT to interpret what was going on but he also wanted to
According to Marx: people from economic classes and forces/ means of
Means of production = raw materials, technology, machines, factories,
and land that are necessary for the production of goods
Question: is a muffin tray is a means of production? Answer: TRUE and FALSE
depending on the aim
- Forces of production: also includes labor power (skills and knowledge) along
with the mean