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Unformatted text preview: radically different from that of former ages; it is the task of so- ciology to help us understand this world and what future it is likely to hold for us. The Development of Sociological Thinking Trying to understand something as complex as the impact of industrialization on society raises the importance of theory to sociology. Factual research shows how things occur. Yet sociol— ogy does not just consist of collecting facts, however important and interesting they may be. We also want to know why things happen, and in order to do so we have to learn to construct ex- planatory theories. For instance we know that industrializa— tion has had a major influence on the emergence of modern societies. But what are the origins and preconditions of indus— trialization? Why do we find differences between societies in their industrialization processes? Why is industrialization as- sociated with changes in ways of criminal punishment, or in family and marriage systems? To respond to such questions, we have to develop theoretical thinking. Theories and Theoretical Approaches Theories involve constructing abstract interpretations that can be used to explain a wide variety of situations. Of course, factual research and theories can never completely be sepa- rated. We can only develop valid theoretical approaches if we are able to test them out by means of factual research. We need theories to help us make sense of facts. Contrary to pop- ular assertion, facts do not speak for themselves. Many sociol- ogists work primarily on factual research, but unless they are guided by some knowledge of theory, their work is unlikely to explain the complexity of modern societies. This is true even of research carried out with strictly practical objectives. Without a theoretical approach, we would not know what to look for in begirming a study or in interpreting the results of research. However; the illumination of factual evidence is not the only reason for the prime position of theory in sociology. Theoretical thinking must respond to general problems posed by the study of human social life, including issues that are philosophical in nature. Deciding to what extent sociology should be modeled on the natural sciences are questions that do not yield easy solutions. They have been handled in different ways in the various theoretical approaches that have sprung up in the discipline. Early Theorists We human beings have always been curious about the sources of our own behavior; but for thousands of years our attempts to understand ourselves relied on ways of thinking passed down from generation to generation, often expressed in religious terms. Although writers from earlier periods provided insights into human behavior and society, the systematic study of soci— ety is a relatively recent development whose beginnings date back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. The background to the origins of sociology was the series of sweeping changes ush- ered in by the French Revolution of 1789 and the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. The shattering of tradi- tional ways of life wrought by these changes resulted in the at- tempts of thinkers to develop a new understanding of both the social and natural worlds. A key development was the use of science instead of reli— gion to understand the world. The types of questions these nineteenth-century thinkers sought to answer—What is human nature? Why is society structured like it is? How and why do societies change?—are the same questions sociologists try to answer today. AUGUSTE COMTE There were many contributors to early sociological thinking. Particular prominence, however; is usually given to the French author Auguste Comte (1798—1857), if only because he invented the word sociology. Comte originally used the term social physics, but some of his intellectual rivals at the time were also Auguste Comte (1798—1857). 10 CHAPTER 1 Sociology: Theory and Method making use of that term. Comte wanted to distinguish his own views from theirs, so he introduced sociology to describe the subject he wished to establish. Comte believed that this new field could produce a knowl— edge of society based on scientific evidence. He regarded soci- ology as the last science to be developed—following physics, chemistry, and biology—but as the most significant and com- plex of all the sciences. Sociology, he believed, should con- tribute to the welfare of humanity by using science to understand and therefore predict and control human behav- ior. In the later part of his career, Comte drew up ambitious plans for the reconstruction of French society in particular and for human societies in general, based on scientific knowledge. “xi" EMILE DURKHEIM The works of another French writer, Emile Durkheim (1858—1917), have had a much more lasting impact on modern sociology than those of Comte. Although he drew on aspects of Comte’s work, Durkheim thought that many of his prede- cessor’s ideas were too speculative and vague and that Comte had not successfully carried out his program—to establish so- ciology on a scientific basis. To become scientific, according to Durkheim, sociology must study social facts, aspects of social life that shape our actions as individuals, such as the state of the economy or the influence of religion. Durkheim believed that we must study social life with the same objectivity as sci— entists study the natural world. His famous first principle of sociology was “Study social facts as things!” By this he meant that social life can be analyzed as rigorously as objects or events in nature. Like a biologist studying the human body, Durkheim saw society as a set of independent parts, each of which could be studied separately. A body consists of various specialized parts, each of which contributes to sustaining the continuing Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). life of the organism. These necessarily work in harmony with one another; if they do not, the life of the organism is under threat. So it is, according to Durkheim, with society. For a so- ciety to have a continuing existence over time, its specialized institutions (such as the political system, the religion, the family, and the educational system) must work in harmony with each other and function as an integrated whole. Durkheim referred to this social cohesion as “organic soli- darity.” He argued that the continuation of a society thus de- pends on cooperation, which in turn presumes a general consensus, or agreement, among its members over basic val- ues and customs. Another major theme pursued by Durkheim, and by many others since, is that the societies of which we are members exert social constraint over our actions. Durkheim argued that society has primacy over the individual person. Society is far more than the sum of individual acts; when we analyze so- cial structures, we are studying characteristics that have a “firmness” or “solidity” comparable to those of structures in the physical world. Social structure, according to Durkheim, constrains our activities in a parallel way, setting limits on what we can do as individuals. It is “external” to us, just as the walls of the room are. One of Durkheim’s most famous studies was concerned with the analysis of suicide (Durkheim, 1966; orig. 1897). Suicide seems to be a purely personal act, the outcome of extreme per- sonal unhappiness. Durkheim showed, however, that social factors exert a fundamental influence on suicidal behavior— anomie, a feeling of aimlessness or despair provoked by mod- ern social life being one of these influences. Suicide rates show regular patterns from year to year, he argued, and these pat- terns must be explained sociologically. Many objections can be raised against Durkheim’s study, but it remains a classic work whose relevance to sociology today is by no means exhausted. According to Durkheim, processes of change in the modern world are so rapid and intense that they give rise to major so— cial difficulties, which he linked to anomie. Traditional moral controls and standards, which used to be supplied by religion, are largely broken down by modern social development, and this leaves many individuals in modern societies feeling that their daily lives lack meaning. KARL MARX The ideas of Karl Marx (1818—1883) contrast sharply with those of Comte and Durkheim, but like them, he sought to explain the changes in society that took place over the time of the in- dustrial revolution. When he was a young man, Marx’s political activities brought him into conflict with the German authori- ties; after a brief stay in France, he settled permanently in exile The Development of Sociological Thinking I ll Karl Marx (1818—1883). in Britain. Marx’s viewpoint was founded on what he called the materialist conception of history. According to this view, it is not the ideas or values human beings hold that are the main sources of social change, as Durkheim claimed. Rather, social change is prompted primarily by economic influences. The conflicts between classes—the rich versus the poor—provide the motivation for historical development. In Marx’s words, “All human history thus far is the history of class struggles.” Though he wrote about various phases of history, Marx concentrated on change in modern times. For him, the most important changes were bound up with the development of capitalism. Capitalism is a system of production that con— trasts radically with previous economic systems in history, in- volving as it does the production of goods and services sold to a wide range of consumers. Those who own capital, or facto- ries, machines, and large sums of money, form a ruling class. The mass of the population make up a class of wage workers, or a working class, who do not own the means of their liveli— hood but must find employment provided by the owners of cap— ital. Capitalism is thus a class system in which conflict between classes is a commonplace occurrence because it is in the inter- ests of the ruling class to exploit the working class and in the interests of the workers to seek to overcome that exploitation; According to Marx, in the future capitalism will be sup- planted by a society in which there are no classes—no divisions between rich and poor. He didn’t mean by this that all inequal- ities between individuals will disappear. Rather, societies will no longer be split into a small class that monopolizes economic and political power and the large mass of people who benefit little from the wealth their work creates. The economic sys- tem will come under communal ownership, and a more equal society than we know at present will be established. Marx’s work had a far-reaching effect on the twentieth— century world. Until recently, before the fall of Soviet com- munism, more than a third of the earth’s population lived in societies whose governments claimed to derive their inspira- tion from Marx’s ideas. In addition, many sociologists have been influenced by Marx’s ideas about class divisions. MAX WEBER Like Marx, Max Weber (pronounced “Vaber,” 1864—1920) can- not be labeled simply a sociologist; his interests and concerns ranged across many areas. Born in Germany, where he spent most of his academic career, Weber was an individual of wide learning. Like other thinkers of/his time, Weber sought to un— derstand social change. He was influenced by Marx but was also strongly critical of some of Marx’s major views. He re- jected the materialist conception of history and saw class con- flict as less significant than did Marx. In Weber’s View, economic factors are important, but ideas and values have just as much impact on social change. Some of Weber’s most influential writings were concerned with comparing the leading religious systems in China and India with those of the West; Weber concluded that certain as- pects of Christian beliefs strongly influenced the rise of capi- talism. He argued that the capitalist outlook of Western societies did not emerge, as Marx supposed, only from eco- nomic changes. In Weber’s view, cultural ideas and values help shape society and affect our individual actions. One of the most persistent concerns of Weber’s work was the study of bureaucracy. A bureaucracy is a large organiza— tion that is divided into jobs based on specific functions and staffed by officials ranked according to a hierarchy. Industrial firms, government organizations, hospitals, and schools are all examples of bureaucracies. Weber believed the advance of bu- reaucracy to be an inevitable feature of our era. Bureaucracy makes it possible for these large organizations to run effi- ciently, but at the same time it poses problems for effective de— mocratic participation in modern societies. Bureaucracy Max Weber (1864—1920). 12 CHAPTER 1 Sociology: Theory and Method TABLE 1.1 Interpreting Modern Development DU R KH E I M . The main dynamic of modern development is the division of labor as a basis for social cohesion and organic solidarity. Durkheimbelieved that sociology must study social facts as things, just as science would analyze the natural world. His study of suicide led him to stress the important influence of social factors, qualities of a society external to the individual, on a person's actions. Durkheim argued that society exerts social constraint over our actions. /" . The main dynamic of modern development is the expansion of capitalism. Rather than being cohesive. society is divided by class differences. Marx believed that we must study the divisions within a society that are derived from the economic inequalities of capitalism. The main dynamic of modern development is the rationalization of social and economic life. Weber focused on why Western societies developed so differently from other societies. He also emphasized the importance of cultural ideas and values on social change. involves the rule of experts, whose decisions are made without much consultation with those Whose lives are affected by them. Weber’s contributions range over many other areas, includ- ing the study of the development of cities, systems of law, types of economy, and the nature of classes. He also produced a range of writings concerned with the overall character of sociology itself. According to Weber, humans are thinking, reasoning be— ings; we attach meaning and significance to most of what we do, and any discipline that deals with human behavior must ac- knowledge this. Neglected Founders Although Comte, Durkheim, Marx, and Weber are, without doubt, foundational figures in sociology, other important thinkers from the same period made contributions that must also be taken into account. Very few women or members of racial minorities were given the opportunity to become profes- sional sociologists during the “classical” period of the late nine- teenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition, the few that were given the opportunity to do sociological research of last- ing importance have frequently been neglected by the field. These individuals deserve the attention of sociologists today. HARRIET MARTINEAU Harriet Martineau (1802—1876) was born and educated in Eng- land. She was the author of over fifty books, as well as numer- ous essays. Martineau is now credited with introducing sociology to England through her translation of Comte’s founding treatise of the field, Positive Philosophy (Rossi, 1973). In addition, Martineau conducted a firsthand systematic study of American society during her extensive travels throughout the United States in the 18305, which is the subject of her book Harriet Martineau (1802—1876). \ The Development of Sociological Thinking l 13 Society in America. Martineau is significant to sociologists today for several reasons. First, she argued that when one studies a society, one must focus on all its aspects, including key political, religious, and social institutions. Second, she in- sisted that an analysis of a society must include an under- standing of women’s lives. Third, she was the first to turn a sociological eye on previously ignored issues, including mar- riage, children, domestic and religious life, and race relations. As she once wrote, “The nursery, the boudoir, and the kitchen are all excellent schools in which to learn the morals and man— ners of a people” (Martineau, 1962). Finally, she argued that sociologists should do more than just observe, they should also act in ways to benefit a society. As a result, Martineau was an active proponent of both women’s rights and the emancipation of slaves. W. E. B. DU BOIS W. E. B. Du Bois (1868—1963) was the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard University. Du Bois’s contributions to sociology were many. Perhaps most important is the con- cept of “double consciousness,” which is a way of talking about identity through the lens of the particular experiences of African Americans. He argued that American society let African Americans see themselves only through the eyes of others: “It is a particular sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness—an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asun- der” (Du Bois, 1903). Du Bois made a persuasive claim that one’s sense of self and one’s identity are greatly influenced by historical experiences and social circumstances—in the case of African Americans, the impact of slavery, and following W. E. B. Du Bois (1868—1963). emancipation, segregation and prejudice. Throughout his ca- reer, Du Bois focused on race relations in the United States; as he said in an often repeated quote, “the problem of the twenti- eth century is the problem of the color line.” His influence on sociology today is evidenced by continued interest in the ques- tions that he raised, particularly his concern that sociology must explain “the contact of diverse races of men.” Du Bois was also the first social researcher to trace the problems faced by African Americans to their social and economic underpin— nings, a connection that most sociologists now widely accept. Finally, Du Bois became known for connecting social analysis to social reform. He was one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a long-time advocate for the collective struggle of African Americans. Later in his life, Du Bois became disen- chanted by the lack of progress in American race relations and moved to the African nation of Ghana, where he died in 1963. Modern Theoretical Approaches While the origins of sociology were mainly European, in this century the subject has become firmly established worldwide, and some of the most important developments have taken place in the United States. The following sections explore these developments. SYMBOLIC lNTERACTlONlSM The work of George Herbert Mead (1863—1931), a philosopher teaching at the University of Chicago, had an important influ- ence on the development of sociological thought, in particular through a perspective called symbolic interactionism. Mead placed particular importance on the study of language in ana- lyzing the social world. According to him, language allows us to become self-conscious beings—aware of our own individu- ality. The key element in this process is the symbol, some— thing that stands for something else. For example, the word tree is a symbol by means of which we represent the object tree. Once we have mastered such a concept, Mead argued, we can think of a tree even if none is visible; We have learned to think of the object symbolically. Symbolic thought frees us from being limited in our experience to what we actually see, hear, or feel. Unlike animals, according to Mead, human beings live in a richly symbolic uniVerse. This applies even to our very sense of self. Each of us is a self-conscio...
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