Analytical Sociology in Tocqueville�s Democracy in America

Analytical Sociology in Tocqueville�s Democracy in America

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–3. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
1 Analytical Sociology in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America Christofer Edling* and Peter Hedström** October 1, 2005 * Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden ** Nuffield College, New Road, Oxford OX1 1NF, United Kingdom Abstract Analytical sociology seeks to explain complex social processes by carefully dissecting them and then bringing into focus their most important constituent components. It is through dissection and analytical abstractions that the important cogs and wheels of social processes are made visible and intelligible. By identifying some common features between Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and contemporary analytical sociology, we argue that the explanatory approach that Tocqueville pursued in many respects is a forerunner to analytical sociology. These features are contrasted with those of other classical approaches in order to highlight the defining characteristics of Tocqueville’s approach. One reason why Tocqueville is still worth reading, 200 years after his birth, is as an early example of the explanatory power of the analytical approach to sociology. However, the methodological and theoretical advances that sociology has undergone since the publication of Democracy in America, makes it more interesting as a classic than as a useful source of reference for today’s sociology students. Introduction. In our view, developing middle-range theories and testing them through careful empirical investigation is what the core of sociology should be all about. Given this professional inclination, why should we care about Tocqueville, or any other of the classics of sociology? 1 Indeed, many sharp minds have argued that we should not care. In a famous passage Whitehead (1974[1917]), for instance, claimed a science lost, which does not forget its founders. And Weber (1992 [1919]) argued that one of 1 By a ‘classic’ we mean a piece of written work that has significant status relative other works, past and present. A classical sociologist is a person associated with one or more such classics in sociology.
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
2 the defining aspects of science is that the serious questions of the past are outdated today, because that is the essence of scientific accumulation. We also observe that many successful sister disciplines – including economics and physics – do very well without spending much time on doctrinal history. Sociologists on the other hand, dwell relentlessly on re-reading and re-interpreting their founding fathers. 2 This of course, is because sociology has a split identity and has always been caught between science and humanities (Lepenies 1985). Every sociologist is reminded of this tug of war almost on a daily basis. ‘Perhaps the majority oscillate between the two, and a few try to consolidate them. These efforts to straddle scientific and humanistic orientations typically lead to merging the systematics of sociological theory with its history’ (Merton 1968:29). As we see it from our vantage point in
Background image of page 2
Image of page 3
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

This note was uploaded on 04/06/2008 for the course POSC 110 taught by Professor Baker during the Summer '06 term at USC.

Page1 / 20

Analytical Sociology in Tocqueville�s Democracy in America

This preview shows document pages 1 - 3. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online