sociological theory


Also found in: Wikipedia.

sociological theory

the range of abstract, general approaches and competing and complementary schools of thought which exist in sociology.

While sociological theory in this sense includes some theories which are ‘formalized’ or mathematical in form (see THEORY, MATHEMATICAL SOCIOLOGY), more usually ‘theory’ in sociology is looser in form, referring to the main ‘approaches’, intellectual paradigms, conceptual schemes, etc. which exist within the discipline.

The following are among the main general theoretical approaches usually identified within sociology:

  1. FUNCTIONALISM, sometimes but not always including EVOLUTIONARY SOCIOLOGY;
  2. SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM and INTERPRETATIVE SOCIOLOGY, including ACTION THEORY;
  3. MARXIST SOCIOLOGY and CONFLICT THEORY;
  4. FORMAL SOCIOLOGY;
  5. SOCIAL PHENOMENOLOGY and ETHNOMETHODOLOGY;
  6. STRUCTURALISM and POSTSTRUCTURALISM.

As well as these general approaches, the importance of which would usually be recognized by most sociologists, numerous theoretical approaches of lesser influence can also be identified (e.g. EXCHANGE THEORY or STRUCTURATION THEORY). In part all such general approaches can be seen as complementary, emphasizing different aspects of social reality (e.g. a complementarity between micro and macro approaches, or between theories of agency and theories of structure). Equally, however, they are also often presented as competing approaches.

Some sociologists, notably MERTON, calling for what he referred to as THEORIES OF THE MIDDLE RANGE, have sought to escape from the emphasis on competition between such general theoretical frameworks, placing a far greater emphasis on ‘working’ explanatory theories and SENSITIZING CONCEPTS that arise from research and interpret findings (see also GROUNDED THEORY, ANALYTICAL INDUCTION).

Other general distinctions between types of theoretical approach relate to:

  1. issues of EPISTEMOLOGY and ONTOLOGY, e.g. POSITIVISM versus CONVENTIONALISM or REALISM;
  2. distinctions between 'surface’ and ‘deep’ STRUCTURE (see also SOCIAL STRUCTURE). Compare SOCIAL THEORY.
References in periodicals archive ?
Merton's ambivalence about autonomous theory notwithstanding, it behooves us to revisit his words and deeds that articulate and exemplify the kinds of intellectual work that sociological theory at its best can contribute.
She rarely constructs or uses sociological theory to illuminate the world of women's bodybuilding.
Sociological theory, values, and sociocultural change; essays in honor of Pitirim A.
Sociological Theory is a comprehensive -- dare I say encyclopaedic -- overview of social thought.
Sociological Theory in the Classical Era: Text and Readings, 3rd Edition
Organization is in two parts, the first laying out the outline for conflict constructionism and more generally reflecting on the nature of sociological theory and the politically ambiguous nature of sociologists.
Kilminster contends that Elias produced not only an important sociological theory, an achievement few would question, but also the veritable constitutional charter of sociology as "master social science" of the new millennium.
The book can be used as a self-contained text or as a supplement to other sociological theory textbooks ([umlaut] Ringgold, Inc.
The final section turns to the structure of sociological theory as such, considering how we can have theoretical pluralism and whether sociology can be consider a natural science.
One is to survey a number of recent developments in sociological theory which stand outside of conventional or "main-stream" American sociology: postmodernism, the Frankfurt school, feminist theory, and cultural studies.
The social lens; an invitation to social and sociological theory, 3d ed.
While empirical work and low level theorizing have proliferated, few attempts have been made to fundamentally rework sociological theory in light or our environmental crisis.