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sociological theorythe 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:
- FUNCTIONALISM, sometimes but not always including EVOLUTIONARY SOCIOLOGY;
- SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM and INTERPRETATIVE SOCIOLOGY, including ACTION THEORY;
- MARXIST SOCIOLOGY and CONFLICT THEORY;
- FORMAL SOCIOLOGY;
- SOCIAL PHENOMENOLOGY and ETHNOMETHODOLOGY;
- 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: