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any classificatory conceptual scheme (e.g. church, sect). It may or may not be logically exhaustive within its empirical frame of reference. The role and utility of any typology is relative to the theoretical perspective within which it is formulated. See also TYPE, IDEAL TYPE, TYPIFICATION.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a method of scientific cognition wherein a system of objects is divided up and the objects are grouped through the use of generalized and idealized models or types. The method is used for objects existing at the same or different times in order to carry out a comparative study of important features, connections, functions, relations, or levels of organization of the objects. The term “typology” is also applied to the result of a typological description and juxtaposition of objects.

Problems of typology arise in all sciences that deal with sets of objects of diverse content, the objects generally being discrete, and that attempt to achieve an ordered description and explanation of the sets. Examples of such sciences are chemistry, biology, psychology, linguistics, geography, and sociology. One of the most universal procedures of scientific thought, the typological approach is based on the establishment of similarities and differences in the objects under study and on a search for reliable means of identifying the objects. In its theoretically developed form a typology seeks to depict the structure of the system being investigated and to establish patterns in the system that make it possible to predict the existence of heretofore unknown objects.

A typology either may be directly based on the concept of a type as a fundamental logical unit into which the area of reality under study is divided or may make use of such other logical forms as classification, systematics, and taxonomy. The goal of classification is essentially the construction of hierarchical systems of classes and subclasses on the basis of either certain features that are not inherent in the objects (such as name or number) or such features that are inherent in them. Systematics makes use of a fixed hierarchy of descriptive units to carry out a maximally complete multipartite classification of a given set of objects. Within the framework of taxonomy a special study is made of, and a foundation is provided for, the principles of a rational classification and systematics. The boundaries between these forms are largely arbitrary, and the use of a particular form in a given area of knowledge depends, to a considerable extent, on historical traditions. In biology, for example, even typological problems in the narrow sense of the word are usually considered within the framework of taxonomy and systematics. Nevertheless, typology can be regarded essentially as the theory and language of taxonomy, which, in turn, can be treated as the foundation of systematics and the analysis of its language.

According to the method of construction, a distinction is made between empirical and theoretical typologies. Empirical typologies are based on the quantitative processing and generalization of experimental data; on the establishment, through the inductive method, of set features that may be used as indicators of similarity and difference; and on the systematization and interpretation of the obtained material. A theoretical typology requires the construction of an ideal model of an object—that is, a generalized expression of the object features—and the establishment of the principles of the taxonomic description of the set of objects under study. Examples of such principles are the principle of homological similarity in animal systematics and the principle of symmetry in particle physics. In a theoretical typology an object is usually treated as a system; this approach is associated with the identification of system-forming relationships and with the construction of a representation of the structural levels of the object. Such a typology provides one of the principal means of explaining the object and of creating a theory for it.

The general principles of typology are essentially dependent on how the concept of type is interpreted. The history of science evidences three ways of treating the concept and, accordingly, three methods of constructing a typology. In antiquity a type was viewed as an unchanging, eternal, ideal essence that exists, for Plato, prior to things or, for Aristotle, in things and manifests itself in species or individual differences as an ideal prototype, ground plan, or norm. This concept of a type was associated with numerous searches for an archetype, ground plan of construction, morphological type, or invariant structure of objects. In biology this approach to types found expression in morphological typology, or idealist morphology, which sought to find some kind of first type or prototype (for example, the primeval plant of J. W. von Goethe and the archetype of R. Owen) and treated changeability as the imperfect expression of an actually existing prototype. Such a conception of typology has found adherents even in the 20th century—for example, the German zoologist A. Neff and the German botanist W. Troll. By absolutizing the significance of a static model or type, the supporters of this conception oppose typological thought to evolutionist thought.

The acceptance by science of the idea of development was accompanied by the emergence of a second approach to typology. Although rooted in the historical understanding of the notion of a type, this approach regarded a typology as a representation of a system in its development. The distinguishing feature of such typologies is the important role played by time in their construction and substantiation. The methods used in such representation, however, are different in different sciences. In biology, for example, the evolutionary approach led to the development of phylogenetic, or phyletic, systematics, which to this day plays the leading role. The typological foundation of phylogenetic systematics consists in treating homological similarity as the criterion for relationship and in treating the hierarchically organized system of the organic world as a representation of phylogeny. A number of controversial points arise in this connection. An example is the question of how the hierarchy is to be constructed: it must be decided whether the diversity of the organic world arose from a single ancestor or from many ancestors. In other words, a choice must be made between the monophyletic principle and the polyphyletic principle. Another important problem is the finding of reliable criteria that permit each taxon to be assigned to a unique place in the system.

In linguistics F. and A. von Schlegel initiated a comparative historical approach to typology based on the comparison of languages with respect to the similarity of their substances (pronunciation and meaning) and on the placing of the languages in definite cognate groups. This approach led, in the 19th century, to A. Schleicher’s arraying of the Indo-European languages in a genealogical tree. In the early 19th century W. von Humboldt viewed the morphological types of languages as stages or branches of an evolutionary development from a single parent language.

The principles of historical typology were made use of in a distinctive way in bourgeois sociology. Here, a typology was originally understood as a classification of actually existing types of societies and was usually constructed in opposition to the Marxist typology, which is based on the doctrine of socioeconomic formations. This situation is true of the theory of cultural-historical types, or civilizations, developed by N. Ia. Danilevskii and O. Spengler. By using typological methods to construct a morphology of cultures, the theory undermined the linear Europe-centered conception of the historical process. The theory emphasized, however, the irreducibility of the civilizations to each other.

The development of the third way of viewing a typology is associated with the treatment of a type as a special methodological device used to construct a theoretical picture of reality. Here, a type is regarded not as something taken directly from reality but as a product of complex scientific thinking, which theoretically reconstructs the most important characteristics of the set of objects being studied and unites them in a type. On this basis, it may be possible to identify in the set some definite object that, with respect to a number of criteria, can be considered a representative of the entire set of objects. Examples are English capitalism in the Marxist analysis of the genesis of capitalism and the concrete species in the congregational biological systematics of E. S. Smirnov.

The shift to the interpretation of a type as a methodological device had two important consequences. One was that it became possible to abandon the view of a typology as a complete and unambiguous representation of a system: to a set of specific typological procedures there corresponds a set of different typologies for the given system. The construction of a typology therefore requires both a special analysis of the typological concepts introduced and a substantiation of the concepts. Such an approach makes possible the formulation of abstract typologies, in which a type is understood as a complex construct located in a multidimensional taxonomic space. Thus the type becomes a special ideal object rather than a direct substitute for the empirically given set of objects. Because it is an ideal object, the type permits the construction of rigorous, multifactor models and provides a basis for the extensive use of logicomathematical methods. By shifting the problems of typology into the sphere of methodology, it becomes possible to make use of the achievements of modern logic, in particular, the distinguishing of class and type, of the three kinds of conceptual systems used in science (classificational, comparative, and mensurational), and of extensional and intensional languages. Moreover, it becomes possible to associate typology with the transition from classificational concepts to mensurational concepts and with the establishment of intensional meanings, that is, the class of possible objects that are encompassed by the meaning of a concept.

This approach to typology is of particular importance in modern linguistics, where various typological methods have been developed. In linguistics, typology has become a special area of study, in which, through an investigation of the structure of individual languages and an extensive comparison of the languages of the world, the essential features of language structure in general are established and the interdependent and mutually exclusive characteristics of language structure are ascertained, along with elements that are often or rarely encountered in languages.

The turn to the methodological conception of the problems of typology in the early 20th century was associated with the works of E. Sapir, N. S. Trubetskoi (Trubetzkoy), and the Linguistic Circle of Prague. This change in point of view entailed not only the interpretation of genealogical classification as typological but also a virtually complete rejection of global classifications, an analysis of the hierarchy of language levels and their units, and a neglect of problems of the development of language. The development of typological methods led to the formation of different kinds of typology, including content, or semantic, typology; quantitative typology (J. Greenberg and others); characterological typology, which studies the interdependence of linguistic features (V. Skalicka and others); generative typology (B. A. Uspenskii and others); and structural typology, which analyzes definite relations between the elements of a language system and emphasizes the importance of the standard language and metalanguage (F. de Saussure and others). The establishment of essential and specific features of natural language and the ascertainment of its structure are the ultimate aims of the development of the various methods and forms of typology, in particular, the typology of levels, for example, morphological or phonological typology; the typology of individual categories, such as voice and case; the typology of universals; and the typology of individual language families and areas.

A similar trend can be discerned in the development of typology in biology. In particular, attempts have been made to improve or even to reexamine critically the classical phyletic taxonomy. These attempts have resulted in, for example, the numerical taxonomy of the American entomologist R. Sokal, the constructional morphology of the German zoologist H. Weber, the homological morphology of the German zoologist A. Remane, and the nomogenetic taxonomy of the Soviet biologist A. A. Liubishchev.

In bourgeois social thought the tendency toward a methodological reinterpretation of typology is reflected in A. Toynbee’s models of history, P. Sorokin’s and A. Kroeber’s models of culture, and especially in the method of ideal types developed by M. Weber. In Weber’s view typology consists in the creation of certain ideal types, which are abstract constructs that represent a deliberate simplification. Ideal types are logical fictions or limiting concepts that have no direct analogue in reality. The social scientist is expected to study the causes and the nature of the deviation of historical reality from the ideal type. The methodology of ideal types reflected the essential features of the epistemology of neo-Kantianism, including its idealism, which entailed the rejection of the objective content of a typology. The methodology made use of ideography and emphasized the connection between typology and the study of values. The arbitrary quality and speculative character of typology, which are associated with bourgeois sociology’s rejection of objective criteria for proposing and working out a typology, were considerably magnified in the American sociologist H. Becker’s notion of constructed types (constructive typology). In stressing that a typology presupposes a departure from the reality being described, constructive typology overestimates the role of the researcher’s arbitrary choice of some one case or event as a type. Associated with this form of typology in sociology is the study of the frequency distribution for each type and of the deviations from the type, as well as a search for means of predicting, on the basis of knowledge obtained from studying an individual case, what is possible and can be expected in other cases.

A typology based on theoretical considerations has the important advantage of permitting not only the inclusion of all forms that have been studied but also the identification of “unoccupied” areas, where newly discovered forms will subsequently be placed. A good example is the periodic system of the elements in chemistry.

The second consequence of the shift of the basic problems of typology to the sphere of theory and methodology was that attention was drawn to the question of the empirical interpretation of typological schemes and concepts. Empirical interpretation involves correlating the schemes and concepts with real sets of objects and finding definite rules (for example, rules prohibiting certain potential combinations) that govern the juxtaposition of a type and empirical indicators and the transition from the theoretical concept of a type to the real system of discrete objects. Because of the abstract quality and one-sidedness of each specific typology, such interpretation presents a complicated problem.

The methods of typology are extensively used in Marxism-Leninism as a means for the scientific analysis of social processes and phenomena—for example, social relations, the class structure of society, and personality. Thus, the Marxist doctrine of socioeconomic formations is associated with the identification of economic-historical types of society that are based on definite production relations (see K. Marx in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 24, p. 65). By using the methods of typology, Marxist sociology has identified the real structural units of the historical process. This achievement has made it possible to provide a materialist explanation of history, of the multiplicity of the historical types of societies and cultures, and of the existence of different structures within the given socioeconomic formations. In contrast to various subjectivist conceptions, Marxist typology emphasizes the objective validity of the identification of societal types. Thus, K. Marx notes in Das Kapital that “actual conditions correspond to their conception, or, what is the same, that actual conditions are represented only to the extent that they are typical of their own general case” (ibid., vol. 25, part 1, p. 155). At the same time, Marxist social sciences make use of various theoretical models (seeTHEORY) and of the process of idealization.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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