Kamis, 06 Desember 2012

The Classical Nature of Modern Sociology

Modern sociology is classical because its theory is still classical. Like classical sociologists, modem sociologists still nearly always explain human behavior teleologically-as a means to an end. They still nearly always explain human behavior psychologically-as something that arises at least partly in the human mind. And they still nearly always explain human behavior individualistically-as the behavior of people. Although social factors (such as the distribution of resources, the structure of relationships, and the content of culture) usually play a role in sociological explanations, their relevance is nearly always teleological, psychological, and individualistic.

Teleology is the superparadigm of sociology (see Black 1995: 861-63). Virtually all sociological theories assume, assert, or imply the existence of human goals and explain human behavior accordingly. Some attribute goals to groups rather than individuals, but the explanations remain teleological, a matter of means and ends. Human behavior is said to be the successful or unsuccessful fulfillment of a motive, preference, purpose, interest, value, need, or function by an individual, aggregate, or group. Criminal behavior is the conscious or unconscious pursuit of a criminal's goal, for example, and the same applies to political, religious, economic, and every other kind of behavior in every setting, whether a face-to-face encounter, family, organization, institution, society, or international community.

Virtually all sociological explanation is explicitly or implicitly psychological and individualistic as well (see Homans 1964). Such is the classical tradition. Weber asserts, for instance, that sociology is the "interpretive understanding of social action" and that "subjective understanding is the specific characteristic of sociological knowledge" ([1922] 1978, Vol. 1: 4, 15, 13). Durkheim asserts that "everything in social life rests on opinion. . . . We can make opinion an object of study and create a science of it; that is what sociology primarily consists in" ([1912] 1995: 439). Both continually refer to human psychology-subjectivity-in their writings. Examples are Weber's theory of the origin of capitalism ([1904-05] 1958) and Durkheim's theory of suicide ([1897] 1951), two of the most famous and revered works of classical sociology. In particular, both address the psychology of goal-seeking individuals. And virtually all modem sociologists do the same. What they call social behavior is nearly always individual behavior, what they call social action is nearly always personal action, and what they call social theory is nearly always psychological theory (see Black 1995: 848-50). If published today, Weber's and Durkheim's major works would still be widely celebrated.

Expect no sociological revolution until sociology abandons the classical tradition. Expect nothing profoundly new or wildly exciting-no breakthroughs in the understanding of human behavior. Expect nothing shocking, nothing controversial. Expect only more of the same, a repetition of old ideas, an involution rather than a revolution in sociological theory. Classical sociology was new and exciting a century ago, but now it is a dead end. It tells the same story over and over: The social environment has this or that impact on how people pursue their goals. Moreover, whatever teleological, psychological, and individualistic sociology may have accomplished in the past, sociologists have always been largely unable to explain the spectacular diversity of social life across the world and across history in the countless societies that have existed-the diversity of culture, for example, including the diversity of religion and art, the diversity of conflict and violence, of families and other groups, political life, economic life, sexuality, or sport. And where is the sociological theory applicable to every conceivable instance of anything across the social universe, past, present, or future? Where is the theory unimaginable a century or half-century ago? Because it follows the classical tradition, modernsociology is unable to discover anything radically new. Everything is completely normal. Nothing amazes anyone. The field is frozen in scientific time.

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