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Jack Sanders
Jack Sanders

Social Theory And Social History (Theory And Hi...

Social theories are analytical frameworks, or paradigms, that are used to study and interpret social phenomena.[1] A tool used by social scientists, social theories relate to historical debates over the validity and reliability of different methodologies (e.g. positivism and antipositivism), the primacy of either structure or agency, as well as the relationship between contingency and necessity. Social theory in an informal nature, or authorship based outside of academic social and political science, may be referred to as "social criticism" or "social commentary", or "cultural criticism" and may be associated both with formal cultural and literary scholarship, as well as other non-academic or journalistic forms of writing.[1]

Social Theory and Social History (Theory and Hi...


Social thought provides general theories to explain actions and behavior of society as a whole, encompassing sociological, political, and philosophical ideas. Classical social theory has generally been presented from a perspective of Western philosophy, and often regarded as Eurocentric.[by whom?]

Theory construction, according to The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, is instrumental:"Their goal is to promote accurate communication, rigorous testing, high accuracy, and broad applicability. They include the following: absence of contradictions, absence of ambivalence, abstractness, generality, precision, parsimony, and conditionality."[3] Therefore, a social theory consists of well-defined terms, statements, arguments and scope conditions.

There is evidence of early Muslim sociology from the 14th century: in Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah (later translated as Prolegomena in Latin), the introduction to a seven volume analysis of universal history, was the first to advance social philosophy and social science in formulating theories of social cohesion and social conflict. Ibn Khaldun is thus considered by many to be the forerunner of sociology.[6][7] Khaldun's treatise described in Muqaddimah (Introduction to History), published in 1377, two types of societies: (1) the city or town-dweller and (2) the mobile, nomadic societies.[citation needed]

A common factor among the classical theories was the agreement that the history of humanity is pursuing a fixed path. They differed on where that path would lead: social progress, technological progress, decline or even fall. Social cycle theorists were skeptical of the Western achievements and technological progress, but argued that progress is an illusion of the ups and downs of the historical cycles.[citation needed] The classical approach has been criticized by many modern sociologists and theorists; among them Karl Popper, Robert Nisbet, Charles Tilly and Immanuel Wallerstein.

The 19th century brought questions involving social order. The French Revolution freed French society of control by the monarchy, with no effective means of maintaining social order until Napoleon came to power. Three great classical theories of social and historical change emerged: the social evolutionism theory (of which Social Darwinism forms a part), the social cycle theory, and the Marxist historical materialism theory.[citation needed]

19th-century classical social theory has been expanded upon to create newer, contemporary social theories such as multilineal theories of evolution (neoevolutionism, sociobiology, theory of modernization, theory of post-industrial society) and various strains of Neo-Marxism.[citation needed]

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, social theory became closely related to academic sociology, and other related studies such as anthropology, philosophy, and social work branched out into their own disciplines. Subjects like "philosophy of history" and other multi-disciplinary subject matter became part of social theory as taught under sociology.[citation needed]

A revival of discussion free of disciplines began in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Frankfurt Institute for Social Research is a historical example. The Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago followed in the 1940s. In the 1970s, programs in Social and Political Thought were established at Sussex and York. Others followed, with emphases and structures, such as Social Theory and History (University of California, Davis). Cultural Studies programs extended the concerns of social theory into the domain of culture and thus anthropology. A chair and undergraduate program in social theory was established at the University of Melbourne. Social theory at present seems to be gaining acceptance as a classical academic discipline.[citation needed]

Philosophers, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, and Denis Diderot, developed new social ideas during the Enlightenment period that were based on reason and methods of scientific inquiry. Jean-Jacques Rousseau in this time played a significant role in social theory. He revealed the origin of inequality, analyzed the social contract (and social compact) that forms social integration and defined the social sphere or civil society. Jean-Jacques Rousseau also emphasized that man has the liberty to change his world, an assertion that made it possible to program and change society.[citation needed]

Adam Smith addressed the question of whether vast inequalities of wealth represented progress. He explained that the wealthy often demand convenience, employing numerous others to carry out labor to meet their demands.[citation needed] Smith argued that this allows wealth to be redistributed among inhabitants, and for all to share in progress of society. Smith explained that social forces could regulate the market economy with social objectivity and without need for government intervention. Smith regarded the division of labor as an important factor for economic progress. John Millar suggested that improved status of women was important for progress of society. Millar also advocated for abolition of slavery, suggesting that personal liberty makes people more industrious, ambitious, and productive.[9]

The 19th century pioneers of social theory and sociology, like Saint-Simon, Comte, Marx, John Stuart Mill or Spencer, never held university posts and they were broadly regarded as philosophers. Emile Durkheim endeavoured to formally established academic sociology, and did so at the University of Bordeaux in 1895, he published Rules of the Sociological Method. In 1896, he established the journal L'Année Sociologique. Durkheim's seminal monograph, Suicide (1897), a case study of suicide rates amongst Catholic and Protestant populations, distinguished sociological analysis from psychology or philosophy.[citation needed]

The term "postmodernism" was brought into social theory in 1971 by the Arab American Theorist Ihab Hassan in his book: The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature. In 1979 Jean-François Lyotard wrote a short but influential work The Postmodern Condition: A report on knowledge. Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes were influential in the 1970s in developing postmodern theory.

Not all people who use the term postmodern or postmodernism see these developments as positive.[13] Users of the term argue that their ideals have arisen as the result of particular economic and social conditions, including "late capitalism", the growth of broadcast media, and that such conditions have pushed society into a new historical period.

In the past few decades, in response to postmodern critiques,[citation needed] social theory has begun to stress free will, individual choice, subjective reasoning, and the importance of unpredictable events in place of deterministic necessity. Rational choice theory, symbolic interactionism, false necessity are examples of more recent developments. A view among contemporary sociologists is that there are no great unifying 'laws of history', but rather smaller, more specific, and more complex laws that govern society.[citation needed]

The Chicago school developed in the 1920s, through the work of Albion Woodbury Small, W. I. Thomas, Ernest W. Burgess, Robert E. Park, Ellsworth Faris, George Herbert Mead, and other sociologists at the University of Chicago. The Chicago school focused on patterns and arrangement of social phenomenon across time and place, and within context of other social variables.[16]

British social thought, with thinkers such as Herbert Spencer, addressed questions and ideas relating to political economy and social evolution. The political ideals of John Ruskin were a precursor of social economy (Unto This Last had a very important impact on Gandhi's philosophy).

Important German philosophers and social thinkers included Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse and Niklas Luhmann.

Important Chinese philosophers and social thinkers included Shang Yang, Lao Zi, Confucius, Mencius, Wang Chong, Wang Yangming, Li Zhi, Zhu Xi, Gu Yanwu, Gong Zizhen, Wei Yuan, Kang Youwei, Lu Xun, Mao Zedong, Zhu Ming.

Social theory seeks to question why humans inhabit the world the way they do, and how that came to be by looking at power relations, social structures, and social norms,[19] while also examining how humans relate to each other and the society they find themselves in, how this has changed over time and in different cultures,[20] and the tools used to measure those things. Social theory looks to interdisciplinarity, combining knowledge from multiple academic disciplines in order to enlighten these complex issues,[19] and can draw on ideas from fields as diverse as anthropology and media studies.

Having a theoretical orientation that sees the world in terms of power and control, one could create a theory about violent human behavior which includes specific causal statements (e.g. being the victim of physical abuse leads to psychological problems). This could lead to a hypothesis (prediction) about what one expects to see in a particular sample, e.g. "a battered child will grow up to be shy or violent". One can then test the hypothesis by looking to see if it is consistent with data. One might, for instance, review hospital records to find children who were abused, then track them down and administer a personality test to see if they show signs of being violent or shy. The selection of an appropriate (i.e. useful) theoretical orientation within which to develop a potentially helpful theory is the bedrock of social science. 041b061a72


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