History of sociology
Sociology emerged from enlightenment thought, shortly after the French Revolution, as a positivist science of society. Its genesis owed to various key movements in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of knowledge. Social analysis in a broader sense, however, has origins in the common stock of philosophy and necessarily pre-dates the field. Modern academic sociology arose as a reaction to modernity, capitalism, urbanization, rationalization, and secularization, bearing a particularly strong interest in the emergence of the modern nation state; its constituent institutions, its units of socialization, and its means of surveillance. An emphasis on the concept of modernity, rather than the Enlightenment, often distinguishes sociological discourse from that of classical political philosophy.
Within a relatively brief period the discipline greatly expanded and diverged, both topically and methodologically, particularly as a result of myriad reactions against empiricism. Historical debates are broadly marked by theoretical disputes over the primacy of either structure or agency. Contemporary social theory has tended toward the attempt to reconcile these dilemmas. The linguistic and cultural turns of the mid-twentieth century led to increasingly interpretative, and philosophic approaches to the analysis of society. Conversely, recent decades have seen the rise of new analytically and computationally rigorous techniques.
Quantitative social research techniques have become common tools for governments, businesses and organizations, and have also found use in the other social sciences. This has given social research a degree of autonomy from the discipline of sociology. Similarly, "social science" has come to be appropriated as an umbrella term to refer to various disciplines which study society or human culture. In the past, sociology as well as other social sciences, was considered well below the level of other sciences, such as the natural sciences. Very recently has sociology begun to be recognized as a legitimate science and respected as such.
- 1 Precursors
- 2 Origins
- 3 Foundation of the academic discipline
- 4 19th Century: From positivism to antipositivism
- 5 20th Century: Critical theory, postmodernism, and positivist revival
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
Sociological reasoning may be traced back at least as far as the ancient Greeks (cf. Xenophanes′ remark: "If horses would adore gods, these gods would resemble horses"). Proto- sociological observations are to be found in the founding texts of Western philosophy (Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Polybius and so on), as well as in the non-European thought of figures such as Confucius. The characteristic trends in the sociological thinking of the ancient Greeks can be traced back to the social environment. Because there was rarely any extensive or highly centralized political organization within states this allowed the tribal spirit of localism and provincialism to have free play. This tribal spirit of localism and provincialism pervaded most of the Greek thinking upon social phenomena. The origin of the survey can be traced back to the Doomesday Book ordered by king William I in 1086. There is evidence of early Muslim sociology from the 14th century. Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), in his 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. He is thus considered by some to be the forerunner of sociology.
Comte, Saint-Simon, and Marx
The term ("sociologie") was first coined by the French essayist Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (1748–1836), from the Latin: socius, "companion"; and the suffix -ology, "the study of", from Greek λόγος, lógos, "knowledge".
In 1838, the French-thinker Auguste Comte tweaked the meaning of the term sociology, to give it the definition that it holds today. Comte had earlier expressed his work as "social physics", but that term had been appropriated by others, most notably a Belgian statistician, Adolphe Quetelet (1796–1874). Writing after the original enlightenment political philosophers of social contract, Comte hoped to unify all studies of humankind through the scientific understanding of the social realm. His own sociological scheme was typical of the 19th century humanists; he believed all human life passed through distinct historical stages and that, if one could grasp this progress, one could prescribe the remedies for social ills. Sociology was to be the "queen science" in Comte's schema; all basic physical sciences had to arrive first, leading to the most fundamentally difficult science of human society itself. Comte has thus come to be viewed as the "Father of Sociology". Comte delineated his broader philosophy of science in The Course in Positive Philosophy [1830–1842], whereas his A General View of Positivism (1865) emphasized the particular goals of sociology.
Auguste Comte was so impressed with his theory of positivism that he referred to it as "the great discovery of the year 1822.” Comte's system is based on the principles of knowledge, as seen in 3 states. This law states any kind of knowledge always begins in theological form. Here the knowledge can be explained by a superior supernatural power such as animism, spirits, or gods. It then passes to the metaphysical form where the knowledge is explained by abstract philosophical speculation. Finally, the knowledge becomes positive after being explained scientifically through observation, experiment, and comparison. The order of the laws was created in order of increasing difficulty.
In later life, Auguste Comte developed a 'religion of humanity' to give positivist societies the unity and cohesiveness found through the traditional worship people were used to. In this new "religion" he referred to society as the "Great Being." Comte promoted a universal love and harmony taught through the teachings of his industrial system theory. Comte appointed himself as high priest of this religion of humanity so that he could oversee his followers, and ensure they were abiding by his practices and teachings. In 1849, he proposed a calendar reform called the 'positivist calendar'. For close associate John Stuart Mill, it was possible to distinguish between a "good Comte" (the author of the Course in Positive Philosophy) and a "bad Comte" (the author of the secular-religious system). The system was unsuccessful but met with the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species to influence the proliferation of various Secular Humanist organizations in the 19th century, especially through the work of secularists such as George Holyoake and Richard Congreve. Although Comte's English followers, including George Eliot and Harriet Martineau, for the most part rejected the full gloomy panoply of his system, they liked the idea of a religion of humanity and his injunction to "vivre pour autrui" ("live for others", from which comes the word "altruism").
Comte's description of the development of society is parallel to Karl Marx's theory that communism was closing in fast on the progressing human society. They both also agreed that communism would be the climax of human the society. Comte was at one point mentored by Henri de Saint-Simon, and both he and Marx were very influenced by his Utopian socialism approach to society.
Saint-Simon devoted much of his time to the prospect that human society could be salvaged if scientists would form an international assembly and influence its course. His theory was that scientists could distract people from war and strife, by focusing their attention to such things as building canals and generally improving their societies living conditions. This would bring multiple cultures and societies together and prevent conflict. Saint Simon took the idea that everyone had encouraged from the Enlightenment, which was the belief in science, and spun it to be more practical and hands-on for the society. Saint-Simon's main idea was that industrialism would create a new launch in history. He saw that people had been seeing progress as an approach for science, but he wanted them to see it as an approach to all aspects of life. Society was making a crucial change at the time since it was growing out of a declining feudalism. This new path could provide the basis for solving all the old problems society had previously encountered. He was more concerned with the participation of man in the workforce instead of which workforce man choose. His slogan became "All men must work ” and from this, the slogan of communism was evolved "Each according to his capacity. "
Karl Marx was concerned with class and by association class consciousness and focused his theories in these two areas. He did not come up with the theory of class, but the process in which it was created. Marx theorized that society was an organization that thrived off of material consumption and from this obsession, class consciousness was created. Society looked down on those who had less material objects than their own class did. He was very concerned with the working class, and attempted to bring it to a higher class and level the playing field a bit for the workers. It revolted him that the nonworking, wealthy class had the power that it had. They were the only group with the time and resources to be fully informed of what the government was doing. Marx feared, as he had previously seen, the class with the strongest resources can control the means of communication. With the communication controlled, the interests of the one class become the only ones that are heard and contributed to. In this case, the upper class would control the government's interests and agenda. Karl Marx also saw that this class, once in control would change the economy to favor themselves and make the conditions for the other classes worse off than they had previously started. He theorized that since the government creates private property, it has the ability to abolish and in its place substitute socialism. As the industrial economy grew, conflict would rise as the free market and the system of private property grew. With this foreseen conflict, Marx predicted revolt among the classes.
Both Comte and Marx intended to develop a new scientific ideology in the wake of European secularization. Marx, in the tradition of Hegelianism, rejected the positivist method, but in attempting to develop a science of society nevertheless became recognized as a founder of sociology later as the word gained wider meaning. Isaiah Berlin described Marx as the "true father" of modern sociology, "in so far as anyone can claim the title."
To have given clear and unified answers in familiar empirical terms to those theoretical questions which most occupied men's minds at the time, and to have deduced from them clear practical directives without creating obviously artificial links between the two, was the principal achievement of Marx's theory ... The sociological treatment of historical and moral problems, which Comte and after him, Spencer and Taine, had discussed and mapped, became a precise and concrete study only when the attack of militant Marxism made its conclusions a burning issue, and so made the search for evidence more zealous and the attention to method more intense.
The early sociology of Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) came about broadly as a reaction to Comte; writing after various developments in evolutionary biology, Spencer attempted (in vain) to reformulate the discipline in what we might now describe as socially Darwinistic terms. (Spencer was in fact a proponent of Lamarckism rather than Darwinism). Herbert Spencer used the phrase "survival of the fittest" to describe his natural selection theories. He developed these theories focusing on entire species and not the individual organism. In this theory, Spencer paralleled with Darwin. The "fittest" is said to have referred to the elite of the species; the strongest, fastest, most efficient of a species would eliminate those that are weaker, slower, and less resourceful. Spencer theorized on how entire cultures went extinct. Due to the vagueness of the phrase "survival of the fittest" Spencer’s theory is no longer accepted by many other theorists and scientists. His theory has been adapted and changed by other sociologists to be applicable to society.
Many other philosophers and academics were influential in the development of sociology, not least the Enlightenment theorists of social contract, and historians such as Adam Ferguson (1723–1816). For his theory on social interaction, Ferguson has himself been described as "the father of modern sociology" Other early works to appropriate the term 'sociology' included A Treatise on Sociology, Theoretical and Practical by the North American lawyer Henry Hughes and Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society by the American lawyer George Fitzhugh. Both books were published in 1854, in the context of the debate over slavery in the antebellum US. The Study of Sociology by the English philosopher Herbert Spencer appeared in 1874. Lester Frank Ward, described by some as the father of American sociology, published Dynamic Sociology in 1883. Harriet Martineau, a Whig social theorist and the English translator of many of Comte's works, has been cited as the first female sociologist.
Various other early social historians and economists have gained recognition as classical sociologists, perhaps most notably Robert Michels (1876–1936), Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859), Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923) and Thorstein Veblen (1857–1926). The classical sociological texts broadly differ from political philosophy in the attempt to remain scientific, systematic, structural, or dialectical, rather than purely moral, normative or subjective. The new class relations associated with the development of Capitalism are also key, further distinguishing sociological texts from the political philosophy of the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras.
Foundation of the academic discipline
Classical theorists of sociology from the late 19th and early 20th centuries include Ludwig Gumplowicz (1838–1909), W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963) Ferdinand Tönnies (1855–1936), Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), Georg Simmel (1858–1918), Max Weber (1864–1920), and Karl Mannheim (1893–1947). Many of these figures did not consider themselves strictly 'sociologists' and regularly contributed to jurisprudence, economics, psychology, and philosophy. In 1830, Auguste Comte proclaimed that sociology should, and would one day be on the same level of the other sciences. His prophecy seemed ridiculous to most at the time, until much later in the 19th century, but it did prove true.
Formal academic sociology began when Durkheim set up the first European department of sociology at the University of Bordeaux in 1895, publishing his Rules of the Sociological Method. He showed that such supposedly individual phenomena as suicide, crime, moral outrage, and even our concepts of time, space, God, and the individual personality are socially determined. In 1896, he established the journal L'Année Sociologique. Durkheim's seminal monograph, Suicide (1897), a case study of suicide rates amongst Catholic, Protestant and Jewish populations, distinguished sociological analysis from psychology or philosophy. It also marked a major contribution to the concept of structural functionalism.
A course entitled "sociology" was in the United States taught under its own name for the first time in 1875 by William Graham Sumner, drawing upon the thought of Comte and Herbert Spencer rather than the work Durkheim was advancing in Europe. In 1890, the oldest continuing sociology course in the United States began at the University of Kansas, lectured by Frank Blackmar. The Department of History and Sociology at the University of Kansas was established in 1891  and the first full fledged independent university department of sociology was established in 1892 at the University of Chicago by Albion W. Small (1854–1926), who in 1895 founded the American Journal of Sociology. American sociology arose on a broadly independent trajectory to European sociology. George Herbert Mead and Charles H. Cooley were influential in the development of symbolic interactionism and social psychology at the University of Chicago, while Lester Ward emphasised the central importance of the scientific method with the publication of Dynamic Sociology in 1883.
The University of Chicago developed the major sociologists at the time. It brought them together, and even gave them a hub and a network to link all the leading sociologists. In 1925, a third of all sociology graduate students attended the University of Chicago. Chicago was very good at not isolating their students from other schools. They encouraged them to blend with other sociologists, and to not spend more time in the class room than studying the society around them. This would teach them real life application of the classroom teachings. The first teachings at the University of Chicago were focused on the social problems that the world had been dealt. At this time, academia was not concerned with theory; especially not to the point that academia is today. Many people were still hesitant of sociology at this time, especially with the recent controversial theories of Weber and Marx. The University of Chicago decided to go into an entirely different direction and their sociology department directed their attention to the individual and promoted equal rights. Their concentration was small groups and discoveries of the individual’s relationship to society. The program combined with other departments to offer students well-rounded studies requiring courses in hegemony, economics, psychology, multiple social sciences and political science. Albion Small was the head of the sociology program at the University of Chicago. He played a key role in bringing German sociological advancements directly into American academic sociology. Small also created the American Journal of Sociology. Robert Park and Ernest Burgess refined the program’s methods, guidelines, and checkpoints. This made the findings more standardized, concise and easier to comprehend. The pair even wrote the sociology program’s textbook for a reference and get all students on the same page more effectively. Many remarkable sociologists such as George Hebert Mead, W.E. Du Bois, Robert Park, Charles S. Johnson, William Ogburn, Hebert Blumer and many others have significant ties to the University of Chicago.
In 1920 a department was set up in Poland by Florian Znaniecki (1882–1958).William I. Thomas was an early graduation from the sociology department of the University of Chicago. His built upon his teachings and his work changed sociology in many ways. In 1918, William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki gave the world the publication of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. This publication combined sociological theory with in depth experiential research and thus launching methodical sociological research as a whole. This changed sociologist’s methods and enabled them to see new patterns and connect new theories. This publication also gave sociologists a new way to found their research and prove it on a new level. All their research would be more solid, and harder for society to not pay attention to it. In 1920, Znaniecki developed a sociology department in Poland to expand research and teachings there.
With the lack of sociological theory being taught at the University of Chicago paired with the new foundations of statistical methods, the student’s ability to make any real predictions was nonexistent. This was a major factor in the downfall of the Chicago school.
The first sociology department in the United Kingdom was founded at the London School of Economics in 1904. In 1919 a sociology department was established in Germany at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich by Max Weber, who had established a new antipositivist sociology. The "Institute for Social Research" at the University of Frankfurt (later to become the "Frankfurt School" of critical theory) was founded in 1923. Critical theory would take on something of a life of its own after WW2, influencing literary theory and the "Birmingham School" of cultural studies.
The University of Frankfurt’s advances along with the close proximity to the research institute for sociology made Germany a powerful force in leading sociology at that time. In 1918, Frankfurt received the funding to create sociology’s first department chair. The Germany’s groundbreaking work influenced its government to add the position of Minister of Culture to advance the country as a whole. The remarkable collection of men who were contributing to the sociology department at Frankfurt were soon getting worldwide attention and began being referred to as the “Frankfurt school.” Here they studied new perspectives of Marx theories, and went into depth of the works of Weber and Freud. Most of this men would soon be forced out of Germany by the Nazis and arrive in America, influencing social research there. This forced relocation of sociologists enabled sociology in America to bring up to the standards of European studies of sociology by planting some of Europe’s greatest sociologists in America.
Felix Weil was one of the students who received their doctorate on the concept of socialization from the University of Frankfurt. He, along with Max Horkheimer and Kurt Albert Gerlach, developed the Institute of Social Research and it was established in 1923. Kurt Albert Gerlach would serve as the institute’s first director. Their goal in creating the institute was to produce a place that people could discover and be informed of social life as a whole. Weil, Horkheimer, and Gerlach wanted to focus on interactions between economics, politics, legal matters, as well as scholarly interactions in the community and society. The main research that got the institute known was its revival of scientific Marxism. Many benefactors contributed money, supplies, and buildings to keep this area of research going. When Gerlach, became ill and had to step down as director, Max Horkheimer took his place. He encouraged the students of the institute to question everything they studied. If the students studied a theory, he not only wanted them to discover its truth themselves, but also to discover how, and why it is true and the theories relation to society. The National Socialist regime exiled many of the members of the Institute of Social Research. The regime also forced many students and staff from the entire Frankfurt University, and most fled to America. Many people forced from the institute also left the war path, but unlike the university, the institute lost too many people and was forced to close. In 1950, the institute was reopened as a private establishment. From this point on the Institute of Social Research would have a close connection to sociology studies in the United States.
International cooperation in sociology began in 1893 when René Worms (1869–1926) founded the small Institut International de Sociologie, eclipsed by much larger International Sociological Association from 1949. In 1905 the American Sociological Association, the world's largest association of professional sociologists, was founded, and Lester F. Ward was selected to serve as the first President of the new society.
The canon: Durkheim, Marx, Weber
Durkheim, Marx, and Weber are typically cited as the three principal architects of modern social science. The sociological "canon of classics" with Durkheim and Weber at the top owes in part to Talcott Parsons, who is largely credited with introducing both to American audiences. Parsons' Structure of Social Action (1937) consolidated the American sociological tradition and set the agenda for American sociology at the point of its fastest disciplinary growth. In Parsons' canon, however, Vilfredo Pareto holds greater significance than either Marx or Simmel. His canon was guided by a desire to "unify the divergent theoretical traditions in sociology behind a single theoretical scheme, one that could in fact be justified by purely scientific developments in the discipline during the previous half century." While the secondary role Marx plays in early American sociology may be attributed to Parsons, as well as to broader political trends, the dominance of Marxism in European sociological thought had long since secured the rank of Marx alongside Durkheim and Weber as one of the three "classical" sociologists.
19th Century: From positivism to antipositivism
The methodological approach toward sociology by early theorists was to treat the discipline in broadly the same manner as natural science. An emphasis on empiricism and the scientific method was sought to provide an incontestable foundation for any sociological claims or findings, and to distinguish sociology from less empirical fields such as philosophy. This perspective, termed positivism, was first developed by theorist Auguste Comte. Positivism was founded on the theory that the only true, factual knowledge is scientific knowledge. Comte had very vigorous guidelines for a theory to be considered positivism. He thought that this authentic knowledge can only be derived from positive confirmation of theories through strict continuously tested methods, that are not only scientifically but also quantitatively based. Émile Durkheim was a major proponent of theoretically grounded empirical research, seeking correlations to reveal structural laws, or "social facts". Durkheim proved that concepts that had been attributed to the individual were actually socially determined. These occurrences are things such as suicide, crime, moral outrage, a person’s personality, time, space, and God. He brought to light that society had influence on all aspects of a person, far more than had been previously believed. For him, sociology could be described as the "science of institutions, their genesis and their functioning". Durkheim endeavoured to apply sociological findings in the pursuit of political reform and social solidarity. Today, scholarly accounts of Durkheim's positivism may be vulnerable to exaggeration and oversimplification: Comte was the only major sociological thinker to postulate that the social realm may be subject to scientific analysis in the same way as noble science, whereas Durkheim acknowledged in greater detail the fundamental epistemological limitations.
Reactions against positivism began when German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) voiced opposition to both empiricism, which he rejected as uncritical, and determinism, which he viewed as overly mechanistic. Karl Marx's methodology borrowed from Hegel dialecticism but also a rejection of positivism in favour of critical analysis, seeking to supplement the empirical acquisition of "facts" with the elimination of illusions. He maintained that appearances need to be critiqued rather than simply documented. Marx nonetheless endeavoured to produce a science of society grounded in the economic determinism of historical materialism. Other philosophers, including Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911) and Heinrich Rickert (1863–1936) argued that the natural world differs from the social world because of those unique aspects of human society (meanings, signs, and so on) which inform human cultures.
At the turn of the 20th century the first generation of German sociologists formally introduced methodological antipositivism, proposing that research should concentrate on human cultural norms, values, symbols, and social processes viewed from a subjective perspective. Max Weber argued that sociology may be loosely described as a 'science' as it is able to identify causal relationships—especially among ideal types, or hypothetical simplifications of complex social phenomena. As a nonpositivist however, one seeks relationships that are not as "ahistorical, invariant, or generalizable" as those pursued by natural scientists. Ferdinand Tönnies presented Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (lit. community and society) as the two normal types of human association. Tönnies drew a sharp line between the realm of conceptuality and the reality of social action: the first must be treated axiomatically and in a deductive way ('pure' sociology), whereas the second empirically and in an inductive way ('applied' sociology). Both Weber and Georg Simmel pioneered the Verstehen (or 'interpretative') approach toward social science; a systematic process in which an outside observer attempts to relate to a particular cultural group, or indigenous people, on their own terms and from their own point-of-view. Through the work of Simmel, in particular, sociology acquired a possible character beyond positivist data-collection or grand, deterministic systems of structural law. Relatively isolated from the sociological academy throughout his lifetime, Simmel presented idiosyncratic analyses of modernity more reminiscent of the phenomenological and existential writers than of Comte or Durkheim, paying particular concern to the forms of, and possibilities for, social individuality. His sociology engaged in a neo-Kantian critique of the limits of perception, asking 'What is society?' in a direct allusion to Kant's question 'What is nature?'
20th Century: Critical theory, postmodernism, and positivist revival
In the early 20th century, sociology expanded in the U.S., including developments in both macrosociology, concerned with the evolution of societies, and microsociology, concerned with everyday human social interactions. Based on the pragmatic social psychology of George Herbert Mead (1863–1931), Herbert Blumer (1900–1987) and, later, the Chicago school, sociologists developed symbolic interactionism. In the 1920s, György Lukács released History and Class Consciousness (1923), while a number of works by Durkheim and Weber were published posthumously. In the 1930s, Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) developed action theory, integrating the study of social order with the structural and voluntaristic aspects of macro and micro factors, while placing the discussion within a higher explanatory context of system theory and cybernetics. In Austria and later the U.S., Alfred Schütz (1899–1959) developed social phenomenology, which would later inform social constructionism. During the same period members of the Frankfurt school, such as Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), developed critical theory, integrating the historical materialistic elements of Marxism with the insights of Weber, Freud and Gramsci—in theory, if not always in name—often characterizing capitalist modernity as a move away from the central tenets of enlightenment.
During the Interwar period, sociology was undermined by totalitarian governments for reasons of ostensible political control. After the Russian Revolution, sociology was gradually "politicized, Bolshevisized and eventually, Stalinized" until it virtually ceased to exist in the Soviet Union. In China, the discipline was banned with semiotics, comparative linguistics and cybernetics as "Bourgeois pseudoscience" in 1952, not to return until 1979. During the same period, however, sociology was also undermined by conservative universities in the West. This was due, in part, to perceptions of the subject as possessing an inherent tendency, through its own aims and remit, toward liberal or left wing thought. Given that the subject was founded by structural functionalists; concerned with organic cohesion and social solidarity, this view was somewhat groundless (though it was Parsons who had introduced Durkheim to American audiences, and his interpretation has been criticized for a latent conservatism).
In the mid-20th century there was a general—but not universal—trend for U.S.-American sociology to be more scientific in nature, due to the prominence at that time of action theory and other system-theoretical approaches. Robert K. Merton released his Social Theory and Social Structure (1949). By the turn of the 1960s, sociological research was increasingly employed as a tool by governments and businesses worldwide. Sociologists developed new types of quantitative and qualitative research methods. Paul Lazarsfeld founded Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research, where he exerted a tremendous influence over the techniques and the organization of social research. His many contributions to sociological method have earned him the title of the "founder of modern empirical sociology". Lazarsfeld made great strides in statistical survey analysis, panel methods, latent structure analysis, and contextual analysis. He is also considered a co-founder of mathematical sociology. Many of his ideas have been so influential as to now be considered self-evident.
In 1959, Erving Goffman published The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and introduced the theory of dramaturgical analysis which asserts that all individuals aim to create a specific impression of themselves in the minds of other people. C. Wright Mills presented The Sociological Imagination, encouraging humanistic discourse and a rejection of abstracted empiricism and grand theory. Parallel with the rise of various social movements in the 1960s, particularly in Britain, the cultural turn saw a rise in conflict theories emphasizing social struggle, such as neo-Marxism and second-wave feminism. Ralf Dahrendorf and Ralph Miliband presented pioneering theory on class conflict and industrialized nation states. The sociology of religion saw a renaissance in the decade with new debates on secularisation thesis, globalization, and the very definition of religious practise. Theorists such as Lenski and Yinger formulated 'functional' definitions of religion; enquiring as to what a religion does rather than what it is in familiar terms. Thus, various new social institutions and movements could be examined for their religious role. Marxist theorists continued to scrutinize consumerism and capitalist ideology in analogous terms. Antonio Gramsci's Selections from the Prison Notebooks [1929–1935] was finally published in English during the early 1970s.
In the 1960s and 1970s so-called post-structuralist and postmodernist theory, drawing upon structuralism and phenomenology as much as classical social science, made a considerable impact on frames of sociological enquiry. Often understood simply as a cultural style 'after-Modernism' marked by intertextuality, pastiche and irony, sociological analyses of postmodernity have presented a distinct era relating to (1) the dissolution of metanarratives (particularly in the work of Lyotard), and (2) commodity fetishism and the 'mirroring' of identity with consumption in late capitalist society (Debord; Baudrillard; Jameson). Postmodernism has also been associated with the rejection of enlightenment conceptions of the human subject by thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Claude Lévi-Strauss and, to a lesser extent, in Louis Althusser's attempt to reconcile Marxism with anti-humanism. Most theorists associated with the movement actively refused the label, preferring to accept postmodernity as a historical phenomenon rather than a method of analysis, if at all. Nevertheless, self-consciously postmodern pieces continue to emerge within the social and political sciences in general.
In the 1980s, theorists outside of France tended to focus on globalization, communication, and reflexivity in terms of a 'second' phase of modernity, rather than a distinct new era per se. Jürgen Habermas established communicative action as a reaction to postmodern challenges to the discourse of modernity, informed both by critical theory and American pragmatism. Fellow German sociologist, Ulrich Beck, presented The Risk Society (1992) as an account of the manner in which the modern nation state has become organized. In Britain, Anthony Giddens set out to reconcile recurrent theoretical dichotomies through structuration theory. During the 1990s, Giddens developed work on the challenges of "high modernity", as well as a new 'third way' politics that would greatly influence New Labour in U.K. and the Clinton administration in the U.S. Leading Polish sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, wrote extensively on the concepts of modernity and postmodernity, particularly with regard to the Holocaust and consumerism as historical phenomena. While Pierre Bourdieu gained significant critical acclaim for his continued work on cultural capital, certain French sociologists, particularly Jean Baudrillard and Michel Maffesoli, were criticised for perceived obfuscation and relativism.
Functionalist systems theorists such as Niklas Luhmann remained dominant forces in sociology up to the end of the century. In 1994, Robert K. Merton won the National Medal of Science for his contributions to the sociology of science. The positivist tradition is popular to this day, particularly in the United States. The discipline's two most widely cited American journals, the American Journal of Sociology and the American Sociological Review, primarily publish research in the positivist tradition, with ASR exhibiting greater diversity (the British Journal of Sociology, on the other hand, publishes primarily non-positivist articles). The twentieth century saw improvements to the quantitative methodologies employed in sociology. The development of longitudinal studies that follow the same population over the course of years or decades enabled researchers to study long-term phenomena and increased the researchers' ability to infer causality. The increase in the size of data sets produced by the new survey methods was followed by the invention of new statistical techniques for analyzing this data. Analysis of this sort is usually performed with statistical software packages such as SAS, Stata, or SPSS.
Social network analysis is an example of a new paradigm in the positivist tradition. The influence of social network analysis is pervasive in many sociological sub fields such as economic sociology (see the work of J. Clyde Mitchell, Harrison White, or Mark Granovetter, for example), organizational behavior, historical sociology, political sociology, or the sociology of education. There is also a minor revival of a more independent, empirical sociology in the spirit of C. Wright Mills, and his studies of the Power Elite in the United States of America, according to Stanley Aronowitz.
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