In sociology, sociological perspectives, theories, or paradigms are complex frameworks used to analyze and explain objects of social study. They facilitate organizing sociological knowledge. Sociological theory is constantly evolving, and can never be presumed to be complete.
Theory is informed by epistemological discussions as to the most reliable and valid social research methods to use in the conduct of social science. Perspectives also relate to core assumptions regarding the ontological nature of the social world. Theory is thus informed by historical debates over positivism and antipositivism, debates over the primacy of structure and agency, as well as debates relating to other fundamental key concepts in the social sciences and humanities in general (e.g. materialism, idealism, determinism, dialecticism, modernity, globalization, postmodernity, and so on).
Sociological theory is different from social theory. Social theory focuses on commentary and critique of modern society rather than explanation, and its goals are intensively political. Prominent social theorists include Jürgen Habermas, Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, Erving Goffman, Michel Foucault, Dorothy Smith, Alfred Schutz, Jeffrey Alexander, and Jacques Derrida.
Sociological theory, on the other hand, is centered on the attempt to understand the society. Whereas sociological theory relies heavily on the scientific method, is objective, and does not presume to judge the society, social theory is closer to philosophy, more subjective, and is much more likely to use the language of values and judgment, referring to concepts as "good" or "bad". Prominent sociological theorists include Talcott Parsons, Robert K. Merton, Randall Collins, James Samuel Coleman, Peter Blau, Immanuel Wallerstein, George Homans, Harrison White, Theda Skocpol, Gerhard Lenski, Pierre van den Berghe and Jonathan H. Turner.
Blurry boundaries affect social science, and there are prominent scholars who could be seen as being in between social and sociological theories, such as Harold Garfinkel, Herbert Blumer, and Claude Lévi-Strauss.
Development of sociological theory
Sociological theory is constantly evolving, and can never be presumed to be complete. New sociological theories build on their predecessors and add to them, but classic sociological theories are still considered important and current.
Whereas the field of sociology itself and sociological theory by extension is relatively new, dating to the 18th and 19th centuries, it is closely tied to a much older field of social sciences in general. Sociology has separated itself from the other social sciences with its focus on society, a concept that goes beyond nation, and includes communities, organizations and relationships.
Some of the key developments that influenced sociological theory were: the rise of individualism, the appearance of the modern state, industrialization and capitalism, colonization and globalization, and the world wars. Those and similar developments challenged contemporary thinkers, inspiring them to question whether existing theories can explain the observed reality, and to build on them, creating alternate theories, in search for the explanation of the observed society.
- Craig J. Calhoun (2002). Classical sociological theory. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9780631213482. http://books.google.com/books?id=6mq-H3EcUx8C&pg=PA1. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
- Kenneth Allan (24 March 2006). Contemporary social and sociological theory: visualizing social worlds. Pine Forge Press. pp. 10–. ISBN 9781412913621. http://books.google.com/books?id=mf2BxB149KsC&pg=PR10. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
- Sanderson, SK (2006). "Reforming theoretical work in sociology: A modest proposal". Perspectives (1360-3108), 28 (2), p. 1.
This chapter also draws heavily on this Wikipedia article: Sociological theory