Modern Social TheoryAn IntroductionEdited byAustin HarringtonOXFORDVNTVBRSTTY PRESS
Intrc -'--don.What isSocial Theory?Austin Harn'ngtonfOClCS DISCUSSED IN THIS INTIIODUCTIONThe rn anirlgd 'the6y' andsaialsdenoeMehddmedroddogyinsodalmeatchfaid thea yand'rommonse e*'Fads', '-,,4'W thewyandather afthewy * poMkalthcory W psydsloglrW t h e a y a n d t h c CondusibnQUESflOllS FOR DIXWYOIIGUrtIUl IWllnlR REAllnG Ik MCIA THEORVSOURCES HUTHE PUBLIC MEMAWB5IESbdal W r y canbedefined as the study of sdenWc ways ofthinldngabout sodal Uk. ItaKompassesideas about how societies change and develop, a b u t methods of explain9 social behavlour, about power and s o d structure, class, gender andethnldty.modernity and 'dvlliratlon', r e v o l u t l a n dutopias, and numerousother conceptsandprobierns in soda1 life. This Introduction addresses some of the leadhg questlorn t?lat&se when we start to think about the very idea of a 'science of society'. We begin by&cussing the meaning of the word 'theow and its oarlow implications for 'method'md 'methodology' in social research.We also consider questions about the relationshipd s d d theory to 'common sense', about the roIe of 'facts', 'values', and 'obfectivlty'InJociaI research, and about the relation of sociology to other disdplines of the sodalsciencesand the humanities such as political theory, psychology, anthropology,Mstory,.Ddphilosophy.
The meaning of 'theory'As a term of art, kocial theory' is a distinctly recent Invention. No such term exists InEnglish or in any other language before the twentieth centuryIand even io the twentiethcentury it is not common before about the 1940s. Auguste *Comtecoined the term sucioI0gie in France in the 1840s, but 'sociology' too did not gain widespread currency as a termuatll after 1900. However, the two separate words 'socfal*and 'theory' are very ancient inorigin. An initial lookat theix etymologieswillglw us somedues to theirmeanlag as a coniolned pair.Our words 'sodal*and 'society' derlve horn the Latin words sodus and sodeta. ForRomans, a sociw %a member of aadinj?partnership. Asocius was a merchant coomttnn with other merchants as a oartner, fellow, or 'associatet. A partnershipor 'association'between merchants was a sock&, which is the orinin of our modem U s h word 'company' or 'bushes finn', as well as our keyword society, The commercial meaainqaf soc dmcis directIy preservedin othermodem European Ianpages such as in the French and It2his sensw-.- .-. .heancic. eant'contem lation'.In thewritings of the philosopherM o t l e , &&a referredto contemplation of the cosmos. It contrasted withepm&, from which our word 'pra&eJderives.Praxisfor the Greeks referred to human -'wayof acttng and conductingtheirlives on this earth, in the Immediate everyday wodd. Clearly*this ancient Greek understanding of M a differs horn most common uses of the word 'theory' today. The Greekword thearla had g different set of connotationsfrom e m o d e r n linkages of theory with'scientific construction'. my we tend to think of 'a theoryr as belna a 'scientific construct' or a 'scientific model'. In contrast.thfor the Greeks did not itself mean science.-Rather, it meant rePection on science: reffection on the value of saence, as one mode of contem latin thecosmosamongothers-alongside art, myth,reliRfon.and the most generaldiscipline of thinkinp;that the Greeks called 'philoso hy ,or -ofwisdom'.The ancient Greek meaning of Mria might not seem partiadd9 relevant to us io thepresent day. It might seem to reinforce the rather widespread view that theory lacks relwan to dailylie. Yet t h i s wouldbe to fail to appreciatethe significance of theidea. 7?wiWfor the Greekswas an indispensableaid to maicing senseof their livesin the ordinaryworldof sodety, in the world of the 'city' or what they d l e d thepolis, born which our word 'politics' derives. Theybeueved that people who did not pause to engage in contemplation andreflection had no pointsof orientationfor conductinnt h e i r k s in vractice, in the politicalworld of actions and Interacttons with other people. Thus &&ria for the Greeks remainedindispensable to everyone who sought wisdom, happiness,and the good Me inthe realmofpFaxfs*It can be said that a renrrrent tendency af modernhas been for theory to beequated with scientific knowledgeper se and totation ofdE!critical reflective questioning about theand m e d n x of science-in the context ofG
politics. in thc c o n t c , a n f m o d e ofs understandlQ&bnd inthe context of theAnitudeand mortalitv of hm The neglect of thetiria in modern times was a partimlarIyimportant concern for the Jewish-C;erman philosopher Edmund *Husserl, founder of themwernent of philosophical t houghr known as *p!rmomenoEop. Writing in the 1930s,Husserl armed that unless the scicnces m t l t e theirdsources of origination and meanl n for evervdav life, in the "lifeworld' as hecalld it, they would be doomed to extinctiont Husscrl 19361.Either the sciences would become wholly abqorbed into the production oftechnnlogies of mastery over nature or they would dissolve in a wave of revolt against alltattonal thin king totdt roftrt.Unfortunately,the rise of fascism and militarism in Europe inrhe 1930s and 1940s confImed Hussert's fears, and the only remaining role for science inEuropean society in this period remained as an instrument in the production o l machinesof war and persecution,In a similar spirit, the Jewish-GermanCmlgre philosopher Hannah "Arendt argued thattheory In the modern age comes to be Inaeasinglv suhrdfnated to the search for technolofiical mntrol over physical and social lifc (Arendt 1958). Writing in the 19505, Arendtsuggested that where the original virn confmplativn or "contemplative life'oof the ancientGrreks had been intimately hnund up with what the Greeks saw as the vita actiw or 'activelife' of public palitical participation, the 'actlve lifekf the modern age no longer has thesense of practice and deliberation informed by contemplativereflection, Instead. modernconsciousness the w& becomes inmasinpllv oriented to w o ! and e v l t- v. ,where science scrves the develoament of technotop and where t k q d M a n d s o h vscrve a t mast as 'handmaidens' to science. In contrast, Arendt wanted to see a world inwhich t h o r yand philosophy not only assist science but also remind sdence Q itsmoraland nolittcal reswnsibilities. in the face of the fraatliy of the earth's resources and themortality of human lift,Science and social scienceThis ancient context of theilria suggests clrles for ways of thinking about the relationshipof soclal theory to science todav. li sndal&the of tthinkmg aboutsociety scientifically,we can also sav that it S a way of t h.l n l.u n p o u t how Zar it is possiblestudv m-1 .We can sav t h a t ? is athinking aboutwhat science and bei in 5scl ntificheanwith respect to the social world,'The ward ' i e n c cin' English has close connectionswith the natural sciences and is oftenused synonymouslywith them. HDW MI,the natural sciences are not theonlv disciplines of.human enquirywith a claim to the title of science. -aPeneraI toi s m a g & a m c t h o d m e t h o d s t o d consistently and tranrparently. Usuallv it involves an effort toh. .vbetween t5v tematic;lllvofthewrsonobserpingthem-whatwecall d a kIor 'cvidcncel--qad d e a m n r c - dby t h e - a s a d p r d e r i n g W W b o b s e r v e s . D e f i n e d in this general sense, it is clear t hat physics, chemistry,or biolop are not the only subjects of enquiry with a claim to the title of k i n g sciences.Other [email protected],such ashistory, archaeolo ,or an criticism, can aIsa be sciences. In
French, the subject5 known in English as the 'humanities' are called Ies sciences Aumnines,while in German the humanities are known as the *Gpistenvissmd ofim-'sciencesof themlnd', or "sciences of thc works of the human mind'.The particular association between scienceand natural science in English reflccls a seriesoldeveloprnents in ea lpmodern European history in which a number of precedents wereset by the emergence of physics and astronomy in the seventeenth centurv and the emergence of chemistry and biolo yin the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. From aroundL k k A g h t e i e h t e e n t Y l r y . a variety of atternpfi were made toe thc -a-ddriuplins crenceswith d e w m l devotfd i d , h u m a n s o c i a l T l i e r ; ncludedeeconomics, phiiolugy and linwistics,history and art history, and notably 'sociology'.iL!&ashdh&LlW&W-P were Q& C P if ?t h y copied o -&sciences.Accordingto Auguste *Comte, who 1s thc originator both of our word 'sociology'and of the concept of *'positive science' or 'positivism, nnlv one f u m h m t a l p r i n c u&science and all p a c u l a rsciences had to be unified undcr this principle. I liisprinciple was set by the science of physics, which Comtc believed to proceed by QUEh v a n v c o n c t r n r i o n s-tfVhtually ali social theorists and philo ophersreject this nineteenth-century positlvistconceptJon of science todav. A l m n r t m l a v. . .s a n M L k h P h f mnf nl f h p n a l sri lvund--asclencesthcmselves.amuw h m w h i c h n w i r a s c i e n c e . - t h e humanities and thesocial sciences-dy V v a l u p 9 . ji f 5 . a n d bFnclalhphnvinllrantlin-dwa-hThese embodied meanings, wlucs, intentions, beliefs, and idcasas kxh aed. .are @rrsnfrnrlt Kt of rntmhnnal2awu%bt. . .mu am Thereforeermra-lr.cannat hepfYLulhpflnhvsrcalelemcntsarerrcatcddAlthough natural scicntistsalsu, up to a point,deal 7 1 tsymhol chconwithtructs that require *Anterprctivc skills of variou kinds, udaiktk. . . . .M Y I l f p r . v h ' " c h P m if pp nf. ."m xiwinidwinlhlPa&ra . . am-pThis question of differences between the human sciences and the natunl sciences raisesa more general question about t h e role of what is called 'method'and 'methodology' insocial research.I t is to this that we n w turn.Method and methodology in social research. I 1s. ta k N c t r m a t l r i a a n l r t * t l i t n f f i w T a b 'mghadrcalmPt to use mmeoarticulartwhniaue or techniques in b v s n m e Lhh& In social science we speak of 'quatitativc methods', such as a programme of interviews, and of 'quantitative methods', such as the use of s t a t i s t i c r . U h a x e a . .mfPllflwafo&&f m a s.kn
topic of study. Methodology thus refers to a theoretical principle or principles governinghe application of a set of methods. The '-ology'in 'methodoEogyJ refers to a themy ofmethodical practice.The central issue for any group of researcherswho want to think about the rnethdologygftheir research project concerns the relationshtp between the pieces of evidenceor data at:heir disposal and the theories governing thc way In which they apply methods in order to?:oduce and analyw this evidence or data. Here the word 'theory' is used in its more mode md familiar sense of "scientific model' or 'scientific construction'. TWQ very general ? basicd questions we can ask in this mnnectlon are the Following. What would research3e like if it consisted only of acts of data collection and no theories? And conversely, what-* uldresearch be like if it consisted only of theones find do data collection?Let us look at the second question first. If research consisted mIy of theories, it would Iack 2 r e n c toe the real world. Researchers would have no reason to g o out into the field andrxeniew people or analyse sources. If research consisted only of constructions in the a q i n a t i u n sof researchers, it would be empty of content; and it would be incapabEe of ng validated or tested in any way. Any piece of speculationwouId have to be deemed as: x d as another.'3ut now let us look at the first question. If research consisted mty of data colldm, it-2uld lack all order and sense.It research conristed only of heaps of information,it would?e no more than a chaotic bundle of statements, impossible to decipher or evaIuate or to:?I!to any meaningful purpose. It would be useless and pointless.'-1-e can conclude from this that theory is impossfbEe without *empirical obsetvation,1-d equally that empirical observation i s impossible without theory To paraphrase a' z oustatementsin the thought of the cighteenth-centurg Enlightenmentphilosapher'?manuel *Kant, we can say that theories without data me empty; data withwt theories mer'-.rLi(Kant ortginalEy wrote: 'Concepts without perceptions are empty; perceptions with-2: concepts are blind') (Kant 1781: edition B,pafa. 76).L? reality, it ncvec happens that a researcher's theoretical reflections entirely lack i r icontentc a l or that a researcher's empirical observations entirely Iack thmretical:rnstmctlon, In every aaua! Instance of research, a researcher's theoretical reflections arer r d e dtowards flndlng out some piece of evidence about an object of experience, and1 r5earchct1s observations of this object are always structured by his w her theoretical ?ections.We can say that thearies ought not to dictate or dogmatically constrain a-searcher? field of observations; but we have te accept that theoretical thinking of some-.' altvays underlies the researcher'sobservations.Il?eorbfcal thinking supplies criteria for selections and discriminations of things that:? eye Investigation, and It is the only way in which researchers can produce orderedI-: rclun ts and evaluations of their data. Thus theoretical thought i s always presupposed in- rch; there arc no observations that are not 'theory-laden'. There is no such thing7; ?ure observation or pure recepoon of data At a most basic leveI, theoretical thought-" :s impIvto any ordinary person's mental ordering of his or her sense-impressions in?-?n-day life.?-e key Implication of this connection between theoretical thought and ordinary--?-daythought is that social theory relates in an important way to what Is calledr - --.Ton sense'.
Social theory and 'common sense'Social theory i
The meaning of 'theory' As a term of art, kocial theory' is a distinctly recent Invention.No such term exists In English or in any other language before the twentieth centuryI and even io the twentieth century it is not common before about the 1940s.Auguste *Comte coined the term sucioI0- gie in France in the 1840s, but 'sociology' too did not gain widespread currency as a term