Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring

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Sociological Debates - Lecture 4

Two possible alternatives to the Parsonian account of the start of Sociology

A. Is there a common “classical” account of the start of sociology ?

Parsons’ later Marxist, Marxisant and Interactionist opponents tend to accept his account of sociology being a good idea,

  • a scientific model

  • named by Comte

  • developed in different ways (on the basis of economics – Marx and Parsons both say this even if they have different concepts of economics) by 19th century thinkers

  • synthesised in the 20th century

Neo-Marxists, Weberians and Interactionists (in varying combinations) in the mid – and late twentieth century – share this view of sociology as a science, except that each tends to present themselves as having produced the adequate synthesis, of which early writers only achieved a part.

Are there alternatives?

B. The history that Parsons argued against

Parsons may have defined his theory of social action against Spencer’s utilitarianism

  • but his view of the history of sociology is defined against Sorokin (1928), quietly at first (Sorokin was his HoD) but increasingly explicitly (once he was Sorokin’s HoD – c.f. Parsons in Tiryakian ed. 1963, Topic 10).

Sorokin saw the history of ideas as cyclical, and ideologies as always containing their own sociologies, which were alternative answers to the sociological questions.

Parsons (like Comte and Durkheim) sees the history of ideas as (contingently) progressive and cumulative, creating the unified body of knowledge (wissenschaft).

[Query Is a Science/Wissenschaft a set of questions or a set of answers?]

C . Foucault – and now for something completely different

Foucault sees Comte’s “naming” of Sociology as the accidental attachment of a label to a tradition of social enquiry already well-established, and deriving from the discourse of scientific medicine from the 16th century which

* empiricises itself through anatomy (OHPs of Vesalius 1543, Rembrandt’s anatomy lesson)

* conforms to and extends the promise of science to enable the control of society (NOT something Comte thought of first!)

* extends its control over madness as it medicalises it

* embodies itself in the architecture of the prison/hospital (theorised within utilitarianism as Bentham’s “Panopticon”)

* leads to professionalisation of doctors and the growth of medical technique

* moves from individual therapy to the political economy of public health which requires a knowledge of society (e.g. through the English Congresses of Social Science 1856-1884)

D. The Body and Society

Turner (1984) and Porter (1987) popularise Foucault’s ideas to the English-speaking world in the 1980s.

The new knowledge of society in the 18th century turns on a new sense of what it is to be human – what are human attributes:

Knowledge of anatomy became a popular metaphor for all knowledge and all social control (c.f. OHP of Hogarth’s the Reward of Cruelty, 1751)

The Body is retheorised as a kind of natural mechanics (OHP from Keith’s Engines of the Human Body, 1919) – which can then be re-tooled.

Thinking about the relation between the “individual” and society is first of all a new way of thinking about the relation between the embodied person and his environment.

E. Sex and Gender

A topic problematised by re-thinking the (inevitably gendered) body

- leading to a sociology which only slowly learns not to be androcentric ?

Or is the discourse of sex and gender itself a social construction which is then visited on the body? (c.f. Cealey Harrison and Hood-Williams 2002)

F. Points in common between Foucault’s medical discourse analysis and Parsons’ analysis of the sick role

- the doctor as an agent of social control in industrial society

- do they really contradict each other – or are they just starting from different standpoints?

G. A rapprochement between post-modernism and classical sociology?

Is Bryan Turner’s rediscovery of classical sociology a bizarre betrayal or a return to pre-Parsonian roots?

Lecture Five: Making Social Change the Problem

- Looking more closely at the Sociology Comte is supposed to have started

1. A qualitative change in the nature of change?

* The French Revolution – the first regime change legitimating itself by reference to the future rather than to tradition? (Any counter-examples?)

* The privatisation of land (Agricultural capitalism) and the Industrial Revolution

* Liberalisation of trade, urbanisation and population growth.

In the 1830s it still took a fast messenger as long to get from London to Paris as it had one of Julius Caesar’s. Steam does not just make mass production possible: it shrinks the world.

2. Reflecting on the nature of a new society

* Making the most of production: Adams Smith and Political Economy: The free market needs people to get on their bikes (Acts of Settlement/ Poor Law Reform) rather than go back to their villages (Elizabethan Poor Law/Oxfam in Ethiopia).

Bentham’s Utilitarianism tries to turn political economy in a general social theory, making all happiness quantifiable.

* Making the most of freedom – described by Tocqueville from the outside (Democracy in America, 1835) and from inside the English liberal elite (J.S.Mill, On Liberty, 1859)

3. Dealing with the problem of social change

* A.Comte, 1830s-50s: sociology as a positivistic science, using the methods of social science to control the threat of disorder. and take control of progress.

* H.Spencer Principles of Sociology (1892-8) elaborates rather than develops Comte, with a teleological [= attributing purposes as explanation] reductionist evolutionism.

4. Some 19th century variants of the “then and now” [modernity vs olden times] two-stroke approach to time

Comte: Theological stage > Metaphysical Stage >> Scientific Stage

Marx: Ancient Society> Feudal Society>> Capitalism

Durkheim: Mechanical Solidarity>> Organic solidarity

Tönnies: Gemeinschaft [=community] >> Gesellschaft [= corporation/societal relations]

Maine: Status>> Contract

Spencer: Tyranny> Oligarchy>>Democracy

Only Max Weber really avoids a bipolar characterisation of modernisation with the idea of “rationalisation”; but he still sees history as going one way.

5. Problems with the concept of modernity

*the circularity of the chronological essentialism as an explanation (cf Molière Le Malade Imaginaire (1673-4)

* doesn’t explain the psychological motivations of elites, who may not faithfully represent the interests of social classes or interest groups (cf Mosca, Pareto, Michels)

* does the self-awareness of modernity mean that history has stopped? Or do we move onto something else “after” modernity?

*How wrong (and how Eurocentric) was the notion that

modernity+industry+science = progress?

How come the holocaust?

Lecture 6 : Making Theorising Change the Problem I: Marx and the Past

Suppose change is inevitable; and the problem those who try to resist or take control of it? Is the answer to the problems thrown up by revolution just to take revolution further?

l) Karl Marx (1818-1883):

* seen as the key defender of the inevitability of revolution: but unites it with a kind of scientific action theory, by calling for action to lessen the birth-pangs of a new age. So, in criticising Feuerbach, he says we need to go beyond understanding the world to changing it. (Despite the assertions of Marxists, he is not always consistent).

*As a Ph.D student, he switches to a lesser university to get his thesis through, then edits a liberal newspaper, which gets closed down after it sides with workers’ struggles. In Paris, 1842-8 co-writes “The German Ideology” with Engels, while trying to work out philosophically what is right and wrong with capitalism, and decides that (following Feuerbach) he is a materialist, and this mean that the fundamental social science is Political Economy (nearly the same as contemporary economics). Ideology and culture are dependent on the material base.

*He gets involved in the Revolutions of 1848 – writes “The Communist Manifesto” with Engels - and after these collapse spends the rest of his life looking on from afar in London.

2) Marx’s theories of economic and historical change

Like most of the 19th century social thinkers, Marx turns the main social change that they could see – the industrial revolution – into a model for all social change.

The shift from feudalism to capitalism is seen as a switch between two different modes of production. A mode of production is a stable arrangement of

a) the relations of production i.e, how men and women organise working together, and who tells who to do what, via co-operation, enslavement employment etc.

b) the forces/means of production, i.e. land, labour and capital (“congealed labour – i.e. products used only to make other products), i.e. technology and raw materials.

In the transition from feudalism to capitalism, three main classes are defined by their relationship to the means of production:

The Aristocracy – who own large swathes of land and organise its military defence.

The Bourgeoisie/Capitalists – who own capital, and use it for production

The Proletariat/Working Class – who own only their own labour power

NOTE: Marx does NOT say there are only three classes, still less that there are only two. There are

a) Many others e.g. Peasants, who own or rent small amounts of lands, but have no servants, Usurers who own money and lend it to Aristocrats or Capitalists

b) Divisions within the bigger classes, e.g. Finance Bourgeoisie, Manufacturing Bourgeoisie, Petty Bourgeoisie (But the Capitalist Finance Bourgeoisie is a bit like the usurers under feudalism.)

BUT at times when there is acute social, inter-ethnic or class conflict, classes tend into two great alliances, just because in a battle it makes sense only to have two sides.

So Feudalism gets established when agriculture is under attack from marauding nomads or seafarers. Without soldiers well-fed and in charge of defence, agricultural settlements cannot survive.

BUT as Towns develop, and non-agricultural production becomes a bigger part of the economy, the townsfolk get to think with big walls, constables and a decent militia, who needs the aristocrats and their taxes?

i.e. Under Feudalism, Aristocratic domination of the relations of production is essential – But as urbanism and capitalism develops, Aristocratic domination becomes a restraint on trade (e.g. all the castles along the Rhine), and has to be thrown off for capitalism to develop its full potential.

So the “bourgeois” revolution occurred when the relations of production got to be out of synch with the development of the forces/means of production.

3) Projecting the theory backwards

Marx suggests that similar revolutions must have occurred hunters and gatherers (“primitive communism”) were over thrown by early agriculturalists and their kings and emperors (the ancient and Asiatic modes of production), and when the ancient Empires were in turn overthrown by “barbarians” who carved out feudal states.

But in each case their are cultural residues from earlier eras: the barbarians took the titles of King and Emperor, and the religion of the old Roman Empire, while the bourgeoisie just love to get knighthoods and peerages, still.

Lecture 7 : Making Theorising Change the Problem II: Marx and the Future

1. Projecting the theory forwards

Even though the class conflict between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie is resolved by the bourgeoisie taking over, there is still a class conflict between them and the proletariat (who had previously backed their employers against the aristos.)

Like the aristocracy before them, the bourgeoisie n(like all ruling classes) use their political power to extract surplus value from the workers. So long as their organisation of capital means rising production, they can get away with this.

BUT says Marx – there is a law of the declining rate of profit, which means in the long run capitalists can only keep up their living standards by increasing exploitation of the workers. So in the long run, like the aristos before them , instead of increasing production, they will be restraining it, BUT if the workers take over with a socialist mode of production, then production can increase indefinitely, because the workers have no-one to exploit, and therefore their thinking about how to organise production will be scientific, rather than ideological.

2) How does it happen in practice?

a) The role of ideology

- ideology and false consciousness – religion

- hegemony of the ideas of the ruling class: repressive liberalism

- selling (alienating) one’s labour power leads to spiritual alienation from the process of production: instead of being creative joy, work becomes instrumental drudgery.

b) The role of class consciousness

– why peasants don’t develop it (they are only a class in themselves)

– why trade unions do (workers become a class for themselves)

  • why revolutionary organisations are necessary

3) A Case Study: the failure of French Revolutions (Marx, 1852)

  • the first time as tragedy (Napoleon 1st)

  • the second time as farce (Napoleon III)

Why was the clown Napoleon III able to get away with his dictatorship for 19 years?

Marx argues it is because he was tolerated by the bourgeoisie, because otherwise the conflicts between the Finance-Bourgeoisie and the Manufacturing-Bourgeoisie would have led to civil war (a little bit like the drys and the wets in the Tories under Mrs Thatcher).

Why was the main class conflict between 2 sections of the bourgeoisies? Because neither the peasantry not the proletariat presented a threat:

  • the peasantry essentially represented the class basis of Bonapartist rule – grateful to Bonaparte for consolidating the land reforms of the revolution, and proud to offer their soldiers for his army (so long as they didn’t have to fight anyone tough like the Prussians). Instead of becoming a class for themselves, they support Napoleon III as a symbol of national pride.

  • The workers were not yet numerous or strong enough to take on bourgeois state armies – as was to be shown again in the tragic failure of the Paris Commune in 1870.

The idea of the vicarious representation of class interests is a fruitful one for Marxists:

e.g. it can be suggested that fascist parties use sectional ethnic interests and racist ideology to get the support of members of the working class against their true class interests.

OR that prohibition in America was the vehicle for petty bourgeois revolt

OR that state socialism in USSR failed, because it attacked the peasants, but failed to deliver the benefits of world capitalism to its growing working class, while state socialism in Communist China persists, because through land reform it won peasant loyalty, and was able to use a peasant army (like the Bonapartists) at Tienanmen Square to resist bourgeois and working class pressure.

Lecture 8: Theorising Change III: Durkheim

l.) Why did all conventional British Sociology courses before the 1980s start with suicide?

Because it fitted the UK empiricist model just right as a mythical ancestor.

  1. It WAS theoretical (and approved by Parsons, and linked to “continental” philosophy) and internationally comparative, and therefore not parochial, BUT

  2. It led straight to a counter-intuitive empirical finding and

  3. This in turn leads back into the heart of Durkheim’s theory of how societies – any societies work, or create their own solidarity.

2) What was sociology about for Durkheim? (The Rules of Sociological Method)

Sociology was about Social Facts. Only Social Facts explain other social facts. Explanations about why individuals commit suicide may be biological, psychological or historical (she had a brain tumour/was depressed/was too proud/was subject to suttee) but none of these work to explain rises or falls in the suicide rate.

To find what might explain suicide rates we can look at what other social factors correlate with them, e.g religious affiliation, civil/military status/gender/age etc. Although others before (Karl Marx, Florence Nightingale) looked at official statistics, Durkheim is the first to carry out systematic multivariate analysis to try to arrive at multi-factorial explanations.

Some of his analysis is questioned (eg do Catholics really commit fewer suicides) but his method is unavoidable in empirical analysis: Halsey suggests it is what distinguishes real sociology (thus placing himself in the empiricist tradition!)

3) So – what does explain Suicide?

Durkheim suggests that in modern industrial societies, the different factors he looks at come together to increase or decrease anomie (a sense of “normlessness” not knowing where you fit into society, and therefore what the purpose of life is anyway). Anomie is the opposite of solidarity.

Query. Can “Anomie” be identified as the same as what Marx calls “Alienation”

4) How to create solidarity

Mechanical and Organic solidarity : Two REALLY BAD translations of similar-sounding French words!

Mechanical” – really means automatic or reflexive – in agricultural societies people understand what other people are up to, because they see them at it. Religion helps build common sentiments.

Organic” means complex, like a complicated organism; in industrial society people will not understand their place unless they are well-educated (morally and scientifically).

Lecture 9: And back to the theory of Order

1) Max Weber – The two headed monster of sociology

If Parsons is the prophet that failed, is there an earlier prophet, a more reliable one we can go back to, to tell us why society carries on as it does?

Weber is the obvious candidate – but which Weber?

Why should Weber appeal to sociology students? Because, unlike Marx and Parsons who knew all the answers, but like you, he found sociological theory really, really difficult. You’d never guess from text-books which just use short quotes from his work, but in almost all of the big recurrent debates of sociology you can find different parts of his work putting him on different sides.

2) Weber as Methodologist

Value-free scientist (but not positivist enough for the objectivist historians)


The father of interpretativism, emphasising verstehen, the understanding of action as meaningful behaviour (but still too positivist for interactionsts like Schutz.)

The value-free scientist inspires Gouldner’s “New Objectivity”; the interpretativist under-writes the Frankfurt school and Habermas’ explorations of the lifeworld.

3) The theorist of Action

Is he a rationalist, building conceptual schema of ideal-types? (i.e. blue-prints, patterns) “Ideal-type” is another really bad English translation of the original OR

an empiricist , looking for evidence as to how values affect actions in complex ways?

4) Idealist or Materialist?

Is he an idealist suggesting that human ideas have an independent causal role (e.g he criticises Marx, and suggests Protestantism is something which enables the rise of capitalism , and isn’t simply a result of it)


In his study of stratification in society, he suggests that although class is moderated by all sorts of other statuses, he follows Marx in suggesting that class, based on economic interest, is a key starting point for understanding ‘economy and society’.

THEN, just to complicate matters,

He suggests that politics may be formed in an indeterminist way by contingent alliances of class and status groups, so that political parties may come to be autonomous interest-groups in their own right?

5) Left-winger or Right-winger?

Sources of legitimacy: Charisma > Tradition > Legal-rationality (democracy + bureaucracy).

Is the “real Weber” the colonel in the reserves who rode to war in 1914? Or the disillusioned anti-war invalid who was sent back?

When he says that he isn’t “religiously musical”, does he imply others are? Or is he genuinely agnostic?

Is he prophesying the “triumph of the will”, or warning against it? If his account of bureaucracy seems to show the “führerprinzip” as inevitable, would he have rolled over for it in 1933 like Heidegger, or would he have run away from it like the Frankfurt School? Or would he just have had another nervous breakdown?

Lecture 10: And were they part of one story? Functionalism as synthesis

A. A Unified General Theory?

If the 19th century sociologists were all heading in the same direction, (as Parsons 1937 asserts), what was the basic structure of society created by social action?

In "The Social System" Parsons (1951) takes the concept of "function" which had been kicking around for some time in social anthropology, and had been borrowed by Merton for Sociology, and turns it into an "ism". [Note: the book is 1951: bits came out before.]

B. The function of "function”?

A term (meaning whatever aids the survival of the fittest to survive) borrowed from biological evolutionism, which thus brings together an explanation of change with an explanation of continuity.

If survival is among the purposes of individual and collective action, then all actions can be judged on how they help us survive (which anthropologists saw in terms of structures persisting).

But surely, not all human action is rational? What is the difference between a "function" and a "purpose" or a "reason"? Merton's (1947) distinction between "manifest" and "latent" function tries to make explanation by "function" avoid the "teleological fallacy"?

C. Parsonian functionalism

Where Radcliffe Brown sees structure determining function, Parsons saw function creating structure. (But both try to cover this difference up!):

The emergent properties of systems of social action create social order - not just laws enforced by the police, but the ordinary politeness of everyday co-operation. (Thus solving Hobbes' "Problem of Order" without relying totally on co-ercive power.)

Socialisation > norms > values > legitimation of power > shape of socialisation,

which operates at 3 levels:

personality - culture - social system

which is composed of 4 sub-systems:

A - Adaptive the economy) - adapting the environment to feed us

G - Goal-attainment (government/politics) - getting things like we want

I - Integrative - (law) regulates relations between system parts

L - Latency (cultural pattern-maintenance) - our yardstick of what ought to be

(c.f.diagram, Holmwood (2005) p.97)

Social Change can be explained (or at least described) via the pattern variables

Affectivity <> Affective Neutrality (Are our emotions involved?)

Diffuseness <> Specificity (How specialised are our relationships?)

Particularism <> Universality (Is it who you are or what you know that matters?)

Ascription <> Achievement ( sometimes called Quality versus Performance)

Collectivity Orientation <> Self-Orientation

An example

An example of social change Parsons tried to explain was the alleged growing importance of nuclear family, (needed to stabilise the personality) and the decline of the extended family (no longer needed to run the economy) - interesting, because despite its initial plausibility, all empirical data (Townsend & Shils, Laslett etc.) more or less completely disprove it. Throughout history it has been the rich and powerful who operate the extended family (and still do – the Kennedys, the Windsors etc) and the poor and powerless who live in their tiny shacks and one-family homes and just have to get on with life (which mostly means working for the rich and powerful.)

Lecture 11. Variants of Functionalism

Almost from the beginning Parsons' theory was subjected to both friendly and unfriendly criticism, with critics that start friendly becoming more unfriendly as they go on.

Friendly variants

a) Persistance of the anthropological viewpoint, often built around Mauss (1925) The Gift which is more plausible than the colonial reports of Radcliffe-Brown. This sets up post-war structuralism in Levi-Strauss and Chomsky, where structure is seen as determining function

b) Mertonian functionalism which

i) Disclaims the objective of grand theory for “theories of the middle range”

ii) Suggests the we can analyse “the functions of social conflict” (i.e. does not see functionalist theory as incompatible with conflict theory)

Unfriendly criticism

a) P. Sorokin: Continues to attack the very notion of a unified general theory as conflating reason with intention, and ignoring altruism and ethics. This anticipates

b) C.Wright Mills and “conflict theorists” drawing on Weber and (less obviously Simmel, via Park and the Chiago School) to criticise Parsons

i) Methodologically for “a priori empiricism,”

ii) Politically for the conservatism of emphasising the functionality of the status quo,

Conflict theorists interact with interactionists (and rational action theory cf G.Homans) And prepare the way via Gouldner, for

c) neo-Marxist critiques from the 1970s, which concentrate their fire on theories of social stratification (esp. Davis and Moore 1945) which ignore class conflict.

A re-emergence of functionalism?

Interactionists eventually come to see that most macro-social theory is functionalist to some extent: the difference between Marx and Parsons is that Parsons’ functionalism is societal, Marx’s fragmented.; both can be seen as positing rational action based on interest, as in Adam Smith (1776).

As action theory becomes more macrosocial (Habermas, Joas) , theorists tend to accuse each other of becoming more Parsonian.

Parsons today?

Counterfactuals show that he didn’t produce an adequate unified general theory, but:

i) this doesn’t stop system-builders trying to do so

ii) doesn’t mean that functionalist explanations don’t still pop up all over the place

iii) the “discrediting” of Parsons as over-systematic and conservative for his functionalist theory of the social system disguises the fact that his version of the history of sociology is only seriously (and partially) challenged by Foucault. We are still doing sociology to the Parsonian agenda even if we follow him in trying to root that agenda in Durkheim and Weber (and through Weber, Marx).

Lecture 12. A pigeonhole for Women?

Is feminism an after-thought in the history of sociology? Or should awareness of gender-difference be built in from the beginning of any Sociology? But if it’s built in, how can we make a special study of gender without re-doing the whole of sociology (in which case the special study ceases to be special.)

1. Be clear at what level we are talking:

a) Women and Men: the difference that almost denies othering.

b) Women in Society: “gendered roles” rather than sexual difference

c) Sociology: Describing role-systems and also shaped by their history so far

d) Feminist/post-Feminist Sociology: able to transcend the shaping of analysis of roles by existing and past social practice by problematising their taken-for-grantedness.

2. i Explanations There have always been

(a) practices of female solidarity (eg ways of faking virginity)

(b) social strategies for advancing women in general not just individually

2.ii BUT these in the past have tended to be

(a) “hidden from history” (cf Rowbotham 1973)

(b) dependent on prevailing analyses of why men and women are different

2.iii Some possible explanations

(a) theological > religious strategies of female organisation

(b) biological > resignation, accommodation and compensation

(c) psychological > individual self-actualisation strategies

(d) functional > rational realignment of gendered tasks

(e) economic > dual labour market theory > unionisation + wages for housework

3. Feminist strategies in society depend on what combination of the above explanations is accepted. Historical periodisation reflects more general “malestream” “theories” of citizenship and social policy:

a) Pre 1800 CE – Making the most of traditional roles/ exploiting difference

b) 19th century – demanding formal political equality (the vote)

c) 20th century - demanding social equality in welfare and work

d) 1970 + - demanding cultural equality/ an end to patriarchy/ male chauvinism

e) 1980 + - coming to terms with the critique from Black Feminism

f) 1990+ Post-feminism ????

4. Feminism in Sociology

There have been feminists in sociology since its beginning – Jane Addams, Beatrice Webb etc.. But is it true that only in phase (d) above they’ve been re-making sociology? And if so how ?

  1. A mere correction of past errors (whether reformist or Marxist? Or a retreat into irrationalist, post-modernism (the latter is a more meaningful sneer if you accept Adkins’ reified concept of “the enlightenment”)

  1. A radical re-conceptualisation of sociology causing (rather than just taking advantage of) the re-problematisation of the body by Foucault and others to expose androcentrism in sociology, and so make new problems central e.g.

* “seeing the project of modernity as gendered”

* moving “beyond sex and gender”

* seeing all forms of social divisions and exclusion as gendered

* starting from gender in discussion of class and ethnicity, rather than tacking it on afterwards.

5) How does this leave the commensurability of male and female experience.

We may change our bodies, but can we ever truly be sure we know what it is like to be born another kind of person? Are anonymous texts gendered?

Lecture 13 The Missing Years I The Nemesis of the Paradigm-Shifters OR The ghosts of the Welfare state.

British Sociology from the L.S.E. to the E.S.R.C.+ Historical Sociology

1. The L.S.E. Responding to the needs for the teaching of sociology: dividing the syllabus into:

“Theory” (foreigners and their funny ideas) and

“Institutions” (the real world, i.e. Britain)

Dominates sociology teaching till the 1970s.

2. The servant of the Welfare State:

Titmuss, and the demographic approach to inequality and class; altruism as the motivator of democratic socialism

Marshall: Citizenship as a “theory” to underpin Social Policy (still being used by Turner and some feminists)

Endless controversies over class analysis and social stratification

3. Research: Empirical or Empiricist?

Urban ethnography in Bethnal Green: untheorised ideal-typism? (cf Platt)

The foundation of the SSRC – Cherns and the non-utilisation of Research Utilisation Studies

The last “Big Sociology” in England: Goldthorpe and Halsey on Social Mobility and Townsend on Poverty

4. The Backlash : Bringing Theory back into research

Left Weberianism (Rex and Moore in Birmingham) and neo-Marxism

Feminism: Marxist Feminism & Radical Feminism, themselves critiqued by Black Feminism

Conservative critiques – Hayek, Popper, Halmos, Digby Anderson

Under Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph, the SSRC becomes the ESRC.

- and the Haralambos approach to “Schools of thought” becomes semi-official

5. Historical Sociology and the theory of Knowledge

Does analysis of history (including the history of social thought) require a theory of knowledge that stands outside history?) Eisenstadt, Schumpeter (& Asimov?)

Mannheim and the “free-floating intellectuals”

American critiques of scientism and positivism: Kuhn and Feyerabend.

The implausibility of modernisation theory.

The perception of sociology as being in crisis and losing authority: problems of relatavism

Some minor sociologists, reading Kuhn, boldly declare themselves “paradigm shifters” – while Giddens, boldly and deceptively just goes ahead and writes a new paradigm (and rewrites it at intervals) in a synthetic text-book – the perfect anti-Haralambos – but just as unreliable.

6: A possible summary:

THESIS: The LSE Approach: there is one sociology, and it’s what we do at LSE.

ANTITHESIS: The Haralambos Approach: Actually there are 3 schools of thought

(starts off as 2, but becomes 3 after interactionists establish themselves)

SYNTHESIS: The Giddens textbook: everyone had a lot to contribute, and now I’ve got it right. (At least for now.)

A possible exam question: “Textbooks are the soft underbelly of any intellectual paradigm” – Discuss.

LECTURE 14. The Missing Years II: Neo-Marxism and Sociology under State Socialism OR Which one was the evil twin?

l) Marxism as the official alternative to Sociology

a) 1917-1947

Lenin and Stalin :

Dislike the bourgeois idealism of Durkheim and Weber, but

Like time-and-motion study and industrial planning i.e. pinch the content of American empirical sociology.

b)1949 to 1989

Huge expansion of numbers of countries ruled by communism

Incorporation of the legacy of Marxists and "progressive" thinkers from 1930s struggles in other countries:


A.Gramsci - theory of hegemony and the need for "organic intellectuals of the working class" - an alternative sociology of knowledge. (Imprisoned by Mussolini)

G.Lukacs - "reification" defeatable by proletarian consciousness

H.Stahl - combines the methods of fieldwork anthropology and local archival history to show the reality of resistance to serfdom and slavery in Romania

Fei Hsiao-Tung - detailed anthropology of one village in China over 40 years – and bringing fieldwork methods to humanise Stalinist National Minorities policy

All are just too big to be submerged by dictatorships, even if they suffer sometimes.

c) Late Communist government responses

i) realisation that somehow class analysis also has to be applied to "actually existing socialism" eg. Milovan Djilas on "the new class",

Mao Tse-Tung on "non-antagonistic contradictions"

ii) Kruschev appropriates survey methodology as part of planning and denounces Stalinism in 1956 - but also invades Hungary.

iii) The dream of reforming Communism - as a revolutionary movement - from within continues - until the Prague spring of 1967.

2. Neo-Marxism as opposition in the West

a) How to deal with dislillusion with Stalinism?

i) Trotskyism: opposition to "socialism in one country" and world-system analysis: Mandel and Wallerstein. Continues, like a broken record.

ii) Drifting to the right: Adorno, the Frankfurt school and the "missed opportunity" - taking refuge in psychoanalysis. [NB Marcuse is the anarchistic exception]. The origins of "Cultural Studies".

iii) Hoping for communist renewal with Gramsci and Lukacs, and a combination of left-wing social-democrats/democratic socialists, and reforming Euro-communists. Leads to creation of "The New Left" post 1956.

3. The possibility of Neo-orthodoxy ?

L.Althusser : The "Epistemological rupture" of 1846-8

The relative autonomy of ideology and "over-determination in the last instance"

M.Castells (Mark One) turns collective consumption into the justification of socialism in one municipality (cf the young Ken Livingstone drawing inspiration from Turin)

4. The end of Marxism???

But will "collective consumption" make the state ever more socialist? - No! Monetarists successfully turn the clock back in the 1980s, and the New Left loses confidence in over-determination and starts deserting to psychoanalysis and cultural studies; Castells Mark One is replaced by Castells Mark Two on Social Movements.

Lecture 15. From Interactionism to Post-Structuralism

OR The curse of amnesia!

1. Restoring Synthesis : interactionism.

a) When did it start ? In the 1970s it was “realised” it had started in the 1920s: a new synthesis that at first was thought of as an alternative to Marxism and functionalism (as in the Haralambos version) – but in Giddens’ hands takes its own claims to synthesis seriously enough to drop it’s name and assert it is sociology.

b) the claimed ancestors:

Weber’s “methodological individualism

Shutz’s phenomenology – I, you and the other

G.H.Mead: pragmatism

- and arguably all draw on the late 19th century social psychology of William McDougall and William James

1937 Herbert Blumer ( seeing himself as part of the Chicago school) elaborates “social interactionism” as an alternative to functionalism, with little success at the time, but in the 1950s and 1960s this provides a vaguely progressive base for sociologists like

Anselm Strauss (founder with B.Glaser of “Grounded Theory” – very popular with Nursing sociologists,

Howard Becker ( “Whose side are we on?”, “On becoming a Marijuana User”)

They all claim that a macro-sociology can be built up on the basis of aggregating microsociologies

c) Ethomethodology – a dead end?

Cicourel and Garfinkel argue that one does not even need a macro-sociology: that understanding other people’s own micro-sociologies is the best we can do.

This produces brilliant ethnographies – but doesn’t actually dissolve the big questions about social order and social change – so it gets combined with other perspectives.

Erving Goffmann never really says whether he’s an ethnomethodologist or not.

d) An interactionist sociology of knowledge – the social constructionism of Berger and Luckmann. – suggests we have to understand how the structure of society is put together in social interaction.

2 Forgetting Interactionist roots – Structuralism and Post-structuralism

a) This idea (interactionism) is borrowed by Giddens as an answer to the “problem” of the relation between structure and agency (i.e the problem of which determines which out of structure and function) in his theory of structuration – which so thoroughly solves the old problems of sociology it doesn’t even have to be mentioned in his big text book.

b) It also provides an answer to the perceived problem of the classical structuralism of Levi-Strauss and the English Anthropologists either

through the use of historical counter-factuals to suggest structures are structures of discourses rather than reality, (e.g. Foucault)

or by looking at the autonomy or creativity of actors within their own life-worlds (like late Frankfurt school sociologists Habermas or Joas)

or by suggesting that social movements can create their own reality (eg Castells Mark II, 1983)

At first this current of ideas is called post-structuralism (with the suggestion it has gone beyond Marxism, functionalism and classical structuralism) but, as it presents itself as synthesis it loses interest in defining itself against other “schools” – until it itself is challenged by post-modernism.

Lecture 16. From Psychoanalysis to Postmodernism OR The weirdest, grandest story ever told.

l) Reasons for not reading Freud – the confessions of a sociologist

a) A broad current of social thought that both seems to excite little controversy of interpretation, AND to stand as a coherent trajectory of thought (Freud changed his ideas as he grew older, eg on the occurrence of child abuse) that both post-Freudians and anti-Freudians can define themselves against

b) A way of talking about the self/personality (id, ego, superego) which seems to restore the complexity screened out by rationalists from Descartes on, that is a staple of religious theorisation of the self (e.g.Paul)

But is psychoanalysis science? Its evidence/truth criteria seem to be pragmatic rather than positivistic or dialectical.

This means it conflicts with positivistic psychology (eg Skinner, Descartes) - but has rather a good fit for interactionist followers of W.James (pragmatists) and A,Schutz (phenomenologists) – if they choose to take it up.

2) The Freudian legacy within Interactionism (often unstated)

Civilisation and its Discontents 1930

The “death drive” and repression as the foundation of culture –

a) Ties up nicely with social-evolutionary idea of “Sublimation” as the foundation of progress (the “Chimpanzees’ testicles” theory of history)

b) Proposes that by understanding, we can take control, thus freeing ourselves from constraints which are no longer necessary

3) Freudianism and Marxism

a) The Frankfurt School: cramming Freud into Marxism: explaining fascism via “the authoritarian personality”

b) Structuralist psychoanalysis (J.Lacan) : Cramming Marx into Freudianism :

The mirror stage and the construction of identity > new ways of viewing class (& ethnic, & gender) consciousness

– taken by L. Althusser to help explain the ideological “subjection” of the subject.

4) Beyond Freud and Marx

a) Marcuse (the primacy of negation) Foucault (the triumph of the counterfactual ?)

b) G.Deleuze and F.Guattarri Anti-Oedipus (originally 1972) – using a self-proclaimedly schizophrenic disintegration of the theories which dominate our mind, and our understanding of our own desires (which reflect the structures of the very capitalism which forms them). So the names of the “policemen in our head” who keep us running round the same old grooves can actually be Marx and Freud, and they too must be dethroned in order to liberate ourselves (cf Foucault’s introduction to Anti-Oedipus).

5) Post-Modernism

a) J-F Lyotard The Post-Modern Condition (originally 1979). The idea of the end of the grand narrative (Marx, Freud, Parsons etc). The advantage of reifying modernity is that we can then get over it.

b) Theorisation of Post-Modernity as the current condition of society, liberated by information technology at the same time that it abandon the illusion of progress. (c.f Barth J , 1967 Giles Goat-Boy; Castells 2002) The Internet Galaxy.

Relationship with Giddens’ “Late Modernity” ?

Emphasis on choice and risk as guiding principles of social action, as old constraints fall away.

Sample Examination papers

Candidates should answer :

ALL questions in Part A,

ONE question from Part B

EITHER one question from Part C OR the other Question not yet attempted from Part B

1   2   3   4   5   6


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