Category Archives: Sociological Theorists

Sociological Theorists: Niklas Luhmann

What to my mind Luhmann exposes, after the manner of Parsons’ structural functionalism and the American neofunctionalists who walked and still walk in his footsteps, is that key mechanisms at the level of social strata impact beneath-the-surface or behind-our-backs. As absent presences, they can escape reflexive interrogation. In his The Differentiation of Society he argued… Read More »

Sociological Theorists: Max Weber

Max Weber was long called the ‘sociologist’s sociologist’, principally in acknowledgement not only of the wide-ranging reach of his scholarship and his general analyses of societal development and change, as well as of particular substantive issues, but of his work on the philosophy and methods of research. I once gave a talk in Munich directly… Read More »

Sociological Theorists: Karl Marx

If Marx would have baulked at the idea that he was a sociological theorist, his inclusion in my series cannot be gainsaid: he has been a catalyst for so much thinking about the nature of modern society. There are of course hundreds of summaries of his work, so what more might a single blog accomplish?… Read More »

Sociological Theorists: Michel Foucault

Where to start and end with Michel Foucault, a true innovator? This blog is another toe dipped into the water. Foucault, let’s recognize at the outset, rejected the notion that history unfolds in a linear and unidirectional fashion. In what I will here insist we should call his ‘grand narrative’ at the end of grand… Read More »

Sociological Theorists: Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu has become very fashionable in 21st century sociology. He was committed to overcoming the agency/structure and subjectivism/objectivism binaries throughout a long and varied career. He favoured acknowledging the force of structure without losing sight of agency (that is, real-life actors). He focused too on the dialectical relationship between objective structures and subjective phenomena.… Read More »

Sociological Theorists: Margaret Archer

Margaret Archer is in my view a major and somewhat neglected sociological theorist. Although rightly identified as a critical realist influenced by Roy Bhaskar, she is an independent-minded and powerful analyst in her own right. In this blog I sidestep much of the subject matter of my four previous blogs on her contributions on reflexivity… Read More »

Sociological Theorists: Alfred Schutz

Alfred Schutz might be more philosopher than theorist but I recall my excitement on reading his Phenomenology of the Social World (first published in 1932) and my sense of its strikingly acute relevance for the conduct of sociological research. Schutz was inspired by Husserl without altogether buying into his radicalization of Descartes ‘Cartesian’ project. The… Read More »

Sociological Theorists: Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman may or may not have been a symbolic interactionist, but he was undoubtedly influenced by G.H.Mead. Mead distinguished between the I, or the spontaneous self, and the Me, or the socialized self, accenting the ongoing tension between the two. It was this tension – and in particular the discrepancy between our spontaneous and… Read More »

Sociological Theorists: Norbert Elias

Norbert Elias argued for a developmental approach to the study of society, in contrast for example to Parsons’ static approach; but he was for many years neglected in Britain, none of his works being translated into English during his sojourn as a teacher at Leicester. Like the great French historian Braudel, Elias was interested in… Read More »

Sociological Theorists: Robert Merton

If Parsons became the unacceptable face of structural-functionalism, Merton grew into his role as its more subtle and acceptable interpreter. He was also more interested in Marx than Parsons (Alvin Gouldner was a student). He was critical of the claims that: (a) there is a functional unity to society; (b) all standardized social and cultural… Read More »