Sociological Theorists: David Lockwood

By | August 2, 2017

David Lockwood has been neglected as a sociological theorist. Babyboomers like me remember him chiefly through The Blackcoated Worker, in which he argued, albeit with important qualifications, that white-collar work was being proletarianized; and his involvement with John Goldthorpe and others in the classic studies of affluent skilled manual workers in Luton, in which it was argued that, contrary to popular opinion, that they were not being assimilated into the middle classes.

In this brief exegesis I will focus on Lockwood’s distinction between social and system integration, drawing on Nicos Mouzelis’ discussion in Key Sociological Thinkers, edited by Rob Stones. This social versus system distinction arose from his attempt to distinguish clearly between Parsons and Marx. It permitted the analysis of a social system, be it a small informal group, a formal organization or a whole society, from two distinct but complementary perspectives. From the point of view of social integration, agency is paramount. The focus here is on the ways in which social actors define their situations, see things and relate to each other in specific social contexts. Social integration, in short, encompasses ‘the orderly or conflictual relationships between actors’. System integration, on the other hand, refers to the association of and relations between ‘parts of the social system’. System integration alludes to mechanisms and changes that occur behind actors’ backs rather than at their behest. While social integration is ‘internal’, system integration is ‘external’. To quote Mouzelis, ‘the mechanisms leading to integration/distintegration are no longer those of conflict/cooperation, but those of logical compatibility/incompatibility between systemic parts.’

I will not spell out Parsons’ structural-functionalism since I have addressed in some detail in it in another blog in thie series. Unsurprisingly, for Lockwood Parsons puts too much emphasis on system integration. Mouzelis again: ‘its exclusive focus on systemic incompatibilities between normative orders peripheralizes actors, and prevents one from asking who-questions about social change … it is though a mysterious entity called Society, or Societal System, were handling the contradictions so as to bring about social change in the direction of greater differentiation and higher adaptive capacity.’

Lockwood finds in Marx something of an antidote to Parsons. For Marx, the ‘parts of the social system’ are not just normative and institutional. Witness the basic Marxist contradiction between the material base of society (the forces of production) and society’s core institutions (comprising the relations of production, as manifest in private property for example), which delivers a type of systemic incompatibility ruled out by Parsons. Moreover Marx explicitly poses ‘who-questions’. He asks what potential exists, for example, for proletarian or working-class consciousness, what Sartre would call a class for-itself, and for class action? How, Lockwood goes on to ask, do actors’ strategies and struggles affect systemic contradictions and vice versa?

Lockwood adds Durkheimian sociology to the equation. Durkheim, he contends, views social structure in terms of status, asserting that disorder or change arises out of a discrepancy between a status hierarchy and (vaguely conceptualized) class-power relations. He pushes to one side and renders peripheral what is central for Marx. Mouzelis summarizes as follows:

‘at the centre of the Marxist view of social structure are power rather than status groups, that is, groups struggling over the means of production and over the benefits such control bestows. From this perspective social disorder or social transformation occurs when there is a discrepancy between class and status – status ‘contra’ Durkheim, being defined by Marx only nebulously. For Marx, when power relations between social classes no longer correspond to the distribution of rights and obligations as defined by law, that is, when there is a discrepancy between ‘de facto’ power relations ad ‘de jure’ formal arrangements, then we witness processes leading to social change. So while both Marx and Durkheim base their theories of disorder on a discrepancy between status and power relationships, the one considers as the core and conceptualizes carefully what the other considers peripheral and conceptualizes vaguely.’    

So Lockwood is sympathetic with Marx’s thought. But he is not uncritical. When Marx introduces the notion of class consciousness, for example, Lockwood suggests that he is caught between contending that: (a) objective class relations more or less automatically result in specific class practices, and (b) whenever there is a discrepancy between objective interests and class practices this is due to the adoption of erroneous or ‘false’ ideas. Interests, Lockwood maintains, cannot simply be ‘read off’ any given class position (they are invariably constructed via normative reflection).

Mouzelis argues, I think rightly, that Lockwood eschews constructing a meta-theory that somehow reconciles Parsons, Marx and Durkheim. He always has the empirical research programmes that constitute a credible professional sociology at the back of his mind. As have so many before and since, he aspires to overcome the structure/agency divide. An emphasis on system integration at the expense of social integration results in teleological explanations that portray society as an enigmatic entity that fashions people’ lives behind their backs. An emphasis of social integration, on the other hand, promotes the reduction of complex macro-structural phenomena to actors’ encounters and personal-cum-social narratives. Mouzelis: ‘if an imbalance in favour of system integration leads to mechanistic/deterministic explanations of social order and disorder, an imbalance in favour of social integration leads to social myopia and to the elimination of crucial issues that cannot be fully accounted for by an exclusive focus on actors’ orientations and definitions of the social world.’

There is a sense in which much of this might be considered old hat in 2017. Lockwood’s continuing appeal to me is that his reflections on the structure/agency, system/social integration binaries emerged out of, even as they informed, his empirical work. He was a genuine bridge-builder between theory and research, too often an unhelpful chasm. He was not overly committed to either theory or research, just as he was not overly committed to one theory as against another.

As my Ph.D superviser George Brown once advised me, broach and tackle extant theory as and when your data invite you to. Lockwood is of this ilk and I commend him.





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