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The Prospects for Social Theory Today

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Part of the Contemporary Social Theory book series

Abstract

In this concluding paper, I shall try to place some of the issues discussed earlier in the book in the context of an overall analysis of the current prospects for social theory. The logical starting-point for such an analysis is the state of disarray that characterises social theory today — a matter of common awareness to anyone working within the social sciences. The past decade or so has seen the revival of traditionally established forms of theory (such as hermeneutics), the emergence of seemingly novel perspectives (including especially ethnomethodology), and the attempted incorporation within social theory of various approaches claimed to be drawn from formerly separate philosophical endeavours (the philosophy of the later Wittgenstein, ordinary language philosophy and phenomenology). To these we can add the important resurgence of Marxist theory. The latter however cannot always be clearly distinguished from trends in non-Marxist social science, since most of the same divisions appear, even if in rather different form, within Marxism: the contrasts between the various sorts of ‘phenomenological Marxism’, ‘critical theory’, ‘Marxist structuralism’, etc. are often as pronounced as those outside Marxism.

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Notes and References

  1. Cf. Jerome Karabel and A. H. Halsey, Power and Ideology in Education (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).

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  2. See in particular Carl G. Hempel, ‘The logic of functional analysis’, in Aspects of Scientific Explanation (New York: Free Press, 1965).

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  3. See the interesting essay by Robert K. Merton, ‘Structural analysis in sociology’, in Peter M. Blau, Approaches to the Study of Social Structure (New York: Free Press, 1975).

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  4. For an important emendation of traditional views of scientific laws, see however Mary Hesse, The Structure of Scientific Inference (London: Macmillan, 1974).

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  5. These accounts have their origin in R. K. Merton, ‘The self-fulfilling prophecy’, in Social Theory and Social Structure (New York: Free Press, 1957).

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  6. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1972) para. 11.

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  7. See, for instance, C. W. Lachenmeyer, The Language of Sociology (New York: Colombia University Press, 1971).

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  8. The concepts of social science ‘must be constructed in such a way that a human act performed within the life-world by an individual actor in the way indicated by the typical construct would be understandable for the actor himself as well as for his fellow-men in terms of common-sense interpretations of everyday life.’ Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers (The Hague: Mouton, 1967) p. 44.

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  9. Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science (London: Routledge, 1963).

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  10. A. R. Louch, Explanation and Human Action (Oxford: Blackwell, 1966) p. 160.

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  11. See some of the contributions to Max Black, The Social Theories of Talcott Parsons (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1961).

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  12. Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action (Glencoe: Free Press, 1949) pp. 737ff and passim.

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  13. Cf. George Homans, The Nature of Social Science (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1967).

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  14. This point is made with some vigour in Alan Ryan, The Philosophy of the Social Sciences (London: Macmillan, 1970) pp. 48–9.

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© 1979 Anthony Giddens

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Giddens, A. (1979). The Prospects for Social Theory Today. In: Central Problems in Social Theory. Contemporary Social Theory. Palgrave, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-16161-4_8

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