Tales of Innocence and Experience: Developments in Sociological Theory since 1950

  • Christopher G. A. Bryant


Assessment of achievement in sociological theory since 1950 could fill a series of books. ‘Theory’ after all contains a multitude of possibilities. Merton (1957c) listed six — methodology, general orientations, analysis of concepts, post factum interpretations, empirical generalisations, and the formulation of scientific laws (statements of invariance derived from a theory) — and implied a seventh — the codification of scientific laws. Of these only the last two, deduction of propositions for empirical test and their cumulation, apparently constitute theory proper. Boudon refers to similar manoeuvres in his ‘Theories, theory and Theory’ (1970). By contrast I shall uphold a more catholic conception, partly so as not to overlap Henk Becker’s chapter on the analytical tradition, and partly out of my own reluctance to disqualify as ‘theory’ work of quality commonly so called just because it is not dedicated to particular conceptions of scientific laws and theory building (cf. Section 4). Cutting my task down to the size allowed by a single chapter is therefore not easy. In order to make it manageable I have chosen to concentrate on the following three themes:
  1. 1.

    the volume and quality of work on the history of social thought and the writings of the great names from the past;

  2. 2.

    the presentation of developments in theory since 1950 in terms of first the orthodoxy of structural functionalism, then the challenges to it from various quarters (including Marxism and conflict theory and the different strands of the hermeneutic or interpretive tradition) which issued in the war of the schools, and finally the circumspection which has followed the excesses of that war and the attempts at synthesis and integration;

  3. 3.

    reassessment of the differentiation of propositional theory by level, range and type in the light of post-empiricist philosophy of social science.



Social Theory Sociological Theory Moral Inquiry Theoretical System Conflict Theory 
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Copyright information

© Christopher G. A. Bryant and Henk A. Becker 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher G. A. Bryant
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyUniversity of SalfordSalfordEngland

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