One of the major contributions classical sociology has made to the social sciences is its successful establishment of that discipline’s autonomy from both philosophy and such neighbouring fields of knowledge as biology and psychology. So Marx, for instance, left the philosophical anthropology of his early writings for historical materialism in his attempt to translate his ontological views on matter and consciousness into a concrete historical analysis. For him, historical materialism was the better vehicle for showing the construction, reproduction and transformation of social formations, and for demonstrating the primary role played in that process by social classes situated in specific technological and economic contexts. Durkheim, on the other hand, by insisting that social facts must primarily be explained by other social facts, attempted to establish the relative autonomy of sociology as a discipline and the impossibility of reducing social phenomena to psychological or biological ones. Weber, finally, despite his methodological individualism, engaged in comparative analysis of social structures, and of corresponding modes of cognition and affect, in a way which was remarkably free of both moralising and psychologistically reductive explanations.
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- 1.See C. H. Mills, The Sociological Imagination, New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.Google Scholar
- 2.S. F. Nadel, The Theory of Social Structure, vol. I, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962.Google Scholar
- 4.See R. K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, Glencoe, Ill.: Social Press, 1963, ch. 1. For an overall exposition and assessment of Merton’s work seeGoogle Scholar
- C. Crothers, Robert K. Merton, London and New York: Tavistock, 1987.Google Scholar
- 5.Concerning the long drawn-out debate on functionalism, it seems to me that functionalist terminology, being unfashionable nowadays, is systematically avoided — while at the same time functionalist logic is surreptitiously brought in by the back door, so to speak. Critics of functionalism reject, for instance, the concept of functionalist requirements as being inherently teleological, and replace it by the more fashionable notion of ‘conditions of existence’. They argue that one should investigate not the functional requirements of a social institution but its conditions of existence. They further hold that an institution’s conditions of existence can tell us nothing about the concrete form this institution will take in a given time and social space. If, for instance, one of the conditions of existence of advanced capitalism is a welfare state, this in itself tells us nothing about the specific features of the welfare state in late twentieth-century France or Germany. (See on this point A. Cutler, B. Hindess, P. Hirst and A. Hussein, Marx’s Capital and Capitalism Today, vol I, London: Routeledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).Google Scholar
- Now all this argumentation simply repeats in different words the point made in the early 1960s by R. Dore as well as by R. K. Merton, that it is methodologically illegitimate to transform functional requirements into causes. (See R. Dore, ‘Function and Cause’, American Sociological Review, 1961;Google Scholar
- and R. K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, Glencoe, Ill.: Social Press, 1963, ch. 1.) If one accepts their anti-teleological argument, functional requirements and conditions of existence are strictly interchangeable terms. A similar pseudo-demolition of functionalism is to be found in Giddens’ voluminous work. (On Giddens’ crypto-functionalismGoogle Scholar
- see F. Dallmayr’s critique of structuration theory in A. Giddens, Profiles and Critiques in Social Theory, London: Macmillan, 1982, ch. 2).Google Scholar
- In conclusion, despite the innumerable attacks, non-teleological functionalism is, even après la lutte, alive and well. See for instance J. Alexander (ed.), Neo functionalism, London: Sage, 1985.Google Scholar
- 6.See T. Johnson, C. Dandeker, C. Ashworth, The Structure of Social Theory: Dilemmas and Strategies, London: Macmillan, 1984.Google Scholar