Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category
In this post, I want to think about how Parsons and structural functionalism has influenced modern sociology. I have been thinking about this since I got a hostile peer review for an early draft of Theory for the Working Sociologist. In the first draft of the book, I began with a very uncontroversial stance. In the mid-2oth century, Parsons attempted to unify sociology through structural functionalism. That was rejected and now we have a world of competing schools of thought. The book would then be a guide to the “post-Parsons” world. Even though no one disputed the truth of this approach, the reviewers thought it was horrible to bring this up. In a later version of the book, a separate reviewer went ballistic because I had “too much Parsons” – a total of 3 paragraphs out of 70,ooo words! People were touchy. I had run into the Parsons Taboo in sociology.
Now that the book is done and about to come out, I want to spend a few moments thinking about Parsons in a less knee jerk way. Even though I am not Pasonsian or a functional structuralist, I do think it it is interesting to consider his impact on the field. Here’s how I see things:
First, Parsons had a big impact on the teaching of undergraduate sociology. The introductory course in sociology has lots of ideas that Parsons promoted, such as the conflict/consensus approach to theory and the ascribed/achieved distinction in stratification. His followers, such as Robert Merton and Kingsley Davis, still appear in intro texts. And, of course, teaching social theory as the culmination of Weber and Durkheim is all Parsons. Later, the profession added Marx, the network folks added Simmel and we are now in the process of adding DuBois.
Second, a lot of sociologists use a vulgar functionalism, which takes rule/norm following as the basic theory of human action. It is not uncommon to see papers in all kinds of fields employ the “over socialized” theory of action as the unstated default. It is mainly scholars in areas such as culture or gender, where there is a thorough exploration of culture, who routinely start off with Garfinkle/Goffman view of interaction that rejects the Parsonsian approach to norms.
Third, a lot of sociologists were directly affected by Parsons. Swidlerian toolkit theory is probably the most popular theory of action right now and her 1983 article starts off with a full bore attack on Parsons (too rigid), as well as an attack on rational choice (actors need to simplify things). So a lot of cultural sociology today is still an attempt to create distance the profession from functionalist accounts of action. Furthermore, there are still highly influential sociologists, such as Jeffrey Alexander and Niklas Luhmann, who were either students of Parsons or who developed some version of neo-functionalist theory.
Finally, I’d note that the reception of Parsons in modern sociology is highly cohort dependent. If you got your Ph.D. in the 1970s or 1980s, you probably thought that Parsons was the Great Satan. If you got your Ph.D. later, he was an afterthought in a theory course and you probably never read a single word of Parsons.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Did I get the story right?
The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) website has made Neil Fligstein‘s powerpoint slides on the history of economic sociology available for general viewing as a PDF. (Here are the slides in powerpoint form: 1469704310_imagining_economic_sociology_-socio-economics-fligstein) It’s a fascinating read of the development of a sub-field across continents, and it also includes discussion of a challenge that some believes plagues the sociology discipline:
Both Max Weber and Thomas Kuhn recognized that Sociology as a discipline might be doomed to never cumulate knowledge.
- Sociology would proceed as a set of research projects which reflected the current concerns and interests of a small set of scholars
- When the group hit a dead end in producing novel results, the research program would die out only to be replaced by another one
- Progress in economic sociology is likely to be made by putting our research programs into dialogue with one another to make sense of how the various mechanisms that structure markets interact
- Failure to do so risks the field fragmenting of the field into ever smaller pieces and remaining subject to fashion and fad
Fligstein’s claim for these field-fragmenting tendencies stems from the current structure of the academic field. He depicts sociology as rewarding scholars for applying ideas from one area to another area where current theorizing is insufficient, rather than expanding existing research:
- … the idea is not to work on the edge of some mature existing research program with the goal of expanding it
- But instead, one should be on the lookout for new ideas from different research programs to borrow to make sense for what should be done next
In short, scholars tend to form intellectual islands where they can commune with other like-minded scholars. Bridging paths to other islands can generate rewards, but the efforts needed to disseminate knowledge more widely – even within a discipline – can exceed any one person’s capacity.
state of the field article on field theory in non-profit organizations, by Emily Barman, now available
We’re at the halfway mark in July. Looking for summer reading that covers the latest sociological theories in non-profit research? Emily Barman has a “state of the field” article on the use of field theory in the non-profit organizations literature in the Organizations and Work section of Sociology Compass.
Here’s the abstract for her article “Varieties of Field Theory and the Sociology of the Non-profit Sector:”
This paper reviews the use of field theory in the sociological study of the non-profit sector. The review first shows how field theory, as a conceptual framework to explain social action, provides a valuable sociological counterweight to prevailing economic and psychological orientations in the interdisciplinary scholarship on the non-profit sector. However, despite its certain shared assumptions, field theory in sociology encompasses three distinct, albeit interrelated, approaches: the Bourdieusian, New Institutionalist, and Strategic Action Fields perspectives. I comparatively outline the key analytical assumptions and causal claims of each version of field theory, whether and how it recognizes the specificity of the non-profit sector and then delineate its application by sociologists to the non-profit sector. I show how scholars’ employment of each articulation of field theory to study non-profit activity has been influenced by pre-existing scholarly assumptions and normative claims about this third space. The article concludes by summarizing the use of these varieties of field theory in the sociology of the non-profit sector and by identifying future directions in this line of research.
Also, Emily has a new book available, titled Caring Capitalism: The Meaning and Measure of Social Value (2016, Cambridge University Press)! Check out the book blurb here.
In this month’s ASA Footnotes, there is an article called “Is ASA Only for the Rich?” This passage stuck out:
As with most member organizations, ASA’s membership has fluctuated over the last half century. It grew rapidly in the 1960s to an historic high of 14,934 in 1972, and then declined steadily in the 1970s to a low of 11,223 in 1984. A period of resurgence followed with membership reaching just over 13,000 by 1991. While it remained relatively constant across the 1990s, membership dropped to 12,368 by 2001. It then climbed rapidly back to near its historic peak, reaching 14,000 in all but one year between 2006 and 2011. The last four years have again seen declines, with final 2015 membership at 11,949.
Whoa. Let me rephrase this, ASA membership has dropped to the lowest levels in over 32 years. This is amidst a modest economic recovery in the early 2010s and an overall expansion of higher education where many sociologists are working in business schools, education schools, and policy schools.
In the rest of the article, Mary Romero presents data showing that the composition of the ASA hasn’t changed much and that those who are ASA members attend at relatively high rates compared to the past.
Here’s my conjecture: A long, long time ago, ASA fees were probably low, adjusting for inflation. Then, they slowly crept up. As they crept up in the 2000s, people still enrolled since universities would foot the bill. But in the recession of 2008, many universities cut back or eliminated travel budgets for faculty and universities (mine did!). Also, pre-2008, most folks probably were signing up to get journals. Now, almost all university based students and faculty can get the major journals for free from the library. So there is no need to sign up for ASA unless you need to go to the conference, which explains the increase in the proportion of members who attend the ASA. To offset this, fees have to stay high, which drives away people.
I’d like to hear about your decision to sign up/not sign up for ASA. Personally, once travel funds were cut at IU a while back, I just stopped signing up unless I really, really had to go in an official capacity. Also, seeing that the dues are too damn high relative to other associations make me want to sign up even less. What is your reason for signing or not signing up? Use the comments.