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The Emergence of Sociological Theory (Coursework Sample)

Forum #3 Topic 4: The Emergence of Sociological Theory: Auguste Comte and Harriet Martineau In this topic we examine the beginnings of sociological theory. People have been creating social theories for as long as people have been thinking about social life. However, a new kind of social theorizing emerged in the 19th century, one which we now recognize as “sociological.” The distinguishing features of this new style of social theorizing were: 1) a commitment to linking theory development to rigorous, systematic observation, 2) focusing theory and research on levels of observation greater than the individual, and 3) using theory in service of promoting positive social change. I’ll begin my comments by describing the historical context in which sociology theory emerged and then discuss some early sociological theories provided by Harriet Martineau and Auguste Comte. Historical Context of Early Sociological Theorists Today's lecture topic concerns the historical contexts within which some of the earliest sociological theories were produced. Our focus will be on early 19thcentury in Europe. Articulating the historical context is important because, as we've seen already, the social conditions in which one is embedded certainly shape the way one views the world. This point is especially crucial for understanding a person's theories of social life. The early sociological theorists were heavily influenced by the changing social and cultural conditions of their 19thcentury worlds. In fact, many of their theories were attempts to explain some of the massive social problems that were arising as a consequence of the changing environment in Europe, America, and the rest of the world. Limited as we are to a short "lecture," I will, by necessity have to provide a very general overview of the historical conditions that had the biggest impact on the early social theorists. Most historians of sociological theory point to four distinguishing features of 19th century life that served to incubate the social theories that would form the foundation for sociology: The Enlightenment Perhaps the most important characteristic of 19th century Europe was a set of ideas that really took hold in the 18th century. Many refer to these ideas as ushering in a modern age of reason: a period often labeled "The Enlightenment." Copyright © 2020. Robert E. L. Roberts. All rights reserved Page 1 SOC 320: Sociological Theory Robert E. L. Roberts What was the Enlightenment? What "darkness" were people in Europe emerging from? Although the answer to this question is complex, there were primarily three key shifts in thought that occurred. First was a shift away from the idea that people could not, through their own efforts, discover the "truth" about their worlds. There was a shift away from relying on religious explanations, to the notion that human beings, through their own intelligence and reason, could discover the "truths" of our existence. These truths could exist on both the physical and metaphysical planes. Work toward knowing the former took the form of science; work on the latter took the form of philosophy (which would also subsume religious thought). The enlightenment ushered in an emphasis on science over religion that persists in many forms today. Second was the rise of a belief in the possibility of human progress: that life on earth could be improved and perfected. Along with this belief was the sense that humans could improve life on earth through their own efforts (i.e., without divine intervention). The belief in the possibility that we could improve our lot was quite radical. The dominant belief (at least in Europe) had been that life on earth reflected God's will and that humans were incapable of changing that. Moreover, life on earth wasn't supposed to be perfect, this life was merely a temporary experience on the ultimate road to heaven or hell. The Enlightenment brought with it the belief that we could make what we wished of this world: and we could make it better. Third was what I refer to as a search for secular truths. Others whom we will read refer to these truths as "meta-narratives" or general explanations of how the world works. Religions provide these kinds of answers. The difference in the Enlightenment was that religious explanations became less convincing, primarily because they relied on leaps of faith and were not grounded in scientific evidence. Another way of thinking about this quest is to think of it as a grand quest for a single "map" of how the world works. But this map would be grounded in scientific evidence, not faith. Many people see this quest for secular meta-narratives as one of the distinguishing features of the modern era. Early sociological theorists thus were producing their ideas in a context that prized reason, scientific evidence, and attention to the possibilities of improving social life (by definition, this leads to a focus on social problems). We'll see these themes very clearly in their work. The Industrial Revolution Another important feature of 19th century Europe was reflected in the social changes wrought by the continuing Industrial Revolution. There were three key consequences of industrialization for social life and the experiences of our early theorists. First, industrialization led to a shift in the economic base from agriculture to manufacturing. Prior to the industrial revolution, land and crops were the primary source of wealth and power. The industrialization of Europe changed the power base from land to capital and manufacturing capacity. Those who controlled capital and Copyright © 2020. Robert E. L. Roberts. All rights reserved Page 2 SOC 320: Sociological Theory Robert E. L. Roberts manufacturing garnered increasing power in society. The landed aristocracy steadily lost power over time. Second, the shift from agriculture to manufacturing promoted the migration of workers from rural farmlands to urban manufacturing centers. Cities swelled with newcomers from the "country." One effect of urbanization was the normalization of "strangers." When the population resided largely in rural, small towns, most everyone knew everyone else (in the locale). Urbanization meant that people came in regular and close contact with people they did not know. Because of this, the local norms that people had learned didn't always apply when interacting with others. New norms of behavior had to emerge through interaction and negotiation among individuals with diverse backgrounds. Another consequence of the migration to urban centers is that members of extended families became more geographically dispersed. Third, the industrial revolution promoted "free labor." This doesn't mean that people routinely worked for free. What it means is that laborers were "free" to work for whomever they wished (if they could get hired). This is in contrast to the situation wherein workers were beholden to a feudal lord or landowner for work, shelter, and the production of their sustenance. Each of these three shifts, among others I haven't discussed, interested early social theorists. These thinkers, like many other folks, were trying to make sense out of how these changes arose and to predict how the society would fare (better or worse) over time. Political Revolutions and Democracy The French and American revolutions had a great impact on social thought during the 19th century. Each fomented an increase in public participation in politics, a trend that would catch on to greater or lesser extent in other European countries. This trend, in concert with the political dislocations caused by the industrial revolution, led to further erosion of aristocratic power. The Rise of Capitalism The evolution of capitalism as a prevailing economic system was amplified and accelerated by the industrial revolution. Many observers wondered how the dynamics of capitalism--profit orientation, competition--might affect both social and individual development. To be sure, capitalism helped to shift the base of power from the landed aristocracy to entrepreneurs and investors of capital. As capitalist gained wealth and power, it became apparent that a new relation of power had emerged: one that pitted capitalists and workers. Just as the landed aristocracy had maintained and reinforced their power through their economic hold over serfs (and control of armies), capitalists maintained their power through an ever-increasing accumulation of wealth through the seeming exploitation of workers' labor. Many Copyright © 2020. Robert E. L. Roberts. All rights reserved Page 3 SOC 320: Sociological Theory Robert E. L. Roberts social observers were struck by what they saw as an ever increasing gap between wealthy capitalists and seemingly ever more impoverished and over-worked laborers. It is against this background that we will engage the work of Harriet Martineau, Karl Marx and Auguste Comte. Harriet Martineau Today, we begin to examine some of the early theories produced within the discipline of sociology. Keep in mind that there was no academic or scientific discipline called "sociology" prior to the 19th century (despite the fact that there were always "social" theories to be found). So one can think of most of these early sociological theorists (Marx is a notable exception) as both social thinkers and "evangelists" for the nascent scientific study of society that would come to be known as "sociology." We begin with Harriet Martineau, an English woman who lived between 1802 and 1876. The L&N-B text does a good job of describing her biography: I encourage you to pay close attention to the ways that her biographical experiences shaped the theories she developed about social life. Particularly important were her experiences growing up during the industrial revolution and her experiences upon traveling to America. Martineau was a contemporary of Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, and Herbert Spencer. There is evidence that these men were aware of and influenced somewhat by her work. Yet most accounts of the birth of sociological theory focus on the men and, at best, give only passing reference to Martineau's work. Yet her work is as richly textured and powerfully insightful as were any of her contemporaries' theories. To fully understand Martineau's work, it helps to separate her theoretical statements into three categories. The first category consists of statements that were primarily philosophical in nature: including her assumptions about human nature, epistemology, etc. The second category consists of statements about the proper methods for scientific sociological inquiry. In many respects, Martineau was trying to establish the boundaries and rules for the new scientific discipline of sociology. The third category consists of theoretical statements that reflect her moral imperatives. Alas, even Martineau, who was a strong proponent of scientific sociology, was unable to stand outside her moral convictions when theorizing about society. I'll describe her positions within each theoretical category below: Philosophical Assumptions Martineau's philosophical assumptions were grounded in her Unitarian upbringing. For example, she believed that all people were responsible for their actions: that they are active and ethical beings. The reason we are ethical, in her opinion, was that each of us possessed a conscience and the ability to reason (do you see the influence of the Enlightenment here?). Copyright © 2020. Robert E. L. Roberts. All rights reserved Page 4 SOC 320: Sociological Theory Robert E. L. Roberts However, M also believed that our moral and ethical nature was somewhat distorted by the processes of social life. Like many human development theorists, M thought that the human mind was not merely a product of biology, but was strongly influenced by one's environment. Thus, she believed that social environments (societies) had to shoulder some of the blame for individuals' amorality or lack of ethics. She used this belief to argue that societies could be ranked, from better to worse, in relation to the degree to which they promoted moral and intellectual development. Better societies produced the most ethical and intelligent people in M's mind. M also believed (following in the Enlightenment tradition) that society (social reality) operated in accordance with underlying natural laws. She believed that one could use scientific methods to discover these laws. Once the laws had been discovered, one could use this knowledge to engineer a society that produced more intelligent, moral, and ethical people. Scientific Methods and Theories Like Comte, and Durkheim to follow, M proposed a set of rules for conducting scientific sociology. She began with the claim that the subject matter of sociology should be the "morals and manners" that defined any particular society. For M, "morals" referred to a society’s norms and mores. Morals were that expectations for appropriate behavior that emerged in a society were passed from one generation to the next. "Manners" referred to stable patterns of interaction and behavior within a society. Martineau recognized that there should be some reciprocal influence between morals and manners. That is to say that morality (norms) should guide behavior and the stable patterns of behavior should reinforce norms. For example, in a traditional classroom, students generally sit quietly in their chairs and listen to the professor lecture. There are strong norms that support this behavior, which forms a stable pattern over time. The expectations that people have for appropriate classroom behavior help to ensure that the behavior pattern remains stable over different classes and different times (morals reinforcing manners). Similarly, the fact that everyone else is sitting quietly reinforces the importance of this behavior to anyone who might want to deviate. Thus, the pattern reinforces the norm (manners reinforcing morals). M's specification of this reciprocal (dialectical) relationship between morals and manners was one of her more important theories of social life. She used this theory to generate an equally intriguing corollary: that deviation between morals and manners would lead to social change. In other words, if norms and patterns of behavior became out of sync with one another, one of the two (or both) would have to change. She called any deviation between morals and manners an "anomaly." M argued that sociologists would be best served by studying social anomalies. In her view this would lead the researcher to the heart of tensions in society. This would be a good place for sociologists to attempt to help societies resolve their internal Copyright © 2020. Robert E. L. Roberts. All rights reserved Page 5 SOC 320: Sociological Theory Robert E. L. Roberts tensions and become "better" vehicles for producing more intelligent and ethical people. Moral Theorizing M herself focused on the goal of eliminating oppression in societies. She thus focused on anomalies between what she saw as idealistic morals but oppressive manners within society. Her focus was especially sharpened by her experiences in America, where she saw a tremendous tension between a moral conviction toward freedom/liberty (as reflected in the Constitution) and the existence of slavery. In particular, M's analysis of America allowed her to pinpoint specific anomalies and areas for sociological practitioners to target in their goal of bettering society. These anomalies were reflected in four major practices of domination (that flew in the face of the "morals" of American society that were reflected in the Bill of Rights and Constitution, etc.). These anomalies were embodied in the practice of slavery, in the lesser social position and rights of women, in American politicians' concern with "public opinion" over personal conviction and moral development, and an obsessive pursuit of wealth. Moreover, she argued that tensions building up within these anomalies would become so great as to lead to profound social change. We know that that some of these tensions produced profound social change, especially with respect to slavery and the rights of women. Yet, there are greater or lesser vestiges of these tensions still present today: especially with respect to politicians' concern with public opinion and with Americans' pursuit of wealth. Auguste Comte Today's discussion is on Auguste Comte. In most sociology theory textbooks over the past few decades, Comte is cited as a "father" of sociology (I guess that makes Martineau sociology's mother). We're going to eschew the paternity search to focus primarily on the central ideas that Comte contributed to the development of sociological theory. I think Seidman does a good job of presenting Comte's role in putting a positivist spin on sociology's early development. His positivism dovetailed with his embracing the Enlightenment epistemology. Like Martineau, Comte believed that he had discovered something eternal in his observations of human society and history. Comte's focus was originally on the historical evolution of the human mind, which led to a parallel evolution of society. According to Comte, the human mind evolved historically across three stages of development: "The Law of the Three Stages." Each stage of thought corresponded to a particular style of answering questions about our existence and how the universe worked. He saw the social changes occurring in the earlier 19th century as the result of human thought reaching the third, and final, stage of its evolution. Here is a brief description of his conceptualization of the three stages of mind (and society). Copyright © 2020. Robert E. L. Roberts. All rights reserved Page 6 SOC 320: Sociological Theory Robert E. L. Roberts Stage I: Theological Thought In Comte's first stage, humans believe that the world's things, events, and processes reflect the operation of some supernatural forces. For example, one might believe the computer you are using is inhabited by spirits that make it work. Or, one might see the weather as a manifestation of divine power. Theological societies span the range of human religions, from polytheistic animism to monotheism. It is not the content of the religion that matters as much as the tendency to explain natural phenomenon as resulting from supernatural forces. This style of thought implies that there are at least two levels of "reality": one that encompasses our "natural" experiences, and one the lies beyond it (supernatural) and that causes events to unfold in the natural world. Societies that are dominated by theological thought tend to be governed by religious institutions and rely on military (or police) power to maintain social order both within the society and with other societies. In societies dominated by theological thought, religious institutions are believed to possess unique insight into the "truth" of how the world does and should work. This "truth" then provides the blueprint for how social institutions become organized. Religious institutions take positions of greatest power and institutions of governance take subsidiary positions. In such societies, religious dissent is intolerable, because it threatens the very basis of the social organization. Thus extreme measures are often employed to contain, if not eradicate, dissent. Police and military power is deployed in service of religion against dissent. This military/police control is usually targeted to dissenting groups and individuals within society, but often spills out toward other societies with dissenting views. Stage II: Philosophical Thought The second stage in the evolution of human thought is characterized by a slightly more secular approach to explaining our experience. Rather than rely on supernatural explanation, the philosophical mind posits explanations that are grounded in this world. In some respects, this involves a move away from the natural/supernatural dualism of theological thought. Philosophical explanations are grounded in reason and the rules of logic (in contrast to theological explanations that Comte see as grounded in irrational faith). Thus the philosophical mind makes an argument about why something occurs that is based on some logical linking together of related events. For example, one might argue that human behavior always seeks to minimize pain and to maximize pleasure. This is philosophical because it does not rely on supernatural explanation: other processes occurring in this world (calculations of pleasure and pain) explain the event (behavior). Compare this to a theological explanation: human behavior is guided by the whispers of angels. See the difference? However, philosophical explanations are nearly always as ephemeral and irrefutable as metaphysical ones. This is because they must always begin with some assumption Copyright © 2020. Robert E. L. Roberts. All rights reserved Page 7 SOC 320: Sociological Theory Robert E. L. Roberts about the essential nature of the object of inquiry. For example, the argument that human behavior is always oriented toward pleasure and away from pain is based on an assumption about human nature: that we are pleasure seeking and rational (able to do a cost benefit analysis prior to engaging in a behavior). One could just as easily make a different assumption about human nature (e.g., that we are inherently altruistic, or that we are inherently evil, etc.). Our theoretical explanations of human behavior would differ greatly if we adopted these other assumptions. Societies dominated by philosophical thought tend to have well developed legal systems and govern themselves in accordance with a set of abstract laws. Whereas religious institutions have power in theological societies, courts rule in philosophical societies. The philosophical society's system of abstract laws parallels its obsession with human reason and logic. The ideal in such a society is to have a set of laws that mirror the society's great philosophical works. This is similar to the goal in theological societies for organization to mirror the beliefs of the dominant religion. Another example, from the modern world, is the move to develop closely aligned mission statements, organizational structures, and strategic plans in business. The idea is to develop a tight mission statement that reflects a philosophy that should guide the business. The mission statement is then used to develop an organizational structure and strategic plan for employees. Stage III: Positivist Thought The penultimate stage of human thought for Comte was dominated by a search for "facts" and empirically based knowledge of how those "facts" were linked together in the chain of events and experiences that continuously unfold. Rather than making claims about reality that were supported by faith (theological thought) or reason (philosophical thought), the positivist mind sought to learn the ways of the world through careful observation, documentation, and analysis. From this stage, explanations achieved in Stages I and II are seen as mere speculation. In Stage III, the only acceptable argument is one supported by empirical facts. Science is seen as the preferred mechanism for obtaining the facts upon which to discover the natural laws of human experience. Comte saw the intellectual changes wrought by the Enlightenment as ushering in this third phase of scientifically-based thinking and discovery. In Comte's view, scientists and industrialists would govern (directly or indirectly) societies dominated by positivist thought. Why industrialists? Well, in Comte's mind, the discovery of natural laws would increase human's power to manipulate and control elements of our environment. From his perspective, this control would ultimately be used to improve human life through the creation of goods and services that would satisfy human needs. Who better to exploit natural laws to produce goods and services than industrialists? And who would the industrialists need to help them learn the natural laws? Yep, you guessed it: the scientists. There are lots of examples of the alignment between industrialists and scientists. The pharmaceutical industry is a good example. Scientists provide pharmaceutical Copyright © 2020. Robert E. L. Roberts. All rights reserved Page 8 SOC 320: Sociological Theory Robert E. L. Roberts companies with information about the relationship between certain chemical compounds and human health and illness. The pharmaceutical companies use this knowledge to produce drugs that are sold to consumers to improve their health. One can think of lots of other industries that work in this way: automobiles, computers, shaving systems, etc., etc... Comte's Vision for Sociology Given his views about the evolution of mind, Comte was keen to see the emergence of a science of society: sociology. Prior to the 19th century most of the discussions about how society worked conformed to metaphysical and philosophical thinking. Moreover, within the academic world, the study of society was largely the province of philosophers and political-economists. There was no discipline of sociology. Comte’s predilections led him, like Martineau, to begin defining sociology along the lines of other already established sciences. He believed that sociology hadn't been developed yet because its subject matter was the most difficult to apply scientific methods to. In his view, science took hold in disciplines like mathematics and physics because their subject matters were governed by much simpler laws than those that governed human social life. In his mind, sociology would become the queen of the sciences. The positivist legacy that Comte and Martineau initiated has had a profound influence on sociology's development. Ironically, many of the sociological theorists that disagree with the positivist orientation point to the same complexity recognized by Comte. But rather than argue that the complexity of forces underlying human behavior will eventually be overcome by positivists' efforts, the detractors argue that this complexity necessitates entirely different methods to study human social life than used to study rocks, stars, and bacteria. Discussion Questions Here are the initial discussion questions: (1) Seidman argues that "the Enlighteners...saw in the scientific worldview a triumph of reason over prejudice." What did he mean by “prejudice” in this case? Do you think it's a valid argument that reason has triumphed over prejudice? Why? Why not? Give examples to support your view. (2) Martineau identified several "anomalies" between morals and manners in 19th century America. She argued that these kinds of anomalies would lead to social change over time? In what ways do you think American society has changed with respect to each of these anomalies? Do you see any and/or all of these anomalies still present today? What are any instances in which these anomalies seem to have produced social change? Give examples to support your argument. (3) In what ways might Comte's argument that societies dominated by positivist thought would be ruled by scientists and industrialists be true today? Give some present day examples to support your view. source..
The Emergence of Sociological Theory Student’s Name Institutional Affiliation Course Instructor Date The Emergence of Sociological Theory Seidman’s Argument According to Seidman, prejudice meant a conceived view that lacked the proper foundation of the argument. In this case, Seidman said that scientists built a system of their making that was based on purpose and object instead of the wrong perception that had no basis. Seidman's argument is valid but only based on the presentation, as observed from the scientist's motive. By presenting it in their preconceived perception, scientists aimed at basing their view on a solid intent instead of a false impression with little or no valid goal. This Seidman's argument suits the situation as fronted by the prevailing circumstances of the scientist's view. For example, it is logical to argue that because the democratic system of governance has its failures (because it is tried and tested by many nations), it is one of the best forms of governance. At the same time, it is valid to argue that since global warming is posing a severe threat to humanity, all measures should be taken to reduce its sources. The argument is compelling as it supports from the point of truth and evidential occurrence. Anomalies in the Society America's society has, over the years, deviated from its long-standing social system. Over the years, and according to Martineau, America, society has seen considerable change in its social framework. For example, the acceptance and acknowledgment of gay marriage have gradually changed the social platform of American society. Since time immemorial, American society has known and practiced marriage between man and woman as the fitting and appropriate family setting. However, the last couple of years have seen increased gay marriage and agitation from its pio...
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