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The rise and fall of Talcott Parsons Sociology at mid-century.

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1 The rise and fall of Talcott Parsons Sociology at mid-century

2 Unit II: 3 fundamental methodological problems  Sociological theory attempts to show how particular causal influences fit together. 1. Functional theory (Parsons): argues that they fit together into a normative system 2. Conflict theory (Mills) argues that they fit together as a conflict of interests. 3. Theory construction theorists (Stinchcombe) argue that theory must connect to data.  I have argued that feedbacks are the key to all these problems.

3 Reasons for Parsons’ rise  Much of Chicago sociology was atheoretical.  The European theorist (especially Durkheim, Marx and Weber) were largely ignored.  Chicago continued to dominate the association when most Ph.D’s were trained elsewhere.  Parsons trained a very large number of important theorists (including several recent ASA presidents, such as Smelser.)

4 Reasons for his fall  His theory was mainly an elaborate conceptual scheme – a language.  It was rooted in 1950’s sense that the social structure was functional, and that American values epitomized modern progress.  Above all, it did not sustain enough interesting and important empirical research.

5 The linkage of theory to data  Theory and empirical research have to be closely tied to each other.  Theorizing which is not connected to fruitful empirical data analysis is often dismissed as “grand theory.”  Research which is not connected to general theoretical ideas is often dismissed as “abstracted empiricism.”

6 “Grand theory:” the criticisms of Mills and Merton  Merton (one of Parsons’ students) and Mills each made the charge that Parsonian theory was grand theory in the sense of empty, armchair shuffling of categories.  Merton defended theories of the middle range.  Mills defended the “sociological imagination.”  Both were at Columbia, which became one center of empirical analysis.

7 “Abstracted empiricism” or “number-crunching:” the rationale for theory  But both of them – as well as the bulk of practicing sociologists recognized that the discipline fragments without general theory.  Different sociologists study different topics using different methods.  Parsons’ concern for system and for norms resonated with many sociologists

8 3 Elements of Parsonian “Structural-functionalism” 1. The Structure of Social Action (1937) developed the notion of voluntarism. 2. The Social System (1951) developed the ideas of social systems as self-maintaining and normatively integrated. 3. Parsons books and articles of the 1950’s developed the four-function paradigm of a system.

9 #1 Voluntarism  Voluntarism is the thesis that all human action is motivated by socialized values and governed by social norms.  It was directed against behaviorism, positivism, Social Darwinism, and economic rational action models (“utilitarianism”).  Parsons constructed a conceptual argument that social order is not possible without common values.  He argued that the most powerful empirical work of Durkheim and Weber analyzed these values.

10 Rehabilitation of Durkheim  Durkheim’s approach had been dismissed as a theory of “group mind.”  But the existence of institutionalized norms is not just a sense of “groupness.”  For example, a physician is constrained by law, by colleagues and by patient expectations.

11 Translation and interpretation of Weber  Parsons translated a number of Weber’s works, and he developed the notion that action has a value-component.  Parsons exemplified this by the notion of the importance of religion to the rise of capitalism.  Weber’s analysis of law, economics, politics and science also illustrated institutionalized normative systems.

12 Comparison of structural- functionalism with Chicago  Voluntarism formalized much existing analysis of terms such as conformity, norms, sanctions, interaction, role, value, or anomie,  which had been used in an informal and unsystematic way.  (compare the passage from Parsons that Mills “translates” on pp of One World).  Is there a more useful consolidation of these concepts? Is one needed?

13 #2 Modernization in The Social System  The Social System was published just as about 100 new countries emerged in the 20 th century.  Parsons argued that the common expectations of the members of the society were socialized and institutionalized.  The only other solution to “the problem of order” is naked coercion.  Institutions are organized around functional needs.  Role structures make the behavior of one role partner sanctions and rewards for others.  Anomie or other failure of social functions to be performed lead to further social controls.

14 Modern values  A central concern for Parsons was the transformation that had occurred in Europe in the previous centuries and that was seeping the world after WWII.  Parsons saw this process as requiring a value system that had developed,  Most characteristic of the United States,  including separation of church and state, human rights, free enterprise, and inclusive citizenship – what Durkheim called “organic solidarity.”

15 The Pattern Variables  Specifically he distinguished 5 dimensions of an evaluation: Universalism Particularism Achievement Ascription Neutrality Affectivity Specificity Diffuseness Self Collectivity

16 The example of the professions  In general, the movement is toward universalism, achievement, neutrality, specificity (specialization) and self (individualism)  But, for example, the orientation of the professions were to collectivity.  The professions are a control system.  It is not that doctors are less self-interested than businessmen; they are self-interested in a different way.

17 The functional model of stratification and inequality  The functional model was dominant in the mid- twentieth century.  It argued that inequality is functionally necessary to motivate training and attract talent to important positions,  and that therefore all societies are stratified,  and reduction of stratification would make everyone worse off.  Parsons welcomed most forms of class and gender inequality, for different reasons, although he rejected Jim Crow.

18 “Merely empirical” questions  Parsons could easily grant that there were ideologies, interests, advantaged groups, anomie, privileges, and value conflicts,  but he tended to dismiss them as merely empirical questions, which played not role in the theory.

19 #3 The Four-function Paradigm  This work was consolidated in the four- function Paradigm  From , he argued that all systems have to satisfy 4 essential functions,  which he represented as the “agile boxes:”

20 AGIL Adaptation A Goal Attainment G I Latency L Integration

21 Systems  Throughout the 1930’s and ’40’s there had been a growth of systems theory  Dealing with structures of interrelated parts  in engineering, biology, computer science, information theory, and administration.  These stressed the homeostatic properties of negative feedback,  as in a thermostat. TemperatureFurnace Cut-off + -

22 Relation of Parsons’ systems to systems theory  The various kinds of systems theory allow one to simulate the behavior of a complex structure.  Parsons’ theory resonated with this theory.  It made the maintaining of goal states (functions; values) controlled by the value commitments, instilled in the “latency” subsystem, the core of social structure.

23 The rationale of AGIL  Parsons argued that social, psychological and cultural structures are functionally differentiated  They need to deal with an external environment,  and they need to maintain their internal integrity.

24 The idea of the 4 functions  Both with respect to the outside and with respect to the inside, there is a need both to accumulate further resources, and to mobilize and use the resources one has.  Accumulating and using up resources with respect to the outside and the inside generate 4 kinds of functions:

25 The four functions: 1. Accumulating resources from the external environment was called Adaptation: A 2. Using resources with regard to the outside was called Goal Attainment: G 3. Using resources to maintain internal integrity was called Integration: I 4. Accumulating resources for maintaining internal integrity was called Latency: L

26 The 4 functions in Society  He argued that the economy is oriented to accumulating resources with respect to the external (physical) environment. A  The political system uses those resources with respect to the outside: G.  The legal system is oriented to maintaining internal integration: I  The latency system does the socialization and instills the value commitments that allow internal integration.

27 Latency  The stress in internal controls was Parsons’ distinctive contribution  He argued that the family, education, and churches were the main institutional complexes creating value commitments.  Much of his work concerned the relations between them and the cultural system, the personality system, and the legal system.

28 Social Evolution  Parsons’ analysis of social evolution attempted to show the process by which class divisions, the separation of the economy from the state, and the separation of church and state occur.  These are all viewed as processes of functional differentiation.  And all of them, for Parsons, are enabled by integrative normative control systems, that operate like thermostats.

29 The Four-function Paradigm  This work was consolidated in the four- function Paradigm  From , he argued that all systems have to satisfy 4 essential functions,  which he represented as the “agile boxes:”

30 AGIL Adaptation A Goal Attainment G I Latency L Integration

31 Systems  Throughout the 1930’s and ’40’s there had been a growth of systems theory  Dealing with structures of interrelated parts  in engineering, biology, computer science, information theory, and administration.  These stressed the homeostatic properties of negative feedback,  as in a thermostat. TemperatureFurnace Cut-off + -

32 Relation of Parsons’ systems to systems theory  The various kinds of systems theory allow one to simulate the behavior of a complex structure.  Parsons’ theory resonated with this theory,  but it had no direct connection with it,  and never led to quantitative simulations and predictions.

33 The rationale of AGIL  Parsons argued that social, psychological and cultural structures are functionally differentiated  They need to deal with an external environment,  and they need to maintain their internal integrity.

34 The idea of the 4 functions  Both with respect to the outside and with respect to the inside, there is a need both to accumulate further resources, and to mobilize and use the resources one has.  Accumulating and using up resources with respect to the outside and the inside generate 4 kinds of functions:

35 The four functions: 1. Accumulating resources from the external environment was called Adaptation: A 2. Using resources with regard to the outside was called Goal Attainment: G 3. Using resources to maintain internal integrity was called Integration: I 4. Accumulating resources for maintaining internal integrity was called Latency: L

36 The 4 functions in Society  He argued that the economy is oriented to accumulating resources with respect to the external (physical) environment. A  The political system uses those resources with respect to the outside: G.  The legal system is oriented to maintaining internal integration: I  The latency system does the socialization and instills the value commitments that allow internal integration.

37 Latency  The stress in internal controls was Parsons’ distinctive contribution  He argued that the family, education, and churches were the main institutional complexes creating value commitments.  Much of his work concerned the relations between them and the cultural system, the personality system, and the legal system.

38 General media Adaptation Money Economy A Goal Attainment Power G Political system Families etc. L Value commitment Latency I Law. Influence Integration

39 Parsons review of Mills  The review of Mills’ Power Elite and Mills’ discussion of Parsons give a clear idea of the debates at mid-century.  Parsons suggested that Mills has a defective, zero-sum concept of power, and that he wants to get rid of differences in power altogether.

40 Mills analysis of power  In about 10 books, of which The Power Elite was the most popular, Mills argued that old wealth, the heads of the giant corporations and the executive branch of government, and constituted an elite.  Career paths often took them from one to another; common institutions unified them,  and, Mills argued, they often had and pursued interests that were different from and antagonistic to those of the rest of the populace.  We shall examine such arguments next week.

41 Zero-sum and non-zero sum  The terms are taken from game theory in which the outcomes for several persons are dependent on their joint actions.  Game theory distinguishes competitive, zero- sum games in which there is scarcity, so that if one person gets more, others get less.  From non-zero-sum cooperative games in which all players may get more, or all may get less.

42 Examples of non-zero-sum games  If two people are going through an intersection, and they both have to decide whether to stop or go right ahead, there are minor differences depending who goes through first, and minor inconveniences if they both stop,  But the main difference is whether both players loose in a crash, or both win in avoiding a crash.  Whenever a “win” for one player is also a “win” for other players, you have a non-zero- sum game.

43 Examples of zero sum games  Dividing a pie, such that the more one player gets, the less the other player gets, is a zero-sum game.  Military strategy or economic competition is a zero-sum game.

44 Parsons’ definition of power  For Parsons, Mills had a questionable concept of power as zero-sum.  Parsons insisted that power is, by definition, “a facility for the performance of functions in and on behalf of the society as a system.”  Parsons’ criticisms should be compared to Mills discussions as described pp. 232 and 239 of One World.

45 Mills’ position  We shall see that for Mills, and other conflict theorists, Parsons’ analysis was both contemplative, conservative, and non- empirical.  When we try to influence structures of race, education, gender, or health, we find that different people have different interests and different resources for achieving those interests.  And, in general, those who benefit most from present arrangements argue that they are functional for everyone and that they should not be changed.

46 The general contrast between functional and conflict dynamics  We shall argue that in general, conflict theorists have recognized and theorized positive feedbacks, such as those that occur in Monopoly,  and functional theorists have recognized and theorized negative feedbacks such as those that operate in a thermostat.


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