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Theoretical Issues: Structure and Agency

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1 Theoretical Issues: Structure and Agency
Lecture One Dawes: the Two Sociologies

2 Why study sociological theory?
What do you think you have to offer as social scientists in the contemporary and future world? How useful do you think your commonsense, current worldview will be in responding to these rapid changes? Understanding your consciousness as a world view that has been made through a series of social experiences and circumstances – making your own ‘norms’ an object of social scientific exploration

3 Sociological Theory is …
Paradox: we comprehend the social world from our position within it. Consequently, there is not universal consensus as to the nature of the social world, or solutions to social problems. Unsurprisingly, therefore, social theory is linked with ideology. This implies a struggle to interpret the social world and to establish methods for comprehending social relations and responding to social change. MODERNITY: rationality, techno-scientific world view; progress (as opposed to tradition); secular (as opposed to religion). POSTMODERNITY: plurality, scepticism of universalist metanarratives; fragmented (as opposed to linear development).

KEY CONCEPTS: Structuralism - Dualism - Determinism According to structuralism, sociological concepts and debates (like language itself) are organised in terms of a series of dualisms According to Dawes, the sociological approach can be expressed in terms of series of dualisms, or the organisation of social phenomena into competing binary categories, each component of which was intrinsically related to the other, but also was potentially in opposition to it.


6 Two Sociologies (2) Dualism or binary systems of meaning imply that these terms are mutually denotative That they are in tension with each other You are required to have a working understanding of these concepts. Please research these concepts, build on your understanding of how they have been understood and used by key sociological theorists, make a note of your findings and keep them as key tools for the course.

7 Two Sociologies (3) This shows that, up to the point that Dawes was writing which was in the late 1960s and 1970s, the sociological framework for understanding and examining the social world could be expressed in terms of these binary categories. The whole discipline of sociology, he went on, was organised conceptually according to these binary relationships. These are among the central and ongoing debates within sociology, and around which this course is organised.

8 Structure/Agency Structure: The panoply of social institutions, customs, laws, traditions, ideologies which establishe frames of reference for social agency/action. Agent: One who acts. The central problem of agency is to understand the difference between events happening to me or in me, and my taking control of events or doing things – e.g. determinism free will, action. Agent-causation: a presumed social category of causation whereby agents initiate sequences of events when they act without the initiation being causally determined

9 Objectivism Sociologists (Durkheim, Marx, Weber, Parsons) concerned with the problem of social order Societies create basic patterns of regulation and organisation suggesting some form of external constraint upon individual actions and behaviours Durkheim: collective consciousness. A general set of social beliefs about what is good/correct/right arises from social interaction process and collective conscience Rooted in individual behaviour, but the relationships people create produces a set of norms, values, routines and responsibilities. Thus, certain "social facts" arise which, Durkheim argues, we can effectively consider as "things" that can be studied sociologically:

10 Objectivism (2) Just as in the natural world there are facts we can elaborate, so too with human behaviour there are "facts" about the nature of a particular society that can be discovered and explained. Dawes (1970) The Two Sociologies says: "Reduced to its essentials, the argument is that, since individual's cannot of their own volition create and maintain order, constraint is necessary for society to exist at all; without it, the only possibility is the war of all against all.

11 Objectivism (3) Societies develop a central value system (for a variety of reasons). Values are passed-down through the socialisation process.  If, therefore, we can identify patterns of values, patterns of interaction, patterns of meaning, etc., then it is objectively possible to study such things "as if" they were real.

12 Implications of objectivism
Society is created from the relationships between people (it is, in effect, something that is greater than the sum of its individual parts): The value-systems that are involved in maintaining and reproducing social systems are, in turn, passed down from one generation to the next via the socialisation process: Individual values, ideas, meanings and so forth are no-more than "simple" expressions of structural imperatives or necessities Our values reflect our experiences in the world and since these experiences are socially-conditioned, values, meanings and actions are merely the expression of structural imperatives.

13 Objectivism (4) ‘Subjective’ meaning is an effect of structural relationships, I.e. subjective perspectives are intrinsically related to social structures and rules What appears to us as individual reality or experience is simply the product of social relationships at the structural level of society We should be able to: Study features of human societies from an experiential/subjective/individual perspective as the outcomes of objective social relations Dawe (1970) "...subjective meanings are, through the existence of consensus, ultimately derived from the central value system and are thus, at root, external conditions of an actor's situation".

14 Subjectivism Society is seen to be the product of meaningful social interaction whilst we can clearly talk about such things as a "social system" or a "social structure", these are the product (or "effect") of human interaction, not the cause External, objective, social reality is a conceptual fabrication The social world is not governed by "laws" about "human nature" or human society There are no "facts" waiting to be discovered, only subjective interpretations and experiences. We can make objective statements about the nature of society at any given moment in its development, but we must remember that these statements are themselves subjective

15 Action Theorists Symbolic Interactionists, Chicago School, Subcultural Theorists Action theory: Social life is a made up of changing beliefs, norms, values and so forth.  In order to study the social world we have to specify the initial conditions under which "society" operates at any given moment in its development. Interactionist research is relatively small scale, in-depth and cannot be generalised

16 Concluding remarks Thus, from this viewpoint, sociology can be:
 Subjective: because it is created by living, conscious, human beings whose relationships are not fixed and unchanging.  Objective: if we make objective statements that are true, but only for as long as our conceptual definitions apply. Alternatively, it cannot be: Value-free (because the values of sociologists direct them to make conceptual definitions about ‘social reality’.   Natural scientific: because there can be no real separation between "man" and the society they create. Therefore, there can be no universal laws of behaviour and no predictions can be made about future forms of behaviour.

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