Investigating Sociological Theory

Books

Charles Turner

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  • Back Matter
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  • From a Review

    ‘In this authoritative and strikingly original book, Charles Turner demonstrates that sociological theory far from being some dry, boring meta-discourse of society is an ethically engaged enterprise, intimately connected to the arts of living in the contemporary world. Accessible to both students and seasoned practitioners, this book is at once a terrific defenvce and itself an elegant example of the continuing relevance and intellectual vitality of sociological theory. Turner's brilliant discussion thoroughly deserves to resonate across the discipline of sociological theory in both its European and north American versions.’

    Thomas Osborne, University of Bristol

    Copyright

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    Acknowledgements

    This book has been a long time coming and even now its results feel provisional. Had it not been for several people they would be more so; firstly, life in today's university would be less rewarding were it not for students who either say things that surprise you or force you to think more clearly. Over the years there have been several who have contributed, often in ways of which they are not aware, to what I have written here. They are Jody Adams, Ian Ashbridge, Vivienne Boon, Simon Campbell, Luke Doggett, Katherine Ellett, Lucy Hewitt, Maarten Hillebrandt, Will Leggett, Andrew Nicholls, Minerva Ocolisan, Kevon Perry, Natalie Pitimson, Elisabeth Simbuerger, Angelica Thumala, Rolando Vazquez and Julie Walsh. I have benefited from conversations with and suggestions from friends and colleagues Ariadna Acevedo, Jim Beckford, Daniel Chernilo, Rachel Cohen, Tony Elger, Robert Fine, Mike Gane, Peter Lassman, Herminio Martins, and Jennifer Platt. For helping me sustain a long-running lament about the state of sociology and how it isn't like it was(n't) in our day a special mention should go to The Four Yorkshiremen: Mark Erickson, Paul du Gay, Graeme Gilloch and Tom Osborne.

    The book is dedicated to the memory of Irving Velody, inspiring teacher and friend; while I am resigned to the thought that he might have rolled his eyes and guffawed in places, I would like to think that he would have been sympathetic to parts of it.

    Finally, one more thing: thank you to my wife, Zeynep, without whom this book would have been finished earlier.

    Credits

    Figures 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4 from Mary Douglas (2003) Natural Symbols: Explorations of Cosmology. Routledge (Routledge Classics), Diagram 4 (‘Grid and Group’) page 60. Reprinted with permission.

    Figure 5.1 from John Scott (1995) Sociological Theory, Aldershot, Edward Elgar. Reprinted with permission.

    Figure 5.2 from Richard Munch (1988) ‘The dispositions of the personality system’, Understanding Modernity, Figure 9, p. 140. Routledge. Reprinted with permission.

    Figure 5.5 from BONNER, ANTHONY; SELECTED WORKS OF RAMON LLULL 1232–1316, VOLUMES 1 AND 2: © 1985 Princeton University Press Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.

    Figures 5.8 and 5.9 from T. Parsons and N. Smelser (1958) Economy and Society. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Reprinted with permission from Neil Smelser.

    Figure 5.10 from POWER AND PRIVILEGE: A THEORY OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION by Gerhard Emmanuel Lenski, Jr. Copyright © 1984 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. http://www.uncpress.unc.edu

    Figure 5.13 from E. Gellner (1983) Nations and Nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell. Reprinted with permission.

    Figure 5.14 from M.S. Archer (1982) ‘Morphogenesis versus Structuration: on combining structure and action’, The British Journal of Sociology, 33 (4): 445–83. Reprinted with permission.

    Figure 5.15 from Mary Douglas (2003) Natural Symbols: Explorations of Cosmology. Routledge (Routledge Classics), Diagram 4 (‘Grid and Group’) page 60. Reprinted with permission.

    Figure 5.16 from M. Douglas (1975) Implict Meanings, p. 224. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Reprinted with permission.

    Figure 5.17 from E. Gellner ‘Concepts and society’, in B. Wilson (ed.), Rationality. Oxford: Blackwell. Reprinted with permission.

    Figures 5.19, 5.20 and 5.22 from A. Giddens (1984) The Constitution of Society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Reprinted with permission.

    Figure 5.21 from C.G. Jung ([1948] 1970) ‘A psychological approach to the dogma of the trinity’ in Collected Works, Vol. 11, p. 125. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Reprinted with permission.

  • Conclusion

    Anthony Giddens was once asked in an interview about his current reading; he replied that he and most of his colleagues had little time to read these days because they were too busy writing their own books. Now although calling something a false opposition is a cheap form of criticism, this does sound like one. Some of the figures discussed in this book do seem to have given up reading after the age of 35 and to have spent the rest of their careers writing, and writing too much; but many of them, and many of the best of them, were voracious readers as well as prodigious writers, so much so that, for all the light-hearted way in which I have read one or two of them, one cannot help being awe-struck by the sheer human effort that went into their work, by the bloody-mindedness with which they pursued what is, after all, a chimera: the truth about society.

    At the end of a general overview that has consisted largely of readings of sociological theory, one hesitates to make any suggestions about how to write sociological theory. When I used the phrase ‘theoretical liberalism’ I meant to say that the approaches to inquiry discussed here seem too various and too arbitrarily constructed for any synthesis of them to be meaningful. I still take this to be true, yet at the same time the theorists discussed in this book seem too closely related to one another for us to talk of a fragmented discipline whose tattered remains lie strewn across Borges' deserts: ‘Deserts are windy places’ (Bauman, 1995: 88). No, whatever their differences they are all engaged in the same enterprise, the attempt to conceptualise the social, and seem beset by similar sorts of difficulty when they make that attempt; maybe in this respect there is a sociological sensibility after all, something that is there in the work of every theorist we have discussed here, there even when they run up rather sharply against the limits of what they can say or when they become lost in endless speech.

    Either way, the lesson of their works if not of their lives is that without a striving for the impossible the possible would never happen. That is a defence of the idea of utopia, one worth making even if the utopias we now have available are only individual ones; it also a defence of sociological theory, both as something that a small and heroic band of people have written, and as something that a larger group is faced with the task of trying to understand. That larger group includes both students and their teachers. To them I say: keep reading.

    Endnotes

    1 The Freud scholar Philip Rieff argued that erudition as a scholarly style was a vice rooted in modern Protestantism. His fiercest criticism of it was directed not at Simmel but at Carl Gustav Jung – ‘probably no note was left unused’ – and then … at Weber (Rieff, 1966: 126–8, 2008: 124).

    2 The tree diagram I include here bears a superficial resemblance to the one Baldamus draws in order to makes sense of Parsons (Baldamus, 1976: 113). But Baldamus's is far more complicated and, for our purposes, unnecessarily so.

    3 I should say here that, while I can understand the moral reasons for wanting to disagree with this, I do not see what is gained intellectually by repeatedly claiming that the validity of an analytical device is rendered worthless by the fact of its having specific cultural origins, be they European, or male, or white, or what is worse, all of them together (see Chapter 6). For the origin of the distinction between origin and validity see Bergner (1982).

    4 For a failure to appreciate Goffman's use of metaphor, his sense of his own limits, and indeed his sociology as a whole, see Jameson (1976). Whereas for his admirers Goffman's greatest achievement is the fashioning of a battery of categories and metaphors that draw us towards the nuance and variety of social life, for Jameson he has drawn us towards its trivialities. There is something to be said for this line of argument, but in order to maintain a sense of large scale significance Jameson's preferred tools of analysis are ‘late capitalism’, ‘consumerism’ and ‘postmodernism’, categories that, set against even Parsons' pattern variables, look rather cumbersome. On nuance see Collini (2004).

    5 If this openness to modernism is indeed a distinctive feature of the sceptical style then it must be said that the sceptical style remains undeveloped in sociology but also in the social sciences more generally. For an attempt to employ, in a single account, multiple voices in relation to the same phenomenon, see Latour (1996). James Clifford wrote a famous critique of Clifford Geertz's attempt to establish the sovereign authority of his authorial voice, and flirted with the idea of a multi-voiced ethnography without developing it (see Clifford, 1988).

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