Theoretical Sociology: A Concise Introduction to Twelve Sociological Theories


Jonathan H. Turner

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    To the memory of my dear friend, Clara Dean, who in 1969 began typing all my manuscripts and who, at age 85, retired in 2010 from typing, only to die in 2012. I will forever be grateful to her friendship and incredible competence for over forty years in getting my manuscripts ready for publication.

    About the Author

    Jonathan H. Turner (PhD, Cornell University) is Distinguished Professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside and University Professor for the University of California. The leading authority on sociological theory, Dr. Turner is the author of 38 influential books, which have been published in twelve different languages, as well as the author of many research articles in numerous journals and books.


    There is surprisingly little consensus among sociologist about what theory is and what it is supposed to do for sociological analysis. For some, theory represents the way that science explains the empirical world. For others, it is simply an orienting perspective that can be used to describe events. For still others, theory is to be normative, advocating social arrangements that reduce oppression and inequality. All of these views of theory have been present since sociology's beginnings, and the arguments and debates among those holding one or the other of these views can become, to say the least, quite contentious. So, in writing a short introduction to sociological theory, it is difficult to know where to begin and end, given the controversy. I have sidestepped the controversy by outlining diverse approaches within twelve broad theoretical traditions. In some, scientific explanation is the dominant view; in others, a more descriptive view prevails; in still others, a critical view of the role of theorizing dominates; and in a few, two or all three visions of what theory should be can be found. My biases are toward scientific theorizing, where abstract laws and models that explain how the social universe operates are preferred. Yet, I have given fair coverage to the alternative approaches because, like it or not, they are part of what is called sociological theory today.

    I have written many long books on theory, but I have tried something new here. I have—at least for me—written a short book that is still comprehensive but that highlights the key elements of a particular theoretical perspective and some of the important theorists working within a perspective. The goal has been to create a handbook that packs a lot of information into a small space, especially compared to the other large books on theory that I have written in the past. I originally thought of titling the book Lectures on Theoretical Traditions because the chapters have drawn upon my lecture notes, but I have also pulled important elements from my larger and longer books. The result, I hope, is a book that is useful in many different ways, such as a concise introduction to the range of theorizing in sociology, a convenient review of theory for those brushing upon on sociological theorizing, a source of lectures for instructors, and a quick guide to those who do not know much about sociological theory and are just curious about what it is.

    It was fun to write this book, and moreover, it was good for me—champion of theoretical tomes—to summarize in an abbreviated but a still robust manner.

    Jonathan TurnerMurrieta, California USA

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