Contemporary Sociological Theory: 1950 to Present

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    • 00:11

      JONATHAN H. TURNER: Hello, my name's Jonathan Turner.I'm a sociological theorist and I'mprofessor, research professor, at the University of Californiaat Santa Barbara, a university professor for the Universityof California system, and a professor emeritusat University of California at Riversidewhere I taught for 46 years.

    • 00:33

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: Today, I'm going to try to encompassall of the big issues in contemporary sociologicaltheory.But the problem, of course, is time,and there is so much diversity in contemporary sociologicaltheory, it's not going to be possible to lay outwhat's going on in detail.But let me at least try to cover the bases.

    • 01:00

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: Now, let me begin by saying that in contemporary sociologicaltheory, there is very little agreement on some veryfundamental matters.We're probably one of the few disciplines thathas so much disagreement over such fundamental thingsas should theory be value neutral or should it

    • 01:21

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: be political and designed to try to change the society.So, is there science versus activism?There's disagreement over determinacyversus indeterminacy in social life.If there's determinacy, you can do more science.If there's indeterminacy, you can't do science.People disagree mightily over the

    • 01:41

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: what's the most appropriate level of analysis--micro interpersonal behavior, macro structural phenomenalike societies, and inner-societal systemsor institutional systems or stratification systemsor meso level things like organizations and communities?What's the most important thing to study in sociology?There's lots of disagreement about that.And particularly when you're doing theory,

    • 02:03

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: what's the theory to be about?Micro, macro, mezzo reality, or all three together?And if so, how do you integrate the theories?That's a difficult problem.There's lots of disagreement over the appropriate methodsfor sociology-- quantitative methodsor qualitative methods like ethnographiesand historical analysis?And most importantly, what's the role

    • 02:25

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: of a sociologist in society in the public sphere?Are we supposed to be advocates for particular typesof sociocultural formations or are weto stand as scientists, simply laying outthe operative dynamics of society.There's a huge amount of disagreement over that issue.And these disagreements are not new.

    • 02:46

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: They've always existed in sociology.They just become more shrill and extreme.And thus, it's a discipline that's oftentimes divided.And if you're going to stay in sociology,you have to accept that reality.Not everyone-- in fact, most anyone at any given moment--is going to agree with what you say.So in contemporary sociology, there are clear divides

    • 03:08

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: and as a result, sociology is a very poorly integrateddiscipline.And we disagree over epistemology--that is, the way which you go about learning about the worldand how we're supposed to accumulate knowledge.There's a tremendous amount of disagreement over that.There's disagreement over methodology.There's disagreements over the goals of sociology.

    • 03:29

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: Are we supposed to try and make the world better or justunderstand the world?And there's disagreements, as I said before,about the role of sociologists in society.And these disagreements inevitablylead to a proliferation of sociological perspectivesin theoretical sociology.Since there's so much disagreement,it's not likely that we're ever going to have less than a dozen

    • 03:53

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: to two dozen theoretical approaches in the discipline.So how do we discover these and learn about themin a relatively short lecture is not very easy.Functional theory is the first theory in sociology.It's the theory of Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer,

    • 04:13

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: and Emile Durkheim.And it was once the dominant theory,theoretical perspective, in sociologyin about 1950 to about 1965.Conflict theory displaced functional theory,primarily in its critique of functional theoryas conservatism.And conflict theory was the theory of the 60sbecause it focused on conflict.It stems from inequality.

    • 04:35

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: Exchange theory is a reluctant borrowing but alsonow one of the dominant theories in sociologythat borrows ideas from psychological behaviorismand neoclassical economics to say essentially,the world was built by people exchanging and social unitsof various kinds exchanging resourcesand from that, building up social structures and culture.

    • 04:56

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: Ecological theory borrows from biologyand biological, ecological theory,and is applied primarily to the studyof the ecology of communities, viewing communitiesas a kind of ecological space in which familiesand other kinds of social units compete for resources.Another kind of ecological theoryis organizational ecology, which isthe dominant theoretical program in not

    • 05:20

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: only organizations of sociology but at many business schools.Organizational ecology says that organizations are justlike any other kind of living unit that mustlive in a resource environment.And as that resource environment get dense and populatedwith more and more organizations,there's intense competition.And hence, the less fit organizations are selected out.

    • 05:42

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: Symbolic interactionist theory comes from the pragmatisttradition put forth by George Herbert Mead, a philosopherat the University of Colorado.And it essentially emphasizes the importanceof self and self concepts for understanding human behavior.Humans try to verify and confirm their self

    • 06:04

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: conceptions of themselves.And so much of the dynamics of interpersonal behaviorin societies is understood in terms of this need to do so.Dramaturgical theory borrows from Shakespeare's metaphorespecially of the stage-- that interaction among peopleis very much regulated by a cultural script.

    • 06:24

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: People are playing roles in relationto that cultural script.They're giving a lot of dramatic interpretation to those roles.They're on a stage in front of an audiencewho responds to their presentations of selfand whether these are genuine or strategic.And it takes this metaphor of the stage and theater and verycreatively applies it to the study

    • 06:46

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: of micro-level social processes.Structural theories are a complex mix of theories.One of the embarrassing things about sociologyis one of its most important and special concepts,social structure, is not really well-defined.And so you have many different viewsof what social structure is.But the basic idea is that such structure

    • 07:08

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: is systems of connections among individualsand collective units.And these systems of connections reveal certain forms.And those forms dominate how organizations of people actand how they think about the world.But it's a very diverse set of theoriesand it's impossible to summarize very briefly.Cultural theory has the same problem.

    • 07:28

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: People don't agree on what culture is.But basically, culture is a system of symbols and symbolsystems that are created that peopleuse to regulate their behavior and evaluate themselvesin terms of these symbols.And there are many different kinds of cultural theoriesthat basically emphasize the relationshipbetween individuals and culture, usually

    • 07:49

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: emphasizing the ritual nature of interactionin terms of culture.People are constantly engaging in ritualsthat reaffirm culture.The other big problem in sociologyis, how do you connect culture and social structure?There's not consensus about this.There are really two sides of the same coin, I think.One is the structural relationships among individuals

    • 08:11

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: in their collective units and anotheris the ideas that guide the formation and operationof those structural units.But how do you connect them?That's a big problem in sociology.Evolutionary sociology is, in a sense,a new approach in sociology.The older version of evolutionary sociologywas stage modeling of the classical theoristssuch as Compt and Spencer and Durkheim.

    • 08:33

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: But that stage modeling is enjoying a big renaissancein the late 20th century.But added to that is now Darwinian ideasare being added into evolutionary sociologyand sociology so that new fields such as evolutionary sociology,neural sociology are all emerging, tryingto understand the biological basis of human behavior

    • 08:55

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: and social organization.And the final perspective I listed upthere is world systems theory, whichanalyzes the global system as it evolved overtime, both its political and economic dimensions.This is oftentimes very Marxian driven,but it's also very empirical.World system scholars are not onlytheorizing about the dynamics of the world system,but they're also trying to test these theoretical ideas out

    • 09:19

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: with hard-nosed data.So on one hand, many people who do world systemsanalysis are Marxists, but they're alsoscientists doing empirical work and tryingto develop formal theories.That's just a little brief listingof the potential number of theoretical perspectivesin sociology.That's a kind of minimal list.

    • 09:40

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: I could double the list.And if I did the activist science variancewithin each of those perspectives,the list gets even longer.So we just have to accept the factthat sociological theory is a big, diverse, complex,contentious place to be.It's also an exciting place to beif you are willing to argue and defend your position

    • 10:01

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: and try to reconcile your position or other people'spositions.To sum, then, theoretical sociology todayis a very chaotic world.And in essence, people have to take a standon these fundamental issues.Can sociology be a science or not?

    • 10:22

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: If it is a science, are you to be valueneutral or more evaluative?That is, should we use our scienceto recommend how the world should be reconstructed,or should we let other people use our scienceto reconstruct the world and let the citizens of societydecide what kind of society they wantand be their advisors about what's

    • 10:42

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: possible and not possible?That's a big point of contention in sociology.And we each have to decide on the kinds of methodsthat we find useful in testing outour theories and their plausibility.My view is that they're all appropriate and depend somewhaton your preference, which if you use quantitative,

    • 11:02

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: ethnographic, historical, whatever the referencemethod might be, there are lots of ones available.And it also depends on the problems and the kind of theoryyou have.If you have a micro theory, probably more qualitativemethods are better.Sometimes, if there's a more macro theory,qualitative methods are more useful.Or historical methods-- it all depends on the problem

    • 11:23

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: you have.But the general goal theory alwaysis trying to explain the world, how it is, why it came to be,and how it operates.And this is what all science does.And there's no reason the science of the social worldcan't do the same thing.Even people who are not in favor of science do the same thing.They try to explain why things came about,

    • 11:44

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: why they're having certain consequences for people,and what we can do about it.It ends up in some ways being the same thing,although the style by which the theory is conceptualizedand written is very different.And in some ways, the goals are different.But to the degree that we can agree at all in sociology,

    • 12:05

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: we have to begin to recognize that there aredifferent ways of doing theory.And each person has to find their own wayand try to get along with the others who disagree with you.That's the hard part in many ways.It's not so easy.And so one of the things that I'vespent my career I might say doing,and I encourage others to do, is try to reconcile and integrate

    • 12:27

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: diverse theories.In the end, you make a bigger and more robust and moreexplanatory theory.But that's just my goal.And if you're interested in the way I do theoryand also for a review of general theory,please consult Theoretical Sociology-- 1832to the Present.That outlines all the theories that I briefly

    • 12:48

      JONATHAN H. TURNER [continued]: mentioned here and many more.

Contemporary Sociological Theory: 1950 to Present

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Abstract

Professor Jonathan H. Turner provides a brief overview of more than a dozen sociological theories in use today. He explains that sociology is rife with disagreement in nearly every aspect of the field, including research methodology and basic definitions.

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Contemporary Sociological Theory: 1950 to Present

Professor Jonathan H. Turner provides a brief overview of more than a dozen sociological theories in use today. He explains that sociology is rife with disagreement in nearly every aspect of the field, including research methodology and basic definitions.

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