History of Sociology: Contemporary Sociology
This article will focus on the history of contemporary sociology. This article will provide an overview of developments in contemporary sociology from post World War II to today. Differences between modern and contemporary sociology will be highlighted. The work of contemporary social theorists, including Talcott Parsons, Immanuel Wallerstein, Anthony Giddens, Herbert Blumer, Erving Goffman, Pierre Bourdieu, Marvin Harris, Robert Merton, Jurgen Habermas, will be described. Theories and methods in contemporary sociology, such as communicative action, habitus, interpretive sociology, structuration, structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and world-systems theory, will be introduced. A discussion of the links between post-World War II socio-political movements and trends in contemporary will be included.
Keywords Communicative Action; Habitus; Interpretive Sociology; Society; Sociology; Structural Functionalism; Structuration; Symbolic Interactionism; Theoretical Model; World-Systems Theory
Contemporary sociology encompasses the period in sociological thought and practice from after the Second World War through to the present day. The field's subject matter, theoretical paradigms, funding opportunities, and methodologies changed in significant ways during this period (Turner, 1990).Topics of inquiry in contemporary sociology include family relationships, problems of overpopulation, social movements, the self, social change, poverty, business and industry, group solidarity, identity, group conflict, and violence.
Understanding contemporary sociology, including the socio-political influences and key theorists, is vital background for all those interested in the field of sociology as well as social theory as a whole. This article explains the history of contemporary sociology in three parts:
• An overview of developments in contemporary sociology. Differences between modern and contemporary sociology will be highlighted.
• A description of the ways in which social theorist like Talcott Parsons, Immanuel Wallerstein, Anthony Giddens, Herbert Blumer, Erving Goffman, Pierre Bourdieu, Marvin Harris, Robert Merton, Craig Calhoun, Gerhard Lenski, Michel Foucault, and Jurgen Habermas, influenced the development of sociology after WWII.
• A discussion of the links between post-World War II socio-political movements and trends in contemporary sociological theory. The socially and politically responsive nature of sociology will also be explored.
Developments in Post World War II Sociology
Following World War II, the field of sociology grew in North America and Western Europe as the US government and Western corporations began adopting sociological tools, theories, and research methods. The main topics of sociological inquiry included: marriage and family; social stratification; politics; work; corporations and other large organizations; and gender roles and gender relations. In the late twentieth century, the discipline entered a post-modern phase during which sociologists concerned themselves with the deconstruction and reanalysis of previously held assumptions about society, race, gender, and identity The tensions between subjective and objective stances were also studied. The field became increasingly specialized with specialty journals and conferences, and critics of contemporary sociology charge that the field has become more fragmented than diverse or complex.
Following WWII, sociology grew in its uses and popularity. In the post-war years, the discipline, an increasingly popular department at colleges and universities, began to be applied to industry, government, and family life. In contrast to pre-war sociology, contemporary sociology has been less concerned with social ethics and progress, and shifted its focus away from urban and rural studies. Though sociologists still study regional issues, they tend not to be defined by geographic place so much as by the issues they study. Urban issues such as poverty and race relations were also taken up. Studies of minorities decreased following World War II only to begin again in the 1960s with the civil rights movement (Turner, 1990).
Sociological method changed after World War II as sophisticated quantitative and qualitative methods were developed. Mathematical measurement of relationships replaced descriptive statistics, and surveys conducted over the phone or Internet have largely replaced self-administered questionnaires. Other key components of research like sampling have been greatly refined. Case studies, popular during the first half of the twentieth century, have been eclipsed by participant observation, and hypothesis testing has replaced scientific empiricism (Turner, 1990).
Sociological theory also changed following World War II, as well. For example, theoretical propositions, or statements of how changes in one or more independent variables could affect a dependent variable, replaced concepts. Propositional systems and theoretical models have also become popular (Turner, 1990).
Institutional and financial support for research has changed, too, since the mid-twentieth century. Public funding for social science research grew during the decades immediately following WWII. During the 1960s public funding especially increased for research that could produce strategies for controlling crime. Funding for criminology and social deviance research has stayed strong since that time. By and large, criminology research focused on studying the effectiveness of crime control strategies rather than understanding the meaning of crime and deviance. Federal support for sociological research waned in 1970s and 1980s. While money for applied research remains, funding for basic research is scarce. Secondary analysis of existing data, a less expensive research venture, has become more common as a result of this shrinkage (Turner, 1990).
Sociology's relationships with other disciples have changed, too. The field's early twentieth century goal of social reform facilitated a close connection with the applied social work. Since that time, however, sociology has separated from social work and is more closely tied to political science, anthropology, history, and psychology (Turner, 1990).
Additionally, sociology is no longer an exclusively American venture. The fall of Communism allowed Eastern European nations to rebuild their sociological communities, and the field has also established itself in South America and Asia (Keen & Mucha, 2004). With this internationalization, comparative research has grown common as a means of exploring the universal dynamics of social systems.
Post-World War II Intellectuals
While objective and empirical thought continued to influence sociology in the first half of twentieth century, contemporary sociology is characterized by its subjective orientation. The subjective orientation that developed in the late twentieth century was in large part a reaction to the scientific empiricism of much classical and modern sociology.
Contemporary sociology, though diverse and subjective in nature, still has shared goals and intellectual pursuits. For example, contemporary sociologists develop general analytical tools; synthesize diverse theoretical approaches; encourage and facilitate dialogue among different theoretical perspectives; expand the conceptual, political, and methodological boundaries of current theory; analyze past theoretical ideas; diagnose and address contemporary social conditions; and challenge the notion of fixed sociological theory (Camic & Gross 1998).
The key social theorists, Talcott Parsons, Immanuel Wallerstein, Anthony Giddens, Herbert Blumer, Erving Goffman, Pierre Bourdieu, Marvin Harris, Robert Merton, Craig Calhoun, Gerhard Lenski, Michel Foucault, and Jurgen Habermas described below have all shaped the theories, methodologies, and direction of contemporary sociology.
Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) is best known for his contributions to and association with structural functionalism. Structural functionalism is a theory which holds that a society's particular social institutions, norms, and more all serve to maintain that society's social system. In effect, Parsons sought to develop a grand theory for the social sciences. For example, he posited that societal action is based on four interrelated subsystems: the behavioral systems of its members, the personality systems of those members, the society as a system of social...
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