Theory week: Anthony Giddens

The author cracks four myths and establishes two implications in the study of sociological theories. The four myths are: the myth of the great divide between 1890-1920 generation by Parsons, the myth of the problem of order, the myth of the conservative origins of sociology, and the myth of schism. The two implications are to reformulate the theory of industrial society and to reconsider the epistemological status of social theory.

Four myths
First, the myth of the great divide refers to the “fundamental watershed that separates the prehistory of social theory”, located between 1890 and 1920, especially between Durkheim and Weber. This divided was largely promoted by Parsons in his 1937 book The Structure of Social Action. For the same reason, Marx and Engels were excluded from this part of discussion because they were reduced to limbo.

Second, the myth of the problem of order refers to the notion that most non-Marxist authors of the 1890-1920 period were being preoccupied with an abstract “problem of order”. Parsons phrased this ,especially with reference to Durkheim’s Divisions of Labor, as the “Hobbes problem”, that was, how do men escape from the nature status of “war of all against all”? But according to Giddens, Durkheim was not primarily concerned with this problem at all. Not only did Durkheim dismissed the “Hobbes problem” at early stage of his writing, but he was not criticising the utilitarianism of Hobbes but German idealism – both the holism of Wundt and Schaffle and neb-Kantian philosophy. Parsons treated The Division of Order in an ambiguous way to establish his own structural functionalism, but Durkheim intended to show the anthesis between individualism and holism. Parsons also framed Durkheim as dominated by the notion of moral consensus, but the latter also cares for institutional analysis and institutional change. That is, it is not Durkheim that was conservative – but Parsons himself was.

Third, the myth for the conservative origins of sociology was promoted by Nisbet, who claimed Durkheim was conservative because he drew from conservative sources, and who processed anti-individualism ideas himself. However, Durkheim both drew from neb-kantian sources that were not conservative at all, and was again methodological individualism instead of moral individualism.

Finally, the myth of schism was invented by Dahrendorf, means “consensus versus coercive” resolution of the problem of order. The former is attributed to Durkheim by Parsons, while the latter is attributed to Marx. But this is also misleading in that both authors at least agreed that the “nonalienated and free”, the “man in nature” arose exactly as a product of social development, instead of the pre-condition of capitalism. According to Giddens, Marx and Durkheim were only different in the question “what form of society” will there be anomie?

Two implications
In the 1970s when Giddens wrote this essay, there were there response to the malaise of social theory. First, a resurgent critique of positivism in the social sciences; second, the argument that sociology is tied to ideologies and thus need a radical sociology; and third, the fight between theory of order and theory of conflict. For the latter two, Giddens responded that they were resulted from the problematic theory of industrial society, that the fundamental contrast in the modern world is between traditional agrarian society and industrial urban society. This is reflected in paris of notions like “mechanic and organic solidarity” and “Gemeinschaft versus Gesellschaft”. But this is no longer our problem for now, because the assumption under this theory, that society develops in endogenous way, that all societies share the same path of development soled based on technological and economic development, no longer held in the globalizing 1960s. Thus there should be more mature and international theories. In the end, Giddens also rejected the positivism trends in sociology, but I failed to understand this part.

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