Goffman’s close encounters

image: GIF from D. Witt (link)   George Herbert Mead's approach to social psychology is an important contribution to the new pragmatism in sociology (link). Mead puts forward in Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist a conception of the self that is inherently social; the social environment is prior to the individual, …

Gross on the history of analytic philosophy in America

Neil Gross has a remarkably good ear for philosophy. And this extends especially to his occasional treatments of the influences that helped shape the discipline of philosophy in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. His sociological biography of Richard Rorty is a tour de force (Richard Rorty: The Making of …

History of sociology

Sociology is a discipline with a short history and a very dense and complex tree of topics and methods. So writing its history — even limited to the past century and a half — is extremely challenging. And the idea that the discipline has worked itself out as the methodical development of ideas advanced by …

Sellars and Bhaskar

Robert Brandom has just published a highly interesting book about the coherence of the philosophical thought of Wilfrid Sellars, From Empiricism to Expressivism: Brandom Reads Sellars. In reading the book I am brought back repeatedly to thinking about Roy Bhaskar. There is the affirmation of scientific realism that both endorse; there is the appeal to …

Pragmatist theory of democracy

Jack Knight and Jim Johnson engage in a particular kind of political theory in their recent The Priority of Democracy: Political Consequences of Pragmatism.  They want to consider "democracies" as existing social systems embodying particular instances of various kinds of institutions. They want to know how those institutions are likely to emerge, and they want to …

Social embeddedness

To what extent do individuals choose their courses of action largely on the basis of a calculation of costs and benefits? And to what extent, on the contrary, are their actions importantly driven by the normative assumptions they share with other individuals with whom they interact? Mark Granovetter formulated this foundational question for the social …

Dewey on habits

I've sought here to discover some of the origins of current neo-pragmatist theories of the actor. John Dewey's writings are certainly crucial for that quest. So what did Dewey contribute to a pragmatist understanding of how people act? one place to look for an answer is in a 1922 book, HUMAN NATURE AND CONDUCT: An Introduction …

George Herbert Mead on the self

Sociologists sometimes come back to George Herbert Mead as a founder who still has something important to contribute to contemporary theory. This is especially true in ethnomethodology and symbolic interactionism, but it comes up in current lively discussions of pragmatism and action as well. So what can we learn from reading Mead today?Mead writes and …

Levi Martin on explanation

John Levi Martin's The Explanation of Social Action is a severe critique of the role of "theory" in the social sciences. He thinks our uses of this construct follow from a bad conception of social explanation: we explain something by showing how it relates (often through law-like processes) to something radically different from the thing to …

A pragmatist action theory

A theory of action is one component of a meta-framework for sociology. It is an organized set of ideas about what individuals are doing when they engage in interactions in the world, and what we think at the highest level of generality about why they behave as they do. Individuals within social interactions constitute the …

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