John Levi Martin on theory

I've found the work of John Levi Martin to be particularly original when it comes to rethinking some of the basis assumptions of sociological theory. (Here are a few earlier posts on his work; link, link. John also provided a guest post here.) So I was pleased to receive a copy of his most recent …

Adelman on Albert Hirschman

    Jeremy Adelman's detailed and illuminating biography of Albert Hirschman in Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman is an excellent example of intellectual biography. Even more, it is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the development of social science theories and frameworks. Born to a professional Jewish family in Berlin in …

Ordinary and theoretical knowledge of capitalism

John Levi Martin argues in The Explanation of Social Action, among other things, that we need to understand the social world through the ways it is experienced by participants. "Sociology and its near kin have adopted an understanding of theoretical explanation that privileges 'third-person' explanations and, in particular, have decided that the best explanation is a …

Doug McAdam on contentious politics and the social sciences

Doug McAdam is hard at work shedding new light on the meso-dynamics of contention.  What are the specific social and psychological mechanisms that bring people into social movements; what factors and processes make mobilization more feasible when social grievances arise?  Recently he has done work on the impact of Teach for America on its participants, …

Underdetermination and truth

We say that a statement is underdetermined by available facts when it and an alternative and different statement or theory are equally consistent with that body of facts. It may be that two physical theories have precisely the same empirical consequences -- perhaps wave theory and particle theory represent an example of this possibility. And …

Social theory and the empirical social world

How can general, high-level social theory help us to better understand particular historically situated social realities? Is it helpful or insightful to "bring Weber's theory of religion to bear on Islam in Java" or to "apply Marx's theory of capitalism to the U.S. factory system in the 1950s"? Is there any real knowledge to be …

What do we want from sociology?

Let's say we've absorbed the anti-positivism argued many times here -- sociology should not be modeled on the natural sciences, we shouldn't expect social phenomena to have the homogeneity and consistency characteristic of natural phenomena, and we shouldn't expect to find social laws.  What remains for the intellectual task of post-positivist sociology?  What do we …

"Theory" in sociology

What is a sociological theory? And how does it relate to the challenge of providing explanations of social facts?In the natural sciences the answer to this question is fairly clear. A theory is a hypothesis about one or more entities or processes and a specification of their operations and interactions. A theory is articulated in …

Ontology of the French Revolution

How does the historian need to think as he or she formulates a discursive representation of a complex period of history? What assumptions does the historian make about the structures and entities that make up the social world? And what sorts of conceptual systems are needed in order to permit the historian to do his …

Philosophical frameworks in the social sciences

It is fairly evident that there were substantive ontological assumptions about how the social world worked that guided the founders of sociology: individuals create social outcomes (Mill), norms and values have a superordinate role in social action (Durkheim), the problem of social order is the fundamental problem for sociology (Durkheim), crises are common within capitalism …

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