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SOCIOLOGICAL THINKERS

1. Karl Marx (1818-1883) - German

Productive year: (1840-1883)

Most active period: (1840- 1860)

2. Emile Durkheim (1858- 1917) - French

Productive year: (1890-1917)

3. Max Weber (1864-1920) - German

Productive year: (1900-20)

4. G.H Mead (1863-1931) - America

Productive year: (1910-1931)

5. Parson (1902-1979) - America

Productive year: (1937-79)

6. Merton: (1910-2003) - America

Productive year: (1949-2003)

Socio-economic and political condition

Early thinkers Marx, Weber, & Durkheim, formulated their thoughts in the context of
socio-economic & political chaos in European society. Europe was witnessing a drastic
transformation due to Industrialization & Democratization in particular, and
Modernization in general. These thinkers attempted to address the problem of social order
faced by the different countries of Europe. Although, these thinkers wrote in the similar
context, their responses to the situation were different in terms of the use of different
perspective method & subject matter.

Mead an American socio- psychologist intended to develop a science of society which could
solve the social problems. American society during 1st half of 20th century was an emerging
welfare state. The solution to social problems was one of the most important challenges
before the welfare state. Talcott Parson’s & Merton’s writings in 1940’s had an entirely
different context. Colonialism was a thing of past & a welfare state was established in a
number of countries, international institution emerged & people started challenging the
supremacy of West. Both were concerned about maintenance of social order, developing
guides to planning and more humanistic approach towards understanding the society.

In General Marx, Weber, Durkheim & Mead are called as Modern sociologist whereas
Parson and Marton known as Later sociologist or even sometimes Contemporary sociologist.
Out of this Marx never called himself as sociologist. Mead preferred to call himself as socio-
psychologist.

Perspectives

Different thinkers approached the subject matter of sociology from different viewpoints.
Due to this, even if they were writing in similar context, contrasting theory & often
contradictory, were developed.

Durkheim carried forward a functional perspective initiated by Comte & Spencer. Later on
Parson & Merton gave important contribution to the development of functionalism.

Marx introduced a conflict perspective as an entirely new and radical approach towards
understanding of society. Under the influence of Darwin’s ‘Theory of Biological Evolution’ ,
the initial sociologist frequently used the evolutionary perspective. Both Marx and
Durkheim framed the evolutionary theory of society. Parson’s writing in 1970 also
developed a grand evolutionary theory. Mead also developed a comprehensive evolutionary
theory linking mind, self and society.

Max Weber introduced interpretive perspective using a micro approach. He emphasized on


studying the internal meaning, motives, & values held by the individual. Mead laid the
foundation of understanding society in terms of interaction between people. This
perspective later on came to known as symbolic interaction.

Apart from this Marx & Durkheim were macro- sociologist whereas Mead and Weber are
micro- sociologist, Parson & Merton combined 2 perspective.

Methods

The establishment of society as a distinct discipline& search for specific methods can be
seen in the writings of all thinkers. Weber and Durkheim framed specific methods to be
used in sociology (add examples from the detailed discussion). Marx also developed
methods for studying the society which later on becomes the part of sociological method.
Merton developed a functional paradigm but Parson was more involved with abstract
theorization without practically using specific methods. Mead used quantitative methods
similar to natural sciences for developing his Theory of self.

Views about individuals and society

For a sociologist the smallest part of subject matter is an individual & largest unit is society
as whole. Understanding the relation between individual and society has been the task of all
thinkers. Individuals are woven into a pattern of relationship, thus forming a society. These
patterns of relationships are mediated by social institutions, social groups & social processes
which are present as an integral dimension of society. Different thinkers had different views
about primacy and supremacy of individuals vis- a- vis society. Marx &Durkheim gave
primacy to society over individual. For Durkheim society is supreme & controls the
individual. Society has its own existence irrespective of will of the individual i.e society came
into existence on its own (sui generis). Marx understood society as a system of production
having a structure. Society influences the individual consciousness & imposes limitations on
his thinking. Both Mead and Weber gave primacy to individual. For Weber, social reality is
constructed in terms of meaning attached by the actor to their actions. Mead understood
the realities of society in terms of interaction taking place between individuals. These
interactions are the building blocks of society. Parsons & Merton developed an integrated
approach by synthesizing the earlier viewpoints. For them both individual and society are
part of the same process & cannot be separated .They are interdependent &
complementary. Parsons expressed these views in the dichotomy of motivational & value
orientation, whereas Merton emphasizes on manifest & latent functions also shows the
same concern.

Important studies

Marx

• Theory of Historical Materialism


• Theory of mode of production
• Theory of Class & Class struggle
• Theory of Alienation

Weber

• Theory of Social Action


• Protestants Ethnic & spirit of capitalism
• Webers Methodology

Durkheim

• Division of Labour
• Suicide
• Religion
• Durkheim’s Methodology

Mead

• Theory of Self

Parsons

• Theory of Social Action


• Theory of Social System
Merton

• Merton’s functional paradigm


• Theory of reference group
• Theory of Anomie

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