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What theories have sociologists proposed?

  1. Feb 2, 2008 #1
    I don't know much about sociology but I am somewhat curious about the discipline. I'd like to start a little discussion on sociology where I hope you all will inform me about the subject. What theories have sociologists proposed? What hypotheses have they came up with? What hypotheses have they been able to test? How exactly did they test them and what were the results? What are some of you favorite ideas, studies, etc, in sociology?

    I hope you will not limit the discussion only to the questions above, I just mentioned those because they were the first to come to mind and they sound interesting. In other words, feel free to mention anything that's loosely based on the subject.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 4, 2008 #2

    In terms of "proposed theories", the big three (of structuralism) are: structural-functionalism (a favourite with conservatives), symbolic interactionism (a favourite with anthropologists), and critical theory/conflict model (a favourite with Marxists). You also have post-modernists who do not believe in structuralism and that society (and thus, sociology) does not exist but they do not contribute much to the field.

    The way you asked your question would be blatantly dismissed as critical rationalism by most sociologists. That is, all you are interested in are hypotheses -> tests -> conclusions in the model of the classical "scientific method" and applicable to all social sciences, particularly favoured by economists who like to compare their discipline to physics. Sociology too, was called "social physics" at the reign of positivism in its history.

    Important pieces in classical theory that have been insightful are Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, C. Wright Mills' The Sociological Imagination, Karl Marx's Das Capital and Emile Durkeim's Suicide. Generally, most introductory sociology classes tackle these - and hence, sociology first year classes are more like sociological theory/history/philosophy - in contrast to economics where you go right into applications of the neoclassical paradigm. (No one really talks about The Wealth of Nations) Modern sociology pieces include Pierre Bordieu's Distinction, Talcott Parsons' The Structure of Social Action and George Mead's Mind, Self and Society. All this does not include the development of post-modernism in sociology (like Foucault's works) and gender studies (like Sylvia Walby).

    As such, there has been no dominant "metanarrative" in sociology to unite the field under one theory like there is with economics. Hence why when you read sociology papers, the theoretical framework is often stated explicitly, such as "A critical post-strucutural feminist approach to ____". Grand social theories have fallen out of fashion as well - no one likes to subscribe to "a theory of everything" because social life is too complex. Even "socialization", a concept easily grasped by the public, is something rejected in sociology (in part) because it is structurally rigid and has no room for human agency (though this was "solved" with Bordieu's habitus model of society).

    So I don't really know what you want. If you want a bunch of quantitative wrk with "hypotheses" and "models" I can point you easily the way of the vast mountains of work done on social research.

    I thought you said you took an introductory course in sociology already? Unless that was a lie, these questions should have easily been answered.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 23, 2017
  4. Feb 4, 2008 #3
    Obviously it's different than economics. I just assumed that there were many proposed hypotheses that are interesting (I never said they had to be proven or accepted by most sociologists, just interesting). If sociology doesn't generate hypotheses, then it wouldn't be correct to refer to it as a social science. Are there many hypotheses or not? If so, I hope you will share some interesting ones with me.

    I never said I took intro sociology, what I said was that I've taken a sociology class. The class title was "Sociology of Sexuality." So I am somewhat familiar with sociology, but my exposure is very limited and fairly specific.
  5. Feb 5, 2008 #4


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    My college education philosophy was to take whatever course that was taught well -- the subject matter was a secondary consideration. This philosophy of mine raised considerable objections from my undergrad advisor (the first one, anyway). But it helped me gain perspectives and meet people that I would not have otherwise.

    I am not a sociologist and I didn't take intro soc, although I did take a couple of sociology courses. In the 1940's, mathematical modeling was first introduced as a sociological research tool. Sociologists who use this approach are serious statisticians and mathematicians. They use graph theory, group theory (abstract algebra), stochastic processes and differential equation methods to model societies and social interactions. They also use statistical methods to test hypotheses. I do not have a lot of info on specific models or hypotheses, but I wouldn't be surprised if they have been constructing virtual societies on computers to analyze and test group dynamics. Neither would I be surprised to learn that they set up classroom experiments in the same way that experimental economists do, in order to collect data to test hypotheses.

    There is a different school of empirical sociology that marries empirical research with intuitive knowledge and interpretation. An example is an article written by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss, entitled Temporal aspects of dying as a non-scheduled status passage. I had not read the article, although I had read a chapter by the same authors in a collection of articles published as Readings in Modern Sociology (my best recollection). In their chapter, they reference this article. I looked at the article a few minutes ago and saw that they do not attempt statistical hypothesis testing; yet they speak of a theory and data.

    A sample sentence from the article is: "Thus dying in hospitals can be located in the following way: the status passage is non-scheduled, non-prescribed, undesirable, and after a point, inevitable." This sentence can be translated into a description of a Cartesian space with 4 dimensions. They are: scheduledness, prescribedness, desirability, inevitability. The authors could have stated it the way I did, with reference to a Cartesian space, but they chose not to. However, that does not mean that their concept is not mathematically representable.

    In subsection "Method," they describe their data collection methodology as "field observations and interviews at [hospitals]." They continue:
    The quoted passage (footnotes omitted) indicates how they see their analysis:

    1. It is an applied analysis. It involves using data to illustrate theoretical points.
    2. It relies on repeated ("sequential") observations of a natural phenomenon (patient death).
    3. It concentrates on obtaining information on properties of an object (patient death).
    4. Participant observation is the most suitable method of data collection because it is well-suited to objectives 2 and 3.

    Clearly, the authors see this as an empirical paper that applies data to a theory. However, their understanding of "data" and "theory" may be different from how these concepts are defined in physics, statistics, or positive economics.
  6. Aug 23, 2009 #5
    Re: Sociology

    OK, I will do my best.

    Wow, this is like asking a physicist or chemist or biologist to tell you the following:

    "What theories have physicists proposed? What hypotheses have they came up with? What hypotheses have they been able to test? How exactly did they test them and what were the results?"

    We have limited space and time in which to answer such questions for any field, yet alone a field as expansive as sociology. I suggest you get an introduction to sociology textbook.

    Let's take your questions in order:

    1. What theories have sociologists proposed?
    2. What hypotheses have they came up with?
    3. What hypotheses have they been able to test?
    4. How exactly did they test them and what were the results?

      Someone mentioned topics in sociology as theories: "In terms of 'proposed theories', the big three (of structuralism) are: structural-functionalism (a favourite with conservatives), symbolic interactionism (a favourite with anthropologists), and critical theory/conflict model (a favourite with Marxists). You also have post-modernists who do not believe in structuralism and that society (and thus, sociology) does not exist but they do not contribute much to the field."

      I would not say that these are theories as much as fields of interest. There are many fields: race and gender; sex; economic sociology; political sociology; criminology; social psychology; organization and management theory; sociology of knowledge; sociology of the Internet; sociology of science and technology; communication; networks; stratification; etc.

      There are too many theories to describe them all here. But here are a few theories and sample hypotheses and results:

      a. Rising Aspirations Theory: People raise their aspirations as their rewards increase, leading to greater levels of dissatisfaction if those rising aspirations are not met. This hypothesis has been tested in many settings including organizations and revolutionary movements, usually by means of statistical regressions. You may not be impressed with the R-squareds, but that is just the nature of the social sciences.​
      b. Matthew Effect: High status people get increasing returns to their status, while low status people get decreasing returns to their status. In other words, the rich get richer, the poor, get poorer, because of status differences. Again, many statistical tests have been unable to disconfirm this hypothesis.
      c. Neoinstitutionalism: People will copy the practices of others based on the perceived effectiveness of those practices, not their real effectiveness. The higher the perceived effectiveness and awareness, the more quickly the practices will spread. Epidemiological models of diffusion and statistics have been used to test these hypotheses.
      d. Friendships: People will tend to become friends when they live closer together than when they live far apart from each other. Tested via surveys and experiments.

      The closest to a law in sociology is the following: "All societies are stratified." This is close to a law because we have never found a human society that lacks hierarchical levels of stratification. But these kinds of "laws" are rare. Sociologists don't really believe in laws because they are so hard to find.
    5. What are some of you favorite ideas, studies, etc, in sociology?

    Among the hottest theoretical and empirical fields in sociology right now are network theory, reality mining, event history analysis, and social constructivism (not to be confused with post-modernism).

    The former is probably one of the most native and oldest ideas in sociology, but computational power has increased so much in recent years that it has enabled sophisticated analysis of social networks. There are so many hypotheses here that it would be difficult to encompass them all in this email. But there are things like, more central actors are likely to have more information, with centrality defined in different ways. There are brokers: two actors linked through a third actor but having no relationship between themselves. The broker in such a situation has power because he possesses an information (and sometimes a resource) advantage. Network theory can be measured in vector algebra or geometric terms, and the data can subsequently be used with categorical data (data on the participants sex, age, gender, occupation, education, experience, etc.) in cross sectional or longitudinal regressions.

    Event history analysis is particularly useful for longitudinal regression. As far as I know, it was invented by sociologists to measure the hazard rate of an event over time. What is the probability that the event will die out? What is the probability the event will occur. There is an area called population ecology that would be impossible without it. Population ecologists study how new populations of people, groups, organizations, etc. emerge, grow, stabilize, and decline.

    Reality mining is interesting but it produces so much data that micro-sociologists (social psychologists) are still not sure what to do with it. You put sensors on people's name tags, and you have them go about their normal interactions during the day. The sensors collect the data and provide you with a map of all the interactions -- the network -- connecting all the people in a particular location. Most of this work is going on at the MIT Media Lab.

    Finally, social constructivism intersects with modern day physics. We know that reality exists based on people's mental maps of that reality. But if everyone stopped believing in that reality, it would collapse. So how is that reality maintained, and how real is it. Post-modernists, on average, believe that nothing really exists and is all in the brain. The big debate in sociology is to what extent things are material or socially constructed, and how this influences social interactions. It is paradigmatic, but also has important consequences for theories and their hypotheses. Many social interactionists are ethnographers for they believe you can only uncover social reality by becoming members of the group under study. Otherwise, how would you know what categories are real for the group, and what categories are not?

    The two biggest debates in sociology today is how do you bridge the micro and macro, and how do you bridge the material with the ideational. The basic assumption of sociology is that social interactions or relations govern human behavior and their outcomes.

    Hope this helps.
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