Sociologiens nutidige krise: Hvordan undgår vi falsk pluralisme?


  • John Goldthorpe



The present crisis in sociology: a way beyond spurious pluralism? At the end of the 20th century the state of sociology gives cause for serious con¬cern. The main reasons for this concern can be stated in three features of contem¬porary sociology: First, there is a manifest lack of integration of research and theory. This is a long-standing difficulty, but what makes it worse today than pre¬viously is, that it is now less often seen as a serious problem. Second, there is an evident collective failure among sociolo¬gists to decide just what kind of discip¬line sociology is or ought to be. For some sociology should aim to be a social scien¬ce and to have therefore well-defined links with other social sciences, such as economics and political science, and al¬so human sciences. For others such aspi¬rations represent an outmoded ”posi¬tivsm”. If sociology is to be thought of as a social science at all then it must be one of a distinctive kind; and the crucial inter¬disciplinary links should be with cer¬tains kinds of philosophy and with cul¬tural studies. Third and finally, there is disagreement about how the disagree¬ments on the nature of sociology should itself be viewed. Despite the state of intellectual disar¬ray today´s sociology has some signifi¬cant achievements which can be charac¬terised as success stories and two are mentioned in the article. The first suc¬cess story is about the quantitative soci¬al research: more specifically, research that involves both data collection and da¬ta analysis that are based on statistical methods and on the theory of probability. Through statistical modelling know¬ledge about important social regularities has been established and these social re¬gularities are of major theoretical signi¬ficance. The modelling has typically ena¬bled sociologists to separate out more clearly than before what are the probabi¬litic regularities inherent in complex da¬ta-sets. The second success story of sociology is that of the theory of social action. Today, if we want to have an effective kind of sociological theory then it will be a theory of social action of some kind or other. Two developments lead to this conclu¬sion. The first is the evident collapse of functionalist theory over the last two to three decades. For functionalism to have explanatory power it is necessary that the systems which are taken as the units of analysis should exists in a selective environment; i. e. there must be the possi¬bility that the systems will in some sense fail to survive. Then it becomes possible to explain their constituent feature by re¬ference to their ”survival value”. This ap¬proach underlines the need for sociologi¬cal explannation to have a ”micro-foun¬dation”: i.e. to comprise not only ”macro¬-to-micro” link but a ”micro-to-macro” link as well. We need to return to the in¬dividualistic tradition in sociology. The second argument goes as following: Wi¬thin the individualistic tradition, theory based on the concept of action has in fact shown much greater promise than the main alternative has: i. e. theory based on the concept of behaviour. The attempts to revitalise the individualistic tradition via the theory of social action has proved rewarding and it seems to be around rational action theory that we may best try to build up a more general theory of social action. Through the statistical modelling ba¬sed on data collection and the theory of probability on the one hand and through developing a theory of rational social ac¬tion within the individualistic tradition on the other hand we might be able to overcome the present difficulties of socio¬logy as a science.