Sociology, a Work in Progress?

  • Colin Campbell


Deciding whether an academic discipline has progressed is not easy, while gaining a reputation for oneself and helping the discipline to progress do not seem to be closely related. Many obstacles have prevented sociology from progressing, some of which are beyond the control of sociologists: but many are not. Indeed, if no progress has been made, it is largely because few sociologists have set themselves this goal. Many have given priority to their personal interests rather than tackle difficult theoretical questions, while there has been a tendency to confuse studying social life with adding to sociological understanding. But progress was made in the past (why otherwise would we study the works of Durkheim, Marx and Weber), and so—if more favourable circumstances were to come to pass—there is no reason why this could not happen in the future.


Difficulty of identifying progress “Progress in paradigms” thesis Looking back with regret? Sociologists “rarely say anything” Definition of a sociologist Little progress made—yet there is still hope 


  1. Abbott, A. (2001). Chaos of Disciplines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Abbott, A. (2006, Summer). Reconceptualizing Knowledge Accumulation in Sociology. The American Sociologist, 37, 57–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arvan, M. (2014, March 21). “There Is No Progress in Philosophy”…Or Is There? The Philosopher’s Cocoon. Accessed 12 December 2018.
  4. Back, L. (2016). Academic Diary: Or Why Higher Education Still Matters. London: Goldsmiths Press.Google Scholar
  5. Blaug, M. (1985). Introduction: Has Economic Theory Progressed? In Economic Theory in Retrospect. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Cole, S. (1994). Why Sociology Doesn’t Make Progress Like the Natural Sciences. Sociological Forum, 9(2), 133–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Davis, J. A. (1994). What’s Wrong with Sociology? Sociological Forum, 9(2), 179–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dietrich, E. (2011). There Is No Progress in Philosophy. Essays in Philosophy, 12(2), 329–344 (Article 9).Google Scholar
  9. Giddens, A. (1997). Sociology (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  10. Johnson, H. M. (1966). Sociology: A Systematic Introduction. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  11. Khalil, E. L. (1995). Has Economics Progressed? Rectilinear, Historicist, Universalist, and Evolutionary Historiographies. History of Political Economy, 27(1), 43–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  13. Luce, R. D., Smelser, N., & Gerstein, D. (Eds.). (1989). Leading in Social and Behavioral Science. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  14. Nisbet, R. (1971). The Degradation of the Academic Dogma: The University in America 1945–1970. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  15. Shanahan, T. (2000, May 1). Evolutionary Progress? BioScience, 50(5), 451–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. SI News. (2018, September 26). The World University Rankings 2019: Asia Cashes in on UK Decline. Accessed 12 December 2018.
  17. Steuer, M. (2003). The Scientific Study of Society. New York: Kluwer Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin Campbell
    • 1
  1. 1.University of YorkYorkUK

Personalised recommendations