Self, Society and the Sociology of Everyday Life
A major problem of classical sociology was the contradiction between its emphasis on the concept of society as a system or structure governed by objective laws, and the role of the subject, or actor, in the making of social structure and social change. A tension was generated within classical sociology between the concepts of subject and structure, voluntarism and determinism. Marxism, Functionalism and Sociological Positivism tended to assimilate the active role of the subject to an underlying economic, socio-cultural system. Social action theory, as it developed in the work of Simmel and Weber, sought to redefine the object of sociology as the study of human interaction. Talcott Parsons’s The Structure of Social Action (1937) advanced the argument that a voluntaristic theory of action constituted the major preoccupation of Weber, Durkheim and Pareto, and although there were important differences between these sociologists, working apart from each other in their own distinctive national cultures, a real convergence of sociological theory was nevertheless taking place. For Parsons, the history of sociology was not a history of competing and opposing schools, ‘that there are as many systems of sociological theory as there are sociologists, that there is no common basis, that all is arbitrary and subjective’, but rather the development of ‘a substantial common basis of theory’ and ‘sound theoretical foundations on which to build’ (Parsons, 1961a, pp. 774–5).
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