Chapter1: Introduction: Sociological Theory

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Chapter 1




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Chapter1: Introduction: Sociological Theory…………………………………....1

Chapter2: Auguste Comte and Positivism Sociology………………………....20
Chapter3: Herbert Spencer and Evolutionary Theory………………………...48
Chapter4: Ferdinand Tonnies: First sign of German sociology………….…...68

Chapter5: Georg Simmel and Form sociology……………………………....71

Chapter6: Emile Durkheim: Leader of the sociology doctrine……………..…93
Chapter7 :Max Weber and Rationalization……………………………………..120
Chapter8: Vilfredo Pareto: the Sound from Italy…………………………….161
Chapter9:Structural Functionalism………………………………………….177
Chapter10: Conflict Theory……………………………………………………..207
Chapter11: Critical Theory……………………………………………………...225
Chapter12: Exchange Theory…………………………………………………...245
Chapter13: Interaction Theory……………………………………………….…286

Chapter1: Introduction:Sociological Theory

Sociological Theory



Concepts: The Basic Building Blocks of Theory

Variables as an Important Type of Concept

Theoretical Statements and Formats


Sociological Theory

Theories are explanations about how and why events in the universe occur. Sociological theories are thus explanations about how and why humans behave, interact, and organize themselves. There is, however, considerable controversy over tiffs definition of theory. At the center of this controversy is the question of whether or not sociological theories can be scientific. Some argue that they can, others argue the opposite, and many offer some moderating position. To appreciate the dimensions of this controversy, let us begin by briefly outlining the nature of scientific theories. Then, we can return to what critics of scientific theory find objectionable.


Scientific theories begin with the assumption that the universe, including the social universe created by acting human beings, reveals certain basic and fundamental properties and processes that explain the ebb and flow of events in specific contexts. Because of this concern with discovering fundamental properties and processes, scientific theories are always stated abstractly, rising above specific empirical events and highlighting the underlying forces~ that drive these events. In the context of sociological inquiry, for example, theoretical explanations are not so much about the specifics of a particular economy as about the dynamics of production and distribution in general. Similarly, scientific theories are not so much about a particular form of government as about the nature of power as a basic social force. Or, to illustrate further, theories are not so much about particular behaviors and interactions among actual persons in a specific setting as about the nature of human interpersonal behavior in general. The goal, then, is always to see if the underlying forces that govern particulars of specific cases can be discovered. To realize this goal. theories must be about generic properties and processes transcending the unique characteristics of any one situation or case. Thus, scientific theories always seek to transcend the particular and the time bound, and in so doing, they focus on the generic, the fundamental, the timeless, and the universal.

Another characteristic of scientific theories is that they are stated more formally than ordinary language. At the extreme, theories are couched in another language, such as mathematics, but more typically in the social sciences and particularly in sociology, theories are phrased in ordinary language. Still, even when using regular language, sociologists make an effort to speak in neutral, objective, and unambiguous terms so that the theory means the same thing to all who examine it. Terms denoting properties of the world and their dynamics are defined clearly so that their referents are clear, and relationships among concepts denoting phenomena are stated in ways such that their interconnections are understood by all who examine the theory. At times, this attention to formalism can make theories seem stiff and dull, especially when these formalisms are couched at higher levels of abstraction. Yet, without attention to what terms and phrases denote and connote, a theory could mean very different things to diverse audiences.

A final characteristic of scientific theories is that they are designed to be systematically tested with replicable methods against the facts of particular empirical settings. Despite being stated abstractly and formally, then, scientific theories do not stand aloof and alone from the empirical. Useful theories all suggest ways that they can be assessed against empirical events.

All scientific fields develop theories. For in the end, science seeks (1) to develop abstract and formally stated theories and (g) to test these theories against empirical cases to see if they are plausible. If the theory seems plausible in light of empirical assessment, then it represents for the present time the explanation of events. If a theory is contradicted by empirical tests, then it must be discarded or revised. If competing theories exist to explain the same phenomena, they too must be empirically assessed, with the better explanation winning out.

Science is thus a rather slow process of developing theories, testing them, and then rejecting, modifying, or retaining them, at least until a better theory is proposed. Without attention to stating theories formally and objectively assessing then: against the empirical world, theory would become self-justifying and self-contained; it would be hard to refute such theories, and indeed, they would tend to reflect personal biases, ideological leanings, or religious convictions. The differences between scientific theory and other types of knowledge are presented in Figure 1.1.

The typology asks two basic questions: (1) Is the search for knowledge to be evaluative or neutral? (2) Is the knowledge developed to pertain to actual empirical events and processes, or is it to be about nonempirical realities? In other words, should knowledge tell us what should be or what is? And should knowledge refer to the observable world or to unobservable realms? If knowledge is to tell us what should exist (and, by implication, what should not occur) in the empirical world, then it is ideological knowledge. If it informs us about what should be but does not pertain to observable events, then the knowledge is religious, or about forces and beings in another realm of existence. If knowledge is neither empirical nor evaluative, then it is a formal system of logic, such as mathematics. And if it is about empirical events and is nonevaluative, then it is science.

Is knowledge to

be empirical?

Yes NO

Ideologies; or Rehgions; or

Yes beliefs that state beliefs that state

the way the world the dictates of

Is knowledge to should be supernatural forces

be evaluative? Science, or the Logics, or the

belief that all various systems of

NO knowledge is to reasoning that

reflect the actual employ rules of

operation of the calculation

empirical world

FIGURE 1.1 "Types of Knowledge

This typology is crude, but it makes the essential point: Them are different ways to look at, interpret, and develop knowledge about the world. Science is only one way. Science is based on the presumption that knowledge can be value free, that it can explain the actual workings of the empirical world, and that it can be revised as a result of careful observations of empirical events. These characteristics distinguish science from other beliefs about how we should generate understanding and insight.

The boundaries among these types of knowledge are often open, or at least permeable. Logics can be the language of science, as is the case when mathematics is used to state important relationships among forces driving the universe. The boundaries between these forms of knowledge can also be confrontational, as can be seen today in the controversy between religious and scientific explanations for the evolution of humans. Within sociology proper, the controversial relationship is between ideology and science. Many sociologists behave that theory must contain an ideological component; it must criticize undesirable conditions and advocate alternatives. Beliefs about "what should be" thus dominate the analysis of the social universe. This view of sociology contradicts the value-neutrality of science, where ideologies and other evaluative beliefs are not to contaminate analysis of social conditions. The debate between those who advocate scientific theory and those who argue for the infusion of ideology has been present for most of the history of sociology, and this debate still rages. In Part Ⅳ of this book. we devote a number of chapters to "critical theory," whose goal is to criticize existing conditions and to advocate potential alternatives.

These critical theories make a number of arguments. One is that no matter how hard scholars try to exclude ideology from their work, ideology will slip in. Every analyst is located at a particular position in society and will, therefore, have certain interests that guide both the problems selected for analysis and the mode of analysis itself Inevitably what people think should occur will enter their work, and so, it is only an illusion that statements about the operation of the social world are free of ideology Another line of criticism is that when "scientists" study what exists, they will implicitly see the social world as it is currently structured as the way things must inevitably be. As a result, theories about the world as it exists in the present can become ideologies legitimating the status quo and blinding thinkers to alternative social arrangements. And, a third line of attack on the value-neutrality of science is that humans call change the very nature of their universe; hence, there can be no immutable laws of human social organization because humans' capacity for agency allows them to alter the very reality described by these laws. Therefore, a natural science of society is not possible because the very nature of social reality can be changed by the actors in this reality:

Those who advocate a scientific approach reject these arguments by critical theorists. Although they see ideological bias as always a potential problem, this problem can be obviated by careful attention to potential sources of bias. And even if one's position in the social world shapes the questions asked, it is still possible to ~answer these questions in an objective manner. Moreover, those committed to science reject the notion that the objective study of the social world ensures that inquiry will support the status quo, Real science seeks to examine the forces driving the current world, and theories are about these underlying forces that, in~ the very best theories, have operated in all times and places. Thus. science does not just describe the world as it is, but rather, scientists~ try to see how forces operating in the past and present (and future) generate the empirical world as it now appears and as it will appear in the future. These forces will thus change the present into the future, just as they transformed the past into a new present. There is no reason, therefore, for theories to legitimate a status quo; indeed, theories are about the dynamic potential of the forces that change social arrangements. And finally, scientists reject the notion that humans can change the very nature of the forces that drive the social world. Humans can, of course, change the social world as it exists, but this is very different from changing the generic and basic forces that shape the organization of the social universe. Agency is thus constrained by the underlying forces that drive the social universe. For example, humans can change the way they produce things, but they cannot eliminate production as a basic force necessary for the survival of the species; people can change political regimes, but they currant eliminate power in social relations.

The debate about whether or not sociology can be a natural science will, no doubt, rage into the future. For our purposes, we simply must recognize that commitments to science vary among theorists in sociology. Yet, in the pages to follow, as well as on the Web site for this book emphasis is on the contribution of theories to the science of sociology. Of course, those theories rejecting this orientation are also examined, but these alternatives will always be seen as deviating from scientific sociology.


Theory is a mental activity revolving around the process of developing ideas that explain how and why events occur. Theory is constructed with several basic elements or building blocks: (1) concepts, (2) variables, and (3) statements/formats. Although there are many divergent claims about what theory is or should be, these four elements are common to all the claims. Let me examine each of these elements in more detail.

Concepts: The Basic Building Blocks of Theory

Theories are built from concepts. Most generally, concepts denote phenomena; in so doing, they isolate features of the world that are considered, for the moment at hand, important. For example, notions of atoms, protons, neutrons, and the like are concepts pointing to and isolating phenomena for certain analytical purposes. Familiar sociological concepts would include production, power, interaction, norm, role, status, and socialization. Each term is a concept that embraces aspects of the social world that are considered essential for a particular purpose.

Concepts are constructed from definitions. A definition is a system of terms, such as the sentences of a language, the symbols of logic, or the notation of mathematics, that inform investigators about the phenomenon denoted by a concept. for example, the concept conflict has meaning only when it is defined. One possible definition might be this: Conflict is interaction among social units in which one unit seeks to prevent another from realizing its goals. Such a definition allows us to visualize the phenomenon that is denoted by the concept. A definition enables all investigators to "see the same thing" and to understand what it is that is being studied.

Thus, concepts that are useful in building theory have a special characteristic: They strive to communicate a uniform meaning to all those who use them. Because concepts are frequently expressed with the words of everyday language, however, it is difficult to avoid words that connote varied meanings--and hence point to different phenomena--for varying groups of scientists. This is why many concepts in science are expressed in technical or more "neutral" languages, such as the symbols of mathematics. In sociology, expressing concepts in such special Languages is sometimes not only impossible but also undesirable. Hence. the verbal symbols used to develop a concept must be defined as precisely as possible so that they point to the same phenomenon for all investigators. Although perfect consensus might never be attained with conventional language, a body of theory rests on the premise that scholars will do their best to define concepts unambiguously.

The concepts of theory reveal another special characteristic: abstractness, Some concepts pertain to concrete phenomena at specific times and locations. Other, more abstract concepts point to phenomena that are not related to concrete times or locations. For example, in the context 0f small-group research, concrete concepts would refer to the persistent interactions of particular individuals, whereas an abstract conceptualization of such phenomena would refer to those general properties of face-to-face groups that are not tied to particular individuals interacting at a specified time and location, Whereas abstract concepts are not tied to a specific context, concrete concepts are. In building theory, abstract concepts are crucial, although we will see shortly that theorists disagree considerably on this issue.

Abstractness poses a problem: Flow do we attach abstract concepts to the ongoing, everyday world of events? Although it is essential that some of the concepts of theory transcend specific times and places, it is equally critical that there be procedures for making these abstract concepts relevant to observable situations and occurrences. After all, the utility of an abstract concept call be demonstrated only when the concept is brought to bear on some specific empirical problem encountered by investigators; otherwise, concepts remain detached from the very processes they are supposed to help investigators understand. Just how m attach concepts to empirical processes, or the workings of the real world, is very controversial in sociology. Some argue for very formal procedures for attaching concepts to empirical events. Those of this persuasion contend that abstract concepts should he accompanied by a series of statements known as operational definitions, which are procedural instructions telling investigators how to go about discerning phenomena in the real world that are denoted by an abstract concept. Others argue that the nature of our concepts in sociology precludes such formalistic exercises. At best, concepts can be only sensitizing devices that must change with alterations of social reality, and so we can only intuitively arid provisionally apply abstract concepts to the actual flow of events. To emulate the natural sciences in an effort to develop formal operations for attaching concepts to reality is to ignore the fact that social reality is changeable; it does not reveal invariant properties like the other domains of the universe. Thus, to think that abstract concepts denote enduring and to variant properties of the social universe and to presume, therefore, that the concept itself will never need to he changed is, at best, naive.

And so the debate rages, taking many different turns. We need not go into detail here because these issues will be brought out again and again as the substance of sociological theories is examined in subsequent chapters. For the present, it is only necessary to draw the approximate lines of battle.

Variables as an Important Type of Concept

When used to build theory, two general types of concepts can be distinguished:(1) those that simply label phenomena and (2) those that refer to phenomena that differ in degree.8 Concepts that merely label phenomena would include such commonly employed abstractions as dog, cat, group, social class, and star When stated in this way, none of these concepts reveals the ways in which the phenomena they denote vary in terms of such properties as size, weight, density, velocity, cohesiveness, or any of the many criteria used to inform investigators about differences in degree among phenomena.

Those who behave that sociology can he like other sciences prefer concepts that are translated into variables-that is, into states that vary We want to know the variable properties-size, degree, intensity, amount, and so forth -of events denoted by a concept. For example, to note that an aggregate of people is a group does not indicate what type of group it is or how it compares with other groups by such properties as size, differentiation, and cohesiveness. And so, some of the concepts of scientific theory should denote the variable features of the world, To understand events requires that we visualize how variation in one phenomenon is related to variation in another.

Others, who are less enamored by efforts to make sociology a natural science, are less compulsive about translating concepts into variables. These researchers far more interested in whether or not concepts sensitize and alert investigators to important processes that they are in converting each concept into a metric that varies in some measurable way. They are not, of course, against the conversion of ideas into variables, but they are cautious about efforts to translate every concept into a metric.

Theoretical Statements and Formats

To be useful, the concepts of theory must be connected to one another. Such connections among concepts constitute theoretical statements. These statements specify how events denoted by concepts are interrelated, and at the same time they provide an interpretation of how and why events should he connected. When these theoretical statements are grouped together, they constitute a theoretical format. There are, however, different ways to organize theoretical statements into formats. Indeed, in sociological theory there is relatively little consensus about just how to organize theoretical statements; in fact, much of the theoretical controversy in sociology" revolves around differences concerning the best way to develop theoretical statements and to group them together into a format. Depending on one's views about what kind of science, if any, sociology can be, the structure of theoretical statements and their organization into formats differ dramatically. Let us review the range of opinion on the matter.

There are four basic approaches m sociological theory for generating theoretical statements and formats: (1) meta-theoretical schemes, (2) analytical schemes, (3) propositional schemes, and (4) modeling schemes. Figure 1.2 summarizes the relations among these schemes and the basic elements of theory. Concepts are constructed from definitions; theoretical statements link concepts together; and statements are organized into four basic types of formats. These four formats can be executed in a variety of ways, however, and so in reality, there are more than just four strategies for developing theoretical statements and formats. Moreover, these various strategies are not always mutually exclusive, for, in executing one of them, we are often led to another as a kind of "next step" in building theory. Yet-and this point is crucial--these various approaches are often viewed as antagonistic, and the proponents of each strategy have spilled a great deal of ink sustaining the antagonism. Moreover, even within a particular type of format, there is constant battle over the best way to develop theory. This acrimony represents a great tragedy because, in a mature science, these approaches are viewed as highly compatible. Before pursuing this point further, we need to delineate each of these approaches.

FIGURE 1.2 The Elements of Theory in Sociology

Meta-theoretical schemes

Definitions Concepts Statements Formats Analytical schemes

Propositional schemes

Modeling schemes

Meta-theoretical Schemes This kind of theoretical activity is more comprehensive than ordinary theory. Meta-theoretical schemes are not, by themselves, theories that explain specific classes of events; rather, they explicate the basic issues that a theory must address. In many sociological circles, meta-theory is considered an essential prerequisite to adequate theory building, even though the dictionary definition of meta emphasizes "occurring later" and "in succession" to previous activities. Furthermore, in most other sciences, meta-theoretical reflection has occurred after a body of formal theoretical statements has been developed. Only after a science has used a number of theoretical statements and formats successfully do scholars begin to ask meta-theoretical questions: What are the underlying assumptions about the universe contained in these statements? What strategies are demanded by, or precluded from, these statements and their organization into formats? What kind of knowledge is generated by these statements and formats, and, conversely, what is ignored? In sociological theory, however, advocates of meta- theory usually emphasize that we cannot develop theory until we have resolved these more fundamental epistemological and metaphysical questions.

For those who emphasize meta-theory, several preliminary issues must be resolved. These include the following: (I) What is the basic nature of human activity about which we must develop theory? For example, what is the basic nature of human beings? What is the fundamental nature of society? What is the fundamental nature~ of the bonds that connect people to one another and to society? (2) What is the appropriate way to develop theory, and what kind of theory is possible? For instance, can we build highly formal systems of abstract laws, as~ is the case in physics, or must we be content with general concepts that simply sensitize and orient us to important processes? Can we rigorously test theories with precise measurement procedures, or must we use theories as interpretative frameworks that cannot be tested by the same procedures as in the natural sciences? (3) What is the critical problem on which social theory should concentrate? For instance, should we examine the processes of social integration, or must we concentrate on social conflict? Should we focus on the nature of social action among individuals, or on structures of social organization? Should we stress the power of ideas, like values and beliefs, or must we focus on the material conditions of people's existence?

A great deal of what is defined as sociological theory involves trying to answer these questions. The old philosophical debates--idealism versus materialism, induction versus deduction, causation versus association, subjectivism versus objectivism, and so on--re re-evoked and analyzed with respect to social reality~ At times, meta-theorizing has been true to the meaning of meta and has involved a reanalysis of previous scholars' ideas in light of these philosophical issues. The idea behind reanalysis is to summarize the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions of the scholars' work and to show where the schemes went wrong and where they still have utility. Furthermore, based on this assessment, there are some recommendations in reanalysis about how we should go about building theory and what this theory should be.

Meta-theorizing often gets bogged down in weighty philosophical matters and immobilizes theory building. The enduring philosophical questions persist because they are not resolvable. One must just take a stand on the issues and see what kinds of insights can be generated. But meta-theory often stymies as much as stimulates theoretical activity because it embroils theorists in inherently unresolvable and always debatable controversies. Of course, many sociologists reject this assertion, and for our present purposes, the more important conclusion is that a great deal of sociological theory is, in fact, meta-theoretical activity.

Analytical Schemes Much theoretical activity in sociology consists of concepts organized into a classification scheme that denotes the key properties, and interrelations among these properties, in the social universe. There are many different varieties of analytical schemes, but they share an emphasis on classifying basic properties of the social world. The concepts of the scheme chop up the universe; then, the ordering of the concepts gives the social world a sense of order. Explanation of an empirical event comes whenever a place in the classificatory scheme can be found for the empirical event.

There are, however, wide variations in the nature of the typologies in analytical schemes, although there are two basic types: (1) naturalistic schemes, which try to develop a tightly woven system of categories that is presumed to capture the way in which the invariant properties of the universe are ordered, and (2) sensitizing schemes, which are more loosely assembled congeries of concepts intended only to sensitize and orient researchers and theorists to certain critical processes. Figure 1.3 summarizes these two types of analytical approaches. Naturalistic/positivistic schemes assume that there are timeless and universal processes in the social universe, as much as there are in the physical and biological realms. The goal is to create an abstract conceptual typology that is isomorphic with these timeless processes. In contrast, sensitizing schemes are sometimes more skeptical about the timeless quality" of social affairs. As a consequence of this skepticism, concepts and their linkages must always be provisional and sensitizing because the nature of human activity is to change those very arrangements denoted by the organization of concepts into theoretical statements. Hence, except for certain very general conceptual categories, the scheme must be flexible and capable of being revised as circumstances in the empirical world change. At best, then, explanation is simply an interpretation of events by seeing them as an~ instance or example of the provisional and sensitizing concepts in the scheme.

Some theorists argue that analytical schemes are a necessary prerequisite for developing other forms of theory~ Until one has a scheme that organizes the properties of the universe, it is difficult to develop propositions and models about specific events. Without the general analytical framework, how can a theorist or researcher know what to examine? There is some merit to this position, but if the scheme becomes too complex and elaborate, it is not easily translated into other theoretical formats. Thus, analytical schemes can represent a useful way to begin theorizing, unless they are too rigid and elaborate to stimulate theorizing outside the parameters imposed by the scheme itself:

Propositional Schemes A proposition is a theoretical statement that specifies the connection between two or more variables. It tells us how variation in one concept is accounted for by variation in another. For example, the propositional statement "group solidarity is a positive function of external conflict with other groups" says that as group conflict escalates, the level of internal solidarity among members of the respective groups involved in the conflict increases. Thus, two properties of the social universe denoted by variable concepts, "group solidarity" and "conflict:' are connected by the proposition that as one increases in value, so does the other.

Propositional schemes vary perhaps the most of all theoretical approaches.They vary primarily along two dimensions: (1) the level of abstraction and (2) the way propositions are organized into formats. Some are highly abstract and contain concepts that denote all cases of a type rather than any particular case (for example, group solidarity and conflict are abstract because no particular empirical instance of conflict and solidarity is addressed). In contrast, other propositional systems are tied to empirical facts and simply summarize relations among events in a particular case (for example, as World War II progressed, nationalism in America increased). Propositional schemes vary not only in abstractness but also by how propositions are laced together into a format. Some are woven together by very explicit rules; others are merely loose bunches or congeries of propositions.

Naturalistic Scheme:

Abstract Abstract Abstract

category 1 category 2 category 3 Explanation =

finding the place

in the typology of

an empirical event

Abstract Abstract Abstract

category4 category5 category n

: Specifywithconcepts

processes that link

clearly defined

conceptual categories

Sensitizing Scheme:

Abstract ~ ~ calegory 2

... category 1

.. Explanation =

Abstract ." interpreting events In

category n terms of categories


category 3

category 4

: Loose and he~ible link-

ages among sensitizing

conceptual categories

FIGURE 1.3 Types~ of Analytical Schemes

By using these two dimensions, several different types of prepositional schemes can be isolated: (a) axiomatic formats, (b) formal formats, and (c) various empirical formats. (See Figure 1.4 on pages 14-15) The first two (axiomatic and formal formats) are clearly theoretical, whereas various empirical formats are simply research findings that test theories. But, these more empirical types of propositional schemes are often considered theory by practicing sociologists, and so they are included in our discussion here. Axiomatic Format An axiomatic organization of theoretical statements involves the following elements. First, it contains a set of concepts. Some of the concepts are highly abstract; others are more concrete. Second, there is always a set of existence statements that describes those types and classes of situations in which the concepts and the propositions that incorporate them apply These existence statements make up what are usually caged the scope conditions of the theory. Third-and most nearly unique to the axiomatic format--propositional statements are stated in a hierarchical order. At the top of the hierarchy are axioms, or highly abstract statements. from which all other theoretical statements are logically derived. These latter statements are usually called theorems and are logically derived in accordance with varying rules from the more abstract axioms. The selection of axioms is, in reality, a somewhat arbitrary matter, but usually they are selected with several criteria in mind. The axioms should be consistent with one another, although they do not have to be logically interrelated. The axioms should be highly abstract; they should state relationships among abstract concepts. These relationships should be lawlike in that the more concrete theorems derived from them have not been disproved by empirical investigation. And the axioms should have an intuitive plausibility in that their truth appears to be self-evident.

The result of tight conformity to axiomatic principles is an inventory or set of interrelated propositions, each derivable from at least one axiom and usually more abstract theorems. This form of theory construction has several advantages. First, highly abstract concepts, encompassing a broad range of related phenomena, can be employed. These abstract concepts do not have to be directly measurable because they are logically tied to more specific and measurable propositions that, when empirically tested, can indirectly subject the more abstract propositions and the axioms to empirical tests, Thus, by virtue of this logical interrelatedness~ of the propositions and axioms, research can be more efficient because the failure to refute a particular proposition lends credence to other propositions and to the axioms. Second, the use of a logical system to derive propositions from abstract axioms can also generate additional propositions that point to previously unknown or unanticipated relationships among social phenomena.

There are, however, some fatal limitations on the use o f axiomatic theory in sociology. Most interesting concepts and propositions in sociology cannot be legitimately employed because the concepts are not stated with sufficient precision and because they cannot be incorporated into propositions that state unambiguously the relationship between concepts. Axiomatic theory also requires controls on all potential extraneous variables so that the tight logical system of deduction from axiom to empirical reality is not contaminated by extraneous factors. Sociologists can create such controls, although in many situations, this kind of tight control is not possible. Thus. axiomatic theory can be used only when precise definitions of concepts exist, when concepts am organized into propositions using a precise calculus that specifies relations unambiguously, and when the contaminating effects of extraneous variables are eliminated.

These limitations are often ignored in propositional theory building. The language of axiomatic theory is employed (axioms, theorems, corollaries, the like); but these efforts are, at best, pseudo-axiomatic schemes) In fact, it is best to call them formal propositional schemes--the second type of proposition strategy listed earlier.

Formal Propositional Formats Formal theories are, in essence, watered-down or loose versions of axiomatic schemes. The idea is to develop highly abstract propositions that ate used to explain some empirical event. Some highly abstract propositions are seen as higher-order laws, and the goal of explanation is to visualize empirical events as instances of this "covering lave" Deductions from the laws are made, but they are much looser, rarely conforming to the strict rules of axiomatic theory. Moreover, extraneous variables cannot always be excluded, and so the propositions usually have the disclaimer "other things being equal." That is, if other forces do not impinge, then the relationship among concepts in the proposition should hold true. For example, our earlier example of the relationship between conflict and solidarity might be one abstract proposition in a formal system. Thus, a formal scheme might say, "Other things being equal, group solidarity is a positive function of conflict." Then we would use this law to explain some empirical event-say, for instance, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (the conflict variable) and nationalism in America (the solidarity variable). And we might find an exception to our rule or taw, such as America's involvement in the Vietnam War, that contradicts the principle, forcing its revision or the recognition that "all things were not equal." In this case, we might revise the principle by stating a condition under which it holds true: When parties to a conflict perceive the conflict as a threat to their welfare, then the level of solidarity of groups is a positive function of their degree of conflict. Thus, the Vietnam War did not produce internal solidarity in America because many did not see it as a direct threat to America's general welfare~ (whereas, for the North Vietnamese, it was a very real threat and produced solidarity).

The essential idea here is that, in formal theory, an effort is made to create abstract principles. These principles are often clustered together to form a group of laws from which we make rather loose deductions to explain empirical events. Much like axiomatic systems, formal systems are hierarchical, but the restrictions of axiomatic theory are relaxed considerably, Most propositional schemes in sociological theorizing are, therefore, of this formal type.

Empirical Propositional Formats Much of what is defined as theory in sociology is more empirical. These empirical formats consist of generalizations from specific events in particular empirical contexts. For example, Golden's Law states that "as industrialization increases, the level of literacy in the population increases." Such a proposition is not very abstract; it is filled with empirical content--industrialization and literacy. Moreover, it is not about a timeless process because industrialization is only a few hundred years old and literacy emerged, at best, only 6,000 yews ago. Many such generalizations in sociology are considered theoretical. They represent statements of empirical regularities that scholars think are important to understand. Indeed, most substantive areas and subfields of sociology are filled with these kinds of propositions.

Strictly speaking, however, these are not theoretical. They are too tied to empirical contexts, times, and places. In fact, they are generalizations that are in need of a theory to explain them.Yet, many scholars working in substantive areas see their empirical generalizations as theory; so, once again it is clear that there is no clear consensus in sociology about what constitutes theory.



Explanation =

subsumption of

empirical regularity


bstract ~axiorns

Propositions to

connect with data


Empirical regularity


Abstract formal


Explanation =

subsumption of

empirical regularity

under abstract

Propositions to principles

connect with data principle or


Empirical regularity

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