Approaching Sociological Theory

 Approaching Sociological Theory in this sociological theory you will get the complete idea of the above topic.  Approaching Sociological Theory is important to crack the exams.  Approaching Sociological Theory.


What are the approaches of sociology?

Sociological theories are embedded in a particular social context, and are deeply influenced by them. Each sociological thinker or theorist has to respond to the social situation in which he or she exists and to try and make sense of the enveloping culture. That is to say that sociological theory is the sociologist’s response to the context in which he lives and works.

This truism will become increasingly apparent as you study the unit. However, it needs to be pointed out that there is an inner context and an outer context. The interplay between these two interrelated arenas of living creates sociological theory. The inner context is the background and mind-set of the theorist and also the strong influences and ideas that motivate a thinker to become a social theorist. The outer context is the overall environment, social and physical that the society is embedded in. However this is not to say that similar contexts cannot or do not produce competing theories.

Social Theory and its Development thus take place in a particular social and psychological setting. We now give a description of the overall social context in which sociological theory developed. As is well known sociology developed first in the west and it was in the 20th century that it percolated to India. The French Revolution in 1789 created such an urgent context that it became an important element to create a need for sociological theorising. Thus the French Revolution gave rise to many changes in that society. These changes were beneficial in the main but these were also problematic. One of these problems was the law and order maintenance in France. Some thinkers even advocated that law and order in France after the revolution was worse than what existed in the Medieval Ages. Not surprisingly the major theorists like Comte and Durkheim were deeply concerned with law and and  order.

Approaching Sociological Theory in this sociological theory you will get the complete idea of the above topic.  Approaching Sociological Theory is important to crack the exams.  Approaching Sociological Theory.

Individual vs Collectivity

Thus while the thinkers of the Enlightenment emphasised the person/ individual the reaction of those who opposed these thinkers wanted to emphasise the collectivity. Thus these thinkers wanted to point out that there was more to existence than the individual, and this was society itself. Society was viewed as one long flow from past to present and onward to the future. Further, we find that roles and relationships along with organisations were the important aspects. Again “wholeness” was vital aspect emphasising that the parts of a society were interrelated. Further, the conservative reaction abhorred social change which it felt was disruptive and could lead to societal disorder. Thus the view of institutions was wholly uncritical. Therefore, while change was leading forward to a new world the conservative reaction supported hierarchical structures, and felt it to be essential for the system of status and remuneration. These were some of the essential features that existed and had to be faced by the ‘liberals’(those with the Enlightenment, that is laving a positive view of both the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution).

Comte and The Enlightenment Comte’s (1798-1857) pioneering work in Sociology (a term he coined) comprised partly an analysis and reaction to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Thus Comte’s “positive philosophy” was aimed at what he felt to be a counter to that he considered to be the ill effects of the Enlightenment. His own approach was influenced by various counterrevolutionary thinkers such as De Bonald. Comte was, however, different from these counterrevolutionaries and he ruled out a regression to the medieval times because science had advanced too much to make that possible. On the other hand the developed an excellent theoretical system, much better than anyone else at that time. Thus Comte’s sociology of “social physics” or what he called sociology was developed as a counter to the social anarchy unleashed in France after the Revolution. He wanted to build sociology after the rigorous approach of science especially physics. Comte’s was an evolutionary theory which comprised a law which has three ascending steps or ‘stages’ which have a claim to universality that is they apply to all societies. Approaching Sociological Theory in this sociological theory you will get the complete idea of the above topic.  Approaching Sociological Theory is important to crack the exams.  Approaching Sociological Theory.


Approaching Sociological Theory , Thus in this theory we have first the

1) Theological stage (circa 1300) in which supernatural powers, and religious icons are the most important factors impacting on society, and even the world is believed to be a product of God

2) The metaphysical stage (circa 1300-1800) was one in which “nature” was held to explain everything about man and society.

3) The positivistic stage (1800-) came next and was fundamentally influenced by science, and the laws that it discovered.

Thus there was no God or nature in this stage so far as explanations are concerned. Comte’s position is that it is intellectual confusion that leads to social anarchy. According to him to positivistic stage dominates only when even the traces of the theological and metaphysical stages have been finally reduced if not completely eliminated from society. Only then would order prevail and the evolutionary scheme be proved correct.


Durkheim and The Enlightenment

 Approaching Sociological Theory. We now turn to Durkheim (1858-1917) as the sociologist who took on the mantle from Comte who was his predecessor. Durkheim believed unlike Comte that the Enlightenment was not all negative but in fact did have some position aspects such as emphasis on scientific method. Durkheim was against anarchy and social chaos, and large positions of his work deal with studies of social order which he felt was the need of the hour. Durkheim was a prolific writer and wrote many classical works in sociology. Thus in The Rules of Sociological Method (1895) he stressed that sociology is the study of “social facts.” These social facts are such that they are external to and coercive of individuals in society. 

This emphasis of study had a great influence on other sociologists. He demonstrated the usefullness of this approach in his study of Suicide (1897) in which he showed how social forces have an impact on individuals and their actions within society. His emphasis however, was not on the individual but the social causes behind it. He was keen to study differences in the suicide rate in different social Approaching Sociological Theory 13 categories and groups (e.g. groups, regions, countries). According to Durkheim it was the variations within the social facts which explained different rates of suicide in different groups. Durkheim enunciated two types of social facts (a) material and (b) non material. Material facts (bureaucracy, law) differ from non material facts (social institutions and culture) and it was the latter that Durkheim focused upon in most of his work.


The Marxian Ideology

 In Germany there was since the beginning a distinction between Marx and Weber and other sociologists. Thus Karl Marx (1818-1883) was himself deeply influenced by Hegel (1770-1831) but was to later contradict him. While some disciples remained with Hegel’s ideas others began to criticize his system. Hegel’s philosophy emphasised the ‘dialectic’ and ‘idealism’ of which the latter was a second concept. Thus dialectic itself provides a view of the world as well as an ‘image’ of the world. Thus the dialectic stresses the great importance of processes including those of conflict. Similarly, the image or idea of the world is also dynamic while Marx accepted the use-value of the dialectical processes he wanted to apply it in the study of economics rather than to leave it as a concept applied to ideas alone. Further Hegel’s “idealism” stressed the mind and ideas, and not the material world. That is the say it is the mind that is significant, and that the mind and psyche alone that exist. This is admittedly an extreme position and Feurbach tried to ameliorate it by saying that Hegel had overemphasised “consciousness” and the sprit of a culture. 

In order to critique Hegel Feurbach pointed out that it was society that projected God and put him in a hallowed position above themselves, getting separated/distanced from God himself but nevertheless imbuing God with various uplifting attributes. Marx though aware of Hegel’s and Feurbach’s positions was critical of these theories. For Marx everything could be reduced to a material base not to the mind and its processes. For Marx capitalism was the problem which led to alienation, polarisation and revolution. And for Marx revolution by the proletariat was the answer to this “evil”. Marx’s approach led him to the work of Ricardo and Smith who use political economists and it was these studies which finalised Marx’s approach which pointed out that the profit of the capitalist was at the expense or exploitation of the wage earners/ labourers.

Spencer’s Evolutionism

Spencer was a ‘Social Darwinist’ and was of the opinion that society would progress by itself and that this evolution should not be interfered with. Spencer went to the extent of comparing social institutions with plants and animals. Thus he felt that social institutions would progressively adapt to their environment by themselves without any definite impetus. Spencer took Darwin’s premise of “survival of the fittest” where those people who could adapt to the social and natural environment would live while those who could not so adapt met with their end (Buttel, 1990). Spencer also saw society as an organism, in which different parts or ‘organs’ were interconnected and each had a role or function to perform in the overall working of the organism. Thus unlike Comte whose evolutionism was in terms of ideas, Spencer had the real material world which he wanted to explain analyse and interpret. The evolutionary focus of Spencer is at least twofold. In the first instance Spencer speaks of the “size” factor in social evolution. Thus as the size of the society increases so do the various infrastructural and institutional need and requirements. Differentiation and specialisation begin to manifest in every sphere and the fact is that both the size and complexity of a town is very different from a metropolitan. According to Spencer the size of a society increases by various groups amalgamating and bonding to form larger societies. Thus Spencer viewed increase in size from that of a simple community to that which is complex or “compound”.

Another evolutionary schema that Spencer offered was that of militant to industrial societies. Militant societies are early forms of organisation meant mainly for defense of a society or aggression towards another society. Such violent attitudes were in themselves responsible for increase in the size of a society which was so important for social evolution. Yet when industrial societies are established and warfare becomes dysfunctional and obstructs evolution. Industrial societies are noteworthy for their human interaction and high specialisation. The state is simply a monitoring agency and its basic role is to keep law and order. This is because industrial society represents in Spencer a quantum leap from militant societies and such societies move towards their own perfection. Provided a society is strongly bonded and harmonious it will survive. But if there is weak bonding and internal social fissures it would, according to Spencer, die out.


Concept and Theory

When scientists use a word, it gets a technical meaning. It becomes a concept. In referring to a human being, biologists use the phrase ‘homosapiens’ or ‘wise man’ to describe the modern man. If a person falls ill, in common language people say he / she has got fever. As discoveries get advanced, words like ‘malaria’ ‘influenza’ indicate the nature of the fever. They also describe which parts or insects have affected the body. Then we understand the nature and causes of the disease. The next step is finding the care for the same through the use of tablets or injections. So when fever or disease is described in terms of its components and their behaviour or misbehaviour is known, we begin to know how things or bodies associated and recognised get inter related. Each measurement helps the physician to analyse the nature of the disease. Thus, temperature, blood pressure, ‘sugar’ or blood sugar content is urine can be measured. Each of these words and their measurements have a definite meaning, thus tests can be carried out by persons other than physicians; the words that describe each measurement become concepts and are commonly understood is the same sense by technicians. 

A common understanding helps locate the normal and pathological distribution of the bodies or anti-bodies and their particular combinations tell how they lead the physician to determine the disease and where to look for a cure. Chemistry as a science came into its own when the atom was discovered as the smallest particle of matter that could take part in a chemical reaction. Atomic Weight of Hydrogen was taken to be 1 and of Oxygen 2; thereby weights for 92 elements were calculated. These were arranged in a table called the Atomic table. Further, researchers on unstable elements carried their number to 110. The elements could mix up in a reaction soon it was found that there was no loss of weight in a chemical reaction. This was a theoretical statement. Atomic weight was a concept. The inter relations among concepts that could be proved to hold is a number of trials or experiments became a theoretical proposition. Further, inter relation among such theoretical conclusions became a part of theory. The chief characteristic of theory is that it constitutes a series of conclusions stated in terms of concepts and their inter relations. Thus theoretical proposition gets linked to others and one/all taken together constitute the theory in a subject.


Towards Social Science: Durkheim, Weber and Beyond

Approaching Sociological Theory - There has been a lot of discussion whether social sciences can follow the method of natural sciences. These need separate discussion. Comte ‘Durkheim, and Radcliffe-Brown answered ‘yes’. Dilthey, a historian took the other view. Weber tried to follow the middle path. On different occasions systems of explanation have been tried and these have been called ‘grand theories’ which could be applied to several inquiries / cases. At least that is the claim. Marxism and Parsonian systems belong to that category. Then there are descriptions at an empirical level — facts gathered and put into tables, without any explanation. These are not theories per se but theories can be made through proper analysis. Durkheim’s study of suicide rates and explanation of their variations is the best example of theory formation from the existing data. It will be helpful to understand his method: Firstly, Durkheim clarified the term, and located three (or four) types of suicides and their nature. For each type, the existing data available in official records were classified in terms of their distribution in various social categories. This classification needed intelligence and brilliance of the author. Each type of suicide rate varied according to the data on social facts, and comparisons were made. Explanations were given for each type. A theory of suicides was formulated in terms of the variations of the degree of integrated (solidarity).

Path breaking studies such as these continue to receive attention among scholars from related subjects as well as the main discipline over a period of time. It happens that certain parts of a theory receive greater attention is subsequent studies. Durkhiemian studies on suicide received attention at the hands of psychologists and social psychologists in particular and they began re-examining the loss of sense of security as a possible explanation, besides others. One of the types of suicide was classified as ramomic. A group of writers considered this concept as central to the analysis of modern societies. In turn they began to de-link the concept from that of solidarity, introduced more psychological variables in it; while Merton retained the social component as control. Thus succeeding social scientist find an alternative relevance of the concept and try to look problem of a different age through it (with some modifications).

Theory and Paradigm

Classical Sociological Theories The period of classical sociology belongs to the era when sociology emerged as a new discipline with the one central assertion that the scientific study of society is possible. Prior to that period philosophers, intellectuals as well as layman thought of and conceived of society in their own ways but the science of society could not emerge out. Approaching Sociological Theory , Philosophers’ reflections, literary romanticism and criticism and people’s own individual conceptions about society had been the characteristics of the era prior to the emergence of sociology. Although intellectuals belonging to different streams of thought as well as common people have had reflected upon the nature of society but their efforts were primarily individual efforts. On the other hand society had existed for a longer duration which displayed its own internal statics and dynamics. How does society behave as an entity in itself? How can it be studied scientifically? Can it be done? If yes then how? All such questions dominated the earlier era in the development of sociological theory. This era belongs to what is today known as classical sociological theory. The following discussion refers to the same. The term sociology was coined by Auguste Comte (1798-1857) a French sociologist and philosopher. He is also known as father of sociology. Although he has made some significant contributions to the subject — a part of which shall be discussed here too, but the most creditable work done by him related to his efforts in establishing sociology as a scientific as well as an independent discipline. Before him instead of sociology, we rather had philosophy, literature and art through which reflections on society were used to be made. Thus, in other words how society could be conceived of philosophically, literally or through art had been the only available ways and tools to reflect upon society. 

The modern method of scientific-analysis of society as suggested by Auguste Comte was not just available before him. Therefore, the contributions of Auguste Comte must be seen as the pathbreaking ones helping to establish sociology as a new and independent discipline in its own right. Auguste Comte, in short discussed at length, of course philosophically to argue that the scientific study of society is possible and when such efforts succeeded the new subject would be known as sociology. What we must realise at the moment is the simple fact that this had never been an easy task. After establishing sociology as a new and independent scientific discipline, Auguste Comte had made some of his own contributions to it. Auguste Comte’s own contributions to the subject sociology are referred to, although briefly, in the following discussion.


Law of Three Stages Having established sociology as a separate and independent discipline, Auguste Comte divided sociology into two parts known as social statistics and social dynamics, former dealing with the questions of equilibrium in society and letter with the problems of change in society. Auguste Comte has also referred to hierarchy of sciences like : astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and sociology. He was of the opinion that sociology can’t be reduced to other sciences be it mathematics (especially statistics), biology or political economy. Auguste Comte has also talked about the law of three stages namely theological, metaphysical and scientific. According to him, every society passes through these three stages. In the theological stages all the explanations concerning the events happening in nature were attributed to God who was supposed to be in full command of the situation. Approaching Sociological Theory , The second Approaching Sociological Theory 31 state i.e. metaphysical refers to the transitional stage where neither as the events taking place in nature were considered neither as a supernatural act nor as based upon scientific explanations. This sort of transitional stage existed somewhere around fourteenth century. The third stage is known as scientific stage, where neither theological nor metaphysical sort of explanations about society are considered sufficient. In the scientific stage of society the explanations are examined rigorously and no explanation is considered as a final one. Each explanation is considered as valid explanation only for the time being until a better explanation arrives on the scene. Auguste Comte believed that scientific methods could be applied for the study of society as well. The assertions like that one although look simple but it actually contains an important philosophy, widely known as positivism. It was the philosophy of positivism which dominated the academic scene not only in France but over the entire Europe. In fact the name of Auguste Comte has been associated with the philosophy in such a way that it is sometimes considered as the only important contribution that he had made as it cut across the geographical boundaries of France and the academic limits of the discipline of sociology.

Additionally, Durkheim has also clarified that these social facts are ‘external’ and exercise constraints upon individuals. According to him we can identify these social facts when we attempt to go against them. Some of the social facts identified by Durkheim himself in his various research works are like: rate of crime, rate of suicide, division of labour in society and religion. How to use these social facts for the purpose of socialanalysis? In this context Durkheim has given two clues: one, he suggests that social facts should be treated as ‘things’ and two, one social fact must be explained with another social fact preceding it. In this, way Durkheim has tried to achieve mainly two objectives : one, to ensure that sociology virtually becomes a scientific discipline and two, to take care that sociology remains as an irreducible subject and doesn’t split into several parts belonging to other subjects. Durkheim has also referred to ‘normal’ and ‘pathological’ aspects of society in this context. Durkheim’s approach regarding how to deal with various theoretical and methodological issues could be seen in his book.


Weberian Ideology

 Max Weber (1864-1920) was a prominent sociologist from Germany who belonged to the era of classical period in sociology. Max Weber is known in sociology for his brilliant writings on a variety of topics. Max Weber gave a new direction to sociology to which he offered, different as well as new ways of thinking and research. His ways of thinking and analysis were different from Auguste Comte or Emile Durkheim. In our opinion Max Weber presented his ideas which were basically concerned with the German sort of understanding but still reflecting the European and the Western flavour. Max Weber has written on a variety of topics from social action to bureucracy and also contributed in the vital areas like methodology of social sciences. Although Max Weber attempted to define sociology in his own terms and ways, certain formulations made by him like Verstehen still require clarifications. Sociologists are still struggling with the idea of how exactly to proceed on the lines of thought developed by Max Weber.

Max Weber’s concepts of course carry higher values in terms of its theoretical contents, but its actual operationalisation has largely remained a problematic area. Max Weber for example defined sociology as an interpretative understanding of social action. Max Weber continued to speak of social as having two qualities : one, while doing such an action, the actor must take into account the presence of another actor and wholly or partially be guided by it and two, the actor must attach a subjective meaning to it.

Max Weber has also written about the subjectivity versus objectivity issues in social sciences. His ideas about the importance of Verstehen and idealtypes are brilliant and excellent in terms of its theoretical value and rigor. But how to make them operational at the practical and empirical level still remains a problematic area. On the one hand the subject sociology has been widely enriched by the writings at the theoretical level but otherwise not much has been achieved at the experimental level as Max Weber during his own lifetime worked on different topics without clarifying much on the topics on which he himself had worked earlier.

However, Max Weber’s formulations on the Protestant ethics and its relationship with the rise of capitalism are widely accepted and acclaimed. Max Weber was able to demonstrate in his study that there was a positive relationship between the Protestant ethics and the development of capitalism. We must ensure making before any sort of a sweeping generalisation that Max Weber had presented it as a unique case in the context of Western Europe only.

In spite of his brilliant ideas, Max Weber’s work has to some extent remained unexposed due to various reasons. But in spite of all this there is no doubt that Max Weber’s formulations have contributed to a large scale in the area of developing sociological theories. Thus after examining the theoretical contributions of some of the classical authors like Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber, here we come to the end of the contributions made by these scholars in the classical era of the development of sociology. After this we shall attempt to see the contributions made by the sociologists in the contemporary period.

The contemporary period of modern sociological theories could be seen as an important departure from its classical period. During the classical period the central question has been to establish sociology as an independent discipline but during the contemporary period the main concern has been not only to come out of that classical image, but also to carry on the subject further. During this contemporary period the scholars tried to learn from some of the previous shortcomings in the works of the scholars who did some researches after Durkheim, Weber and Marx. During this period, learning from the mistakes of the immediate past, taking the inspirations from the works of the classical sociologists and rebuilding the subject have been the main concerns.


Parson’s Action Theory Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) was an important sociologist from U.S.A. who had contributed on the theory of social action, discussed about the action frame of reference and social-system and lately on evolution. His contribution on what he calls it AGIL — Paradigm and Pattern-Variable Scheme are also well known. We shall discuss about them briefly.

 Talcott Parsons had the advantage of reviewing several scholars from classical sociology and some other social scientists as well. He believed that he could present an integrated theoretical point of view where all the formulations of previous social scientists would lead to. His theoretical constructions, later integrated the points of view of psychologists like Sigmund Freud, economists like Alfred Marshal and sociologists like Vilfredo Pareto, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber to name a few. He also believed that all the contributions made by various social scientists lead in one direction to arrive at or rather converge at one single notion of what he calls it ‘social action’. Parsons also wanted to understand how social and cultural values are internalised into personality system.

In his later work The Social System (1951), Parsons said that the three essential components of action are ‘personality system, ‘social system’ and ‘cultural system’, although each one being a part of action, but none being reducible to the other. In yet another work, Working Papers in the Theory of Action (1953), Talcott Parsons alongwith his colleagues like Robert Bales and Edward Shills has explained about what he calls it the ‘AGIL Paradigm’.

Accordingly, A refers to Adaptation, G to Goal — Attainment, I to Integration and L to Latency. Thus AGIL — Paradigm developed by Parsons provided him much higher respect as he ascended towards formulation of sociological theories at a much higher level. His another important theoretical formulation has been what he called it, the “Pattern Variable Scheme”. It suggests that either an individual or community as an actor has important choices to make against two polar opposite categories. For example, whether an individual or community in general promote ascription or achievement, alternatively universalism or particularism.

Talcott Parsons has referred to five sets of such alternative choices. Additionally, within these five sets of choices, some permutations and combinations could also be made out. For example, from the earlier referred choices mentioned here, it could be ascertained whether the choices made are for universalist achievement or alternatively particularistic ascription sort of orientations. A detailed discussion on these issues could be seen in his book The Social System (1951).

As stated earlier Talcott Parson has also written on medical profession and theories of evolutionism. In general the theories of Parsons are also seen as his contribution to developing the theories of functionalism. But regarding the theories developed by him, several scholars from the Western societies as well as from elsewhere have expressed the opinion that his formulations are difficult to understand and there is a need to present it all in the simpler form. There is another criticism which is associated with his work.


The Concept of Paradigm

It was Kuhn, who first suggested that development within a discipline, especially science is not a gradual process but in fact takes place quite suddenly. Hence, Kuhn’s books entitled the structure of scientific revolution. Kuhn calls these sudden charges as “paradigm shifts”.

According to Kuhn, science and by extension social science undergoes its process in three phases which are discernible. i) Prescientific phase ii) Normal science iii) Paradigm shift In the initial phase theories of explanation are incomplete and completing with one another.

At some point one of the theories establishes itself bringing in the phase of normal science. In this phase a single theory or a set of theories emerge dominant which Kuhn calls a paradigm.

Social Construction of Reality

Construction of Reality Now it would be natural to ask how is all this construction of multiple and synchronic realities are achieved. What are the ways and the mechanism in which we as members together create a perception of the world process. Surprisingly social realities are created as soon as the new members of society are ready a particular imprinting is begun to be ingrained in them. Among the important areas of life include the economic, political, psychological, and so on and each of them is put together by training the new generation to act and behave in some particular manner which they deem to be fit and worthy of them.

The social fabric of any society is a fragile construct which has to be constantly renewed through ritual and sustained interactions. Thus reality itself is “fragile”so that any disturbing or conflictual situations lead to a breakdown of order and mayhem rules. After such social breakdowns which occur in interaction, in times of war with another nation or even chronic lawlessness. It takes much time to recover from such breakdowns of reality and the time they take to repair the social fabric may last many years or even make a lifetime impact on some of the members. Thus as we introduce the lesson we have to point out that culture is many faceted and the construction of reality though similar in many societies does in fact differ from individual to individual and from nation to nation. There is doubt that in the mind of the young and impressionable that has to develop certain capacity to be bounded say by religious or economic status.

Thus there is different life style created by the different castes and classes which have a full blown ideology and interaction in everyday life. These are not mere ways of looking at things out of curiosity. Rather it is a critical situation where the constructed reality has to be continuously fed and bolstered so to speak into the social system or systems.

According to some social scientists it is believed that the societal context was the basis of the existence of ideas but not the precise ideas themselves, and therefore gave the individual some critical degree of voluntary actions and freedom of action. On the other hand there are other social scientists who believe that human thought per se is never safe from ideology and the intellectual climate prevailing in the environment as a whole. It is thus clear that, as the social scientists have pointed out that the acquisition of knowledge is accretional and it gathers relatively slowly, and only when sufficient aspects of the knowledge sought are examined does the view of any reality become focused and clear. Thus knowledge is accumulated over time and it is not possible for it to be given full blown to the new members, and existing members are continually given fresh inputs through media, institutions, family and work environment and so on to keep them abreast of the events that are happening in society as a whole.


Phenomena of Social Reality

Berger and Luckmann feel that to study the phenomena of social reality implies that we use everyday common sense reality as a point of departure. This is what knowledge ultimately comprises: the interaction and participation in social life and process. Thus “commonsense ideas” are the most important ingress into understanding the sociology and phenomena of individuals, groups and society. Thus it is clear that society has at the very least two sides to its existence and ontology- one is subjective and the other is objective. Together these facts give rise to the understanding that while there is a group life for an individual there is in fact an objective reality , rules and regulations which have to be adhered to, unless the individual or group wants to be ostracized. Thus first of all the reality of social life is sui generic that exists over above and beyond any single individual. Thus Berger is interested, as are we, in finding out how humans produce and perpetuate social life in all its manifold facets and aspects. Thus by attempting to understand social reality we are really asking how it was constructed, because this is what will give us the cues to proceed further with our line of enquiry.


Everyday Social Reality

Berger and Luckmann point out that everyday life and its basis is such that it is best apprehended by the method of phenomenological analysis, which happens to be a descriptive method. Thus we observe that consciousness has the basic property of existing in several dimensions and several types of reality. Thus human beings are aware to a greater or lesser extent that the social world comprises of many or “multiple realities” in everyday life. These multiple realities are themselves well ordered and more or less fully developed and quite capable of influencing each other. Thus phenomena are, such that a particular pattern can be discerned by human beings, and these social facts are imposed upon them. In other words a new entrant into a society sooner or later finds that he or she has a particular social order which is imposed upon him or her. Thus we find that common sense knowledge is what human beings share intersubjectively through interaction with other human beings.


Language and Social Reality

Another area where social reality is present is that of the area of language. All languages have a particular grammar and syntax, and is the most significant and important sign system of all societies. It helps to create a fund of knowledge which is continuously going expansion and contraction as different words and ideas which enter into the overall fund of knowledge and ideas. And there are some aspects of knowledge and understanding which ‘fall out’ of the overall system of ideas and knowledge. Thus for example the English language has compiled vast dictionaries which are revised, edited and updated, and in these social procedures many new words and concepts enter into the language. There are also words and ideas that become defunct and are removed from the dictionary and language. So we can say that language as a social reality accumulates knowledge and transmits it to other members of the human system, which in turn create a socially ordered environment. It may be pointed out here that language itself is a highly complex aspect of social reality and research into how a human being leans and adapts to the social order or reality. Thus it is pointed out that language is symbolic and therefore capable of apprehending social reality. Therefore, it is a social fact which exercises control or restraint over human members, and yet remains an externalisation, and outside the individual. This is because the ontological reality of language is such that it is the backbone of social order and its main artery of communication.


Socialisation and Legitimation

Thus if an institution is to be a part of the members existence it has to be appropriately legitimated, by being located or placed in some particular part of the symbolic universe. This is what gives it meaning and power to social reality. If the symbolic universe undergoes a shift over time then new legitimating structures and discourses are invented by the human mind, to bolster the social reality that has been disturbed or “shaken”, and make it whole again. This happens in times of great stress political, economic or social, but the symbolic universe remains even though in a somewhat attenuated form. Now further if the symbolic universe is confronted with a pattern of socialisation that is paradoxical or even contradictory to it then a problem of lack of meaning arises and has to be dealt with the establishment of a new ideological framework or concepts that can deal with the altered reality. When this happens the societal forces and institutions begin to repress the groups who are perceived as threatening for the symbolic universe, in an attempt to retrieve all that can be kept from the old symbolic order into the new, and thereby salvage something from the past or the social order which has readjusted itself to deal with the new situations in social processes.

Thus we find that the construction of social reality is also dependent on the precision of the concepts that are there to deal with it. If these concepts are traditional they will usually require a new or modern interpretation. On the other hand the concepts and attitudes that are retained will now be placed differently in the new ideology that has been both created and accepted by members of a society. Thus this process requires cognitive and normative bolstering or legitimation. We may say then that mythology itself provides the conceptual apparatus for the symbolic universe, and this functions as a adaptive mechanism so far as the society is concerned. It has been pointed out that mythology itself was created to overcome paradoxes and inconsistencies in the overall environment.

Berger and Luckman point out to maintain the symbolic universe there are several types of conceptual equipment including:

1) Mythology

2) Theology

3) Philosophy and

4) Science Now while mythology is associated with the mass construction of social reality we find that the other three elements mentioned become increasingly the domain of the specialists and the elites.

Such a body of knowledge is quite different than what the specialists in theology, philosophy and science are concerned with. That is to say that the relation between the lay person and the expert becomes very different from each other as the latter are a specialised activity of the social elites.


Social Reality and The Symbolic Universe

 Now what is the implication for social organisation and the maintenance of the symbolic universe? We have already made the point that reality is socially defined, and that it is human beings and human groups that define its contours. Thus we find that the specialists in a society provide complete legitimation of the social reality. Such experts usually hold very different views from lay members on definitions of reality. Thus we may point out again that there can be differences of view and opinion between the experts and the laymen. There is thus a sort of competition on whose definitions and concepts are going to be beneficial and become operative in social interaction. As we can see there are different ways of apprehending and perceiving social process. Which way is seen as the best course of action depends on the ideology which is invoked and which concepts are used to explain any aspect of the symbolic universe that has become the area of concern, eg. societal conflict over the distribution of resources. Groups often subscribe to an ideology which will benefit them and invoke theories which will help them achieve their goals, social, economic or political.



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