Article

Social Theory

Austin Harrington

in Sociology

ISBN: 9780199756384
Published online July 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0054
Social Theory

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  • Sociology
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  • Economic Sociology
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  • Population and Demography
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  • Social Movements and Social Change
  • Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility
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Social theory refers to ideas, arguments, hypotheses, thought-experiments and explanatory speculations about how and why human societies—or elements or structures of such societies—come to be formed, change, and develop over time or disappear. Usually supported in research institutions as a core component of the discipline of sociology, social theory most commonly encompasses the range of explanatory concepts, analytical tools, and heuristic devices on which sociologists and social scientists draw in their efforts to interpret statistical or qualitative data about particular empirical social phenomena. Social theory in this relatively narrowly delimited sense is usually thought of as more or less synonymous with the term “sociological theory.” But many common understandings of the scope of the field also imply a wider range of reference than this. Social theory can name general sources of ideas about social phenomena relevant to other disciplines of the social sciences and humanities, such as anthropology, political science, economics, history, cultural and media studies, and gender studies. And social theory can also be thought of as incorporating normative concerns bearing on debates about desirable ends or values of social life—about how social life ideally “ought to be”—in ways that overlap closely with concerns in the fields of moral, political, and legal philosophy. As social theory in most of its central concerns names only a practice of systematic theoretical thinking relevant to particular substantive problems or questions in sociology and other social-science disciplines, some headings in this bibliographical survey of the field will be found to overlap thematically with other Oxford Bibliographies entries in sociology. For more detailed surveys of substantive areas in the Oxford Bibliographies listing with prominent theoretical components see especially: Comparative Historical Sociology, Chicago School of Sociology, World-Systems Analysis, Marxist Sociology, Feminist Theory, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Postmodernity, Symbolic Interactionism, and Michel Foucault. The emphasis of the survey that follows falls primarily on currents and schools of thought in Western social theory from the 18th century to the present day. Note, however, that this survey omits commentary of texts currently unavailable in English..

Article.  10460 words. 

Subjects: Sociology ; Comparative and Historical Sociology ; Economic Sociology ; Gender and Sexuality ; Health, Illness, and Medicine ; Population and Demography ; Race and Ethnicity ; Social Movements and Social Change ; Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility ; Social Theory

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