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6916:2020:the_practice_of_social_theory [2020/02/11 23:16]
ryans
6916:2020:the_practice_of_social_theory [2020/02/12 18:56] (current)
ryans
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 The classical social theorists Durkheim, Weber and Marx were each interested in explaining why European, industrialized,​ capitalist societies came into being. Each of these people lived, more or less, at or near the end of the “long nineteenth century,” or from the French Revolution to the first World War (Hobsbawm 1962). During this time, many revolutionary social changes took hold and created the world we basically live in today. We have learned to call this “modernity.” For Durkheim, Weber and Marx, one of the main questions of the social scientist was “Why modern society?” In different ways, they come to see the modern revolution as a rupture, a break with the past and the birth of a new era. In different ways, each of these thinkers have also contributed to the modern Western faith in history as progress. To an extent, the legacy of these classical theories has been to create a profession of social science whose findings are embraced by elite institutions,​ and which thus enjoy an aura of expert authority. In this way, the social scientist has also become a bearer of modernity itself, a heroic figure who has transcended society and stands outside of it, as if a doctor diagnosing a sick patient. When a theory of society is pronounced in this voice to answer our questions about social problems, it can seem as though we are being told that this is only possible way things can work. The classical social theorists Durkheim, Weber and Marx were each interested in explaining why European, industrialized,​ capitalist societies came into being. Each of these people lived, more or less, at or near the end of the “long nineteenth century,” or from the French Revolution to the first World War (Hobsbawm 1962). During this time, many revolutionary social changes took hold and created the world we basically live in today. We have learned to call this “modernity.” For Durkheim, Weber and Marx, one of the main questions of the social scientist was “Why modern society?” In different ways, they come to see the modern revolution as a rupture, a break with the past and the birth of a new era. In different ways, each of these thinkers have also contributed to the modern Western faith in history as progress. To an extent, the legacy of these classical theories has been to create a profession of social science whose findings are embraced by elite institutions,​ and which thus enjoy an aura of expert authority. In this way, the social scientist has also become a bearer of modernity itself, a heroic figure who has transcended society and stands outside of it, as if a doctor diagnosing a sick patient. When a theory of society is pronounced in this voice to answer our questions about social problems, it can seem as though we are being told that this is only possible way things can work.
  
-Yet the history of social inquiry offers us with another way to make use of theory. In the eleventh and last of his Theses on Feuerbach, Karl Marx states+Yet the history of social inquiry offers us with another way to make use of theory. In the eleventh and last of his Theses on Feuerbach, Karl Marx states, "Philosophers have hitherto only //​interpreted//​ the world in various ways; the point is to //change// it." ​(Marx [1845] 1972, 123) Social inquiry is also a form of social practice, and it has concrete effects on the social world. We see these effects when certain conceptions of society become dominant and foreclose the possibility of alternatives. We can also use theories of society to challenge what people take for granted by raising questions which they have learned not to ask. This potential to challenge dominant ideas exists to a degree in all of the classical sociological theories. In their own ways, they each also forced people to confront “the reality of society” (Polanyi 1947, 115) or the fact that society is a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.
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-Philosophers have hitherto only //​interpreted//​ the world in various ways; the point is to //change// it. (Marx [1845] 1972, 123) +
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-Social inquiry is also a form of social practice, and it has concrete effects on the social world. We see these effects when certain conceptions of society become dominant and foreclose the possibility of alternatives. We can also use theories of society to challenge what people take for granted by raising questions which they have learned not to ask. This potential to challenge dominant ideas exists to a degree in all of the classical sociological theories. In their own ways, they each also forced people to confront “the reality of society” (Polanyi 1947, 115) or the fact that society is a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.+
  
 In this regard, Marx’s social theory is the most relevant to understanding our task as theorists. In his eleventh thesis, Marx emphasizes that the scholar of society can never transcend the social context in which she works. As such, she has a duty to engage with this social reality and recognize her role in changing it. If social theories are in fact expression of a society’s coming into consciousness of itself, Marx is reminding us that we as practitioners of theory must also become conscious of the consequences of theory on society. Marx calls on his fellow social thinkers to use the reality of society as a basis for a critique of ideological representations of social relations, and I would add, including those which appear as scientific expertise. In this regard, Marx’s social theory is the most relevant to understanding our task as theorists. In his eleventh thesis, Marx emphasizes that the scholar of society can never transcend the social context in which she works. As such, she has a duty to engage with this social reality and recognize her role in changing it. If social theories are in fact expression of a society’s coming into consciousness of itself, Marx is reminding us that we as practitioners of theory must also become conscious of the consequences of theory on society. Marx calls on his fellow social thinkers to use the reality of society as a basis for a critique of ideological representations of social relations, and I would add, including those which appear as scientific expertise.
6916/2020/the_practice_of_social_theory.txt · Last modified: 2020/02/12 18:56 by ryans