4988 theory

forms of theorizing tend to be relatively un
structured, open to interpretation, and immune
to falsification qualities that contrast markedly
with the more parsimonious and rigorous pro
ducts of formal theorizing. Some argue for
reserving the term theory just for this more
tightly constructed form, as this more clearly
distinguishes statements that are considered to
embody the theory from statements and discus
sions that are merely about the theory. Second,
theories may be distinguished along a temporal
dimension based upon when they first entered
and impacted the disciplines corpus of knowl
edge. A number of historians of sociology have
attempted to rationalize the progression of the
ories and schools, typically interpreting later
developments as reactions against their immedi
ate predecessors. Third, theories may be distin
guished according to the extent to which they
have been developed and evaluated with explicit
reference to scientific standards. This dimen
sion of evaluation should be important to sociol
ogy to the extent that its ultimate goal is to
develop theories that are general, precise, and
systematically evaluated in the empirical world.
Finally, several additional properties will be
considered that do not fit neatly into the above


A small number of schools of sociological the
orizing appear in virtually all textbooks on the
subject. The remainder, a very much larger
number (at least 70, judging by the 2005 edi
tion of the Encyclopedia of Social Theory), range
from near universal coverage to rarely seen in
contemporary theory texts. This means that
any review covering more than a handful of
schools is invoking the personal tastes of the
reviewer: there is no agreed upon metric for
evaluating a schools relative success or impact.
Conflict. Conflict theories focus on destabiliz
ing factors such as social inequalities and social
change. Karl Marx usually is credited with ush
ering in this orientation, with his emphasis on
struggles between social classes with opposing
interests, the emergence of collective conscious
ness among the oppressed, and the conditions
for violent revolutionary change. Early versions
of the perspective were further articulated
by Max Weber and Georg Simmel. Beginning
in the late 1950s and extending through the
1970s, a succession of theorists extended and
refined various strands of thought within the
developing tradition. Ralf Dahrendorf, Lewis
Coser, Jonathan Turner, and Randall Collins
are among the more prominent. Each developed
a critique of prior work, and each sought to
integrate and streamline some of the disparate
insights of his predecessors. The conflict
approach since has evolved into other lines of
work, e.g., neo Marxist theories, resource mobi
lization theory, theories of social revolutions,
and breakdown theories of social movements.
Exchange. Social exchange theories reflect a
kind of economic approach to social relations.
As such, social actors (individuals or collectiv
ities) are regarded as having individual interests
that can be satisfied through exchanging goods,
information, services anything that others
might accept in return for providing something
of value. Many exchange theorists are further
concerned with the larger social forces that
bind together different interactants even as they
pursue their individual interests. Roots of
the exchange tradition in sociology can be
found in the writings of Marx and Simmel.
However, it was the more focused and explicit
work of George Homans on behaviorist founda
tions, John Thibaut and Harold Kelley on
rewards and costs in dyadic relationships, and
Peter Blau on bridging to macro structures that
really established this areas identity by the
1960s. Richard Emerson and his collaborators
subsequently developed a formal theory of
powerdependence relations based on exchange
principles, including an initial foray into social
network relations. During this time, James
Coleman, David Willer, and others also were
developing exchange network theories addres
sing power, structural change, and other phe
nomena. Most theories of distributive justice
and equity owe a debt to the exchange perspec
tive, and more recent theorizing on group soli
darity and commitment, legitimacy, and
rational choice are offshoots of, or otherwise
connected to, the exchange perspective.
Functionalism. Functionalism (a.k.a. structural
functionalism) dominated sociology for much
of the period between 1930 and 1960. It regards
social systems as consisting of differentiated,