theory 4987


Whether and how sociological knowledge is
seen to grow thus depends on the unit of ana
lysis chosen for considering the issue. A focus
on the broad foundational orienting strategies of
the discipline reveals very stable intellectual
structures that change only very slowly (if at
all) and without being particularly responsive
to the fortunes of the theories generated from
these strategies. A focus on individual unit the
ories yields only a consideration of changes in
the empirical base for a static theoretical struc
ture. And a focus on organizational and institu
tional properties like citation analyses and
funding patterns reveals only growth in the
social structures within which knowledge might
occur, not the growth of knowledge itself.
A focus on theoretical research programs
reveals multiple kinds and sources of growth.
Knowledge grows through articulation and
refinement of the working strategies that guide
the construction of programs. Knowledge grows
through the construction of new theories within
programs. Elaborations, proliferants, variants,
competitors, and integrations increase both the
breadth of theoretical issues considered and the
depth of understanding of those issues. Knowl
edge grows through assessments of the empiri
cal adequacy and instrumental utility of the
theory based models programs generate. A con
sideration of all of these patterns is necessary to
fully understand how our sociological knowl
edge may be improved.

SEE ALSO: Affect Control Theory; Exchange
Network Theory; Expectation States Theory;
Power Dependence Theory; Social Justice,
Theories of; Stratification and Inequality, The
ories of; Theory; Theory Construction; Theory
and Methods


Berger, J. & Zelditch, M., Jr. (1993) Theoretical
Research Programs: Studies in the Growth of Theory.
Stanford University Press, Stanford.
Berger, J. & Zelditch, M., Jr. (1998) Theoretical
Research Programs: A Reformulation. In: Berger,
J. & Zelditch, M., Jr. (Eds.), Status, Power, and

Legitimacy. Transaction Books, New Brunswick,
NJ, pp. 71 93.
Berger, J. & Zelditch, M., Jr. (2002) New Directions
in Contemporary Sociological Theory. Rowman &
Littlefield, Lanham, MD.
Berger, J., Wagner, D. G., & Zelditch, M., Jr. (1989)
Theory Growth, Social Processes, and Metatheory.
In: Turner, J. (Ed.), Theory Building in Sociology.
Sage, Newbury Park, CA, pp. 19 42.
Berger, J., Wagner, D. G., & Zelditch, M., Jr. (1992)
A Working Strategy for Constructing Theories:
State Organizing Processes. In: Ritzer, G. (Ed.),
Metatheorizing. Sage, Newbury Park, CA,
pp. 107 23.
Lakatos, I. (1968) Criticism and the Methodology of
Scientific Research Programmes. Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society 69: 149 86.
Lakatos, I. (1970) Falsification and the Methodology
of Scientific Research Programmes. In: Lakatos, I.
& Musgrave, A. (Eds.), Criticism and the Growth
of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, pp. 91 195.
Wagner, D. G. (1984) The Growth of Sociological
Theories. Sage, Beverly Hills, CA.
Wagner, D. G. & Berger, J. (1985) Do Sociological
Theories Grow? American Journal of Sociology 90:
697 728.


Barry Markovsky

There are many different views in sociol
ogy about what theory is and what it should
be. Many of these views are complementary,
referring to different aspects of the process of
theorizing, or to particular qualities that are
more or less emphasized by different theorists.
Some views are so disparate, however, as to be
mutually incompatible, even while achieving
legitimacy within mutually exclusive streams
of sociological work. The purpose here is not
to critically evaluate sociologys various theories
and approaches, but rather to provide a short
overview of some of the major strands of theor
etical work. The approach will be to present
several dimensions along which sociological the
ories have varied.
First, theories may be distinguished by major
schools, also known as approaches, frame
works, paradigms, metatheories, orientations,
traditions, and by other labels as well. These