Empirical Methods and Radical
Sociology: A Liberal Critique
ALLEN H. BARTON
WHAT should be the relationship between radical sociology and the work done over the last thirty-five years since the "survey revolution" in methods and the development of "structural-functional" theory?
One answer is wholesale rejection. Some radical critics claim that sociology today is basically engaged in legitimating the existing system and in producing practical knowledge to permit the dominant institutions to control the people against their interests. Survey methods, it is claimed, are incapable of studying major social problems, but are powerful tools in the hands of the ruling groups for manipulating the workers, the poor, the potentially dangerous classes. Middle-range theories developed over the last two decades—role-set theory, reference group theory, theories of interpersonal influence, of crosscutting status sets, of functional analysis—are useful only in support of control and manipulation. Sociology is "corporate sociology" and that is all there is to it. 1 Radical sociology has to start fresh, with completely different theories and methods (or, alternately, has to go back to historical analysis and Marxist-Leninist theories).
This type of analysis is an extreme form of functionalism itself, assuming a total functional link between what academic men do and the needs of the corporate system. Perhaps these oversimplifications serve a function for young sociologists trying to liberate themselves from the Old Men of the field, permitting themselves to establish a distinctive image as Radical Good Guys in contrast to Liberal Sell-Outs. But there is a cost to oversimplification. It makes those who believe it incapable of dealing critically with a complex reality; it cuts radical sociologists off from methods and theories which could help them; and it makes it easy