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STRUCTURAL THEORIES OF REVOLUTION

Timothy P. Wickham-Crowley


STRUCTURAL THEORIZING AND THE ALTERNATIVES

What is a structural theory?

The metaphor of "structure" is certainly of ancient vintage in sociology, and arguably the concept of social structure-along with that of culture-is absolutely central to the discipline's understanding of itself and its subject-matter. The recurring feature of all structural analyses worthy of the name, I would submit, is that their analytical focus is not on the characteristic traits of the units under consideration. Instead, structural analysis, almost by definition, focuses upon the relationships between the units. Therefore any structural analysis of social phenomena is likely to focus upon relationships among social groups-variously defined-as the crucial element in our theorizing about such phenomena.

So much for structural analysis. What about that special word, "theory?" Much of what passes for theory nowadays is in fact better understood as "metatheory," as more and more of the space in journals dedicated to theory is devoted to words about other scholars" words, and to battles in the ether over the correct forms of discourse and language, linked to a veritable obsession with us, as makers of theory, instead of the social world we are studying (q.v. contemporary anthropology). Social science as organized skepticism thus becomes, instead, omphaloskepsis (navel-gazing). Much of such "theory" is relentlessly subjectivistic, relativistic, and "perspectivist" (an appropriately ugly neologism), dismissing the possibility of accurate theorizing about the world. An appropriate response for the serious analyst of society, rather than our navels, is simply to deploy the sociology of knowledge. With merciful and non-mimetic brevity, we can thus observe that the academic community-at least in the social sciences and humanities-is the one community where neophilic discourse, language, and theorizing are central to professional prestige, income, and career advancement. In such a milieu, the current obsession with metatheory and endless postmodernist philosophizing can get individuals tenure, promotion, and fame, but gets the study of society nowhere. 1

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