Scoping the Social: An Introduction to the Practice of Social Theory

Scoping the Social: An Introduction to the Practice of Social Theory

Scoping the Social: An Introduction to the Practice of Social Theory

Scoping the Social: An Introduction to the Practice of Social Theory


Social theory is central to the disciplines of sociology, cultural studies, criminology and media studies. Many students, however, find it difficult to relate theory to their other courses, projects, dissertations and theses, let alone imagine themselves producing theory. In contrast to conventional social theory textbooks that restrict themselves to the description and analysis of theories and what other professionals have said about them, this innovative book shows students how to use, criticise and contribute to the development of theory. Treating theory as a variety of 'visual work' that is intimately connected with the process of empirical investigation, and with the help of clear diagrams and carefully chosen quotations, Part 1 provides an exceptionally clear introduction to the different ways of practicing social theory. Part 2 provides a practical example of how to theorise by producing and demonstrating the effectiveness of a new concept of reflexivity in the course of an outline of the history of the development of social theory since 1945. This is important reading for students and researchers in sociology and related fields.


Theory … noun … a system of ideas or statements explaining
something, from Greek theoria contemplation, speculation, sight,
from theoros spectator, [which is] from the base of theasthai to
look on …

(Shorter Oxford Dictionary)

Scope … verb, American informal to look at something or
someone to see what they are like

(Chambers Dictionary of Contemporary English)

Why learn how to theorize? the short answer is 'because social theory represents the core of a family of disciplines, most importantly sociology and such interdisciplinary areas as cultural studies, human geography, criminology, and media studies.' Typically, social theory textbooks are about theories and what other professionals have made of them and they are often very good in these terms. However, what they should also be about but are not, at least in any direct way, is how to use, criticize or contribute to the development of theory. in my view, this missing dimension reflects the fact that the typical textbook tends to describe and discuss theories as finished items rather than as transitory crystallizations of practical reasoning in a research context. in stressing that theory should not be regarded as a self-contained topic but rather as an aspect of the larger, always ongoing, enterprise that is social research, my position differs markedly from that developed so inventively in recent years by Anthony Giddens: 'Social theory has the task of providing conceptions of the nature of human social activity and of the human agent which can be placed in the service of empirical work' (Giddens 1984: xvii, emphasis added). For me, and for a reason that will shortly be provided, it is pointless and sometimes even intellectually dangerous to engage in creative theoretical work (as distinct from commentary on such work) without or even before engaging in or with pertinent empirical research. Accordingly, throughout what follows and in order to make the particularity of my position clear, I will use the terms 'practitioner' or 'social scientist' as positive alternatives to 'theorist' wherever this is justified and stylistically possible.

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