The Concept of Social Structure

The Concept of Social Structure

The Concept of Social Structure

The Concept of Social Structure

Synopsis

Acknowledgments Introduction Structural Sociology and the Durkheimian Conception of Social Structure On the Prospects for a Nomothetic Theory of Social Structure The Concept of Purposive Action Purposive versus Mechanistic Explanations of Action Narrative and the Realist Philosophy of Science: Toward a New Model of Explanation The Durkheimian and Marxian Conceptions of Social Structure Carrying the Marxian Concept of Social Structure Beyond Marx Conclusion Notes Bibliography Index

Excerpt

This work is concerned with the concept of social structure and the relationship between social structure and the individual actor. In particular, the first half of the book is concerned with the Durkheimian conception of social structure, which is (arguably) the dominant way in which social structure is conceptualized by sociologists. The second half of the book attempts to develop an alternative conception of social structure based on a reading of Marx.

By the Durkheimian conception of social structure I mean the image of social structure as a body of relationships among social facts. Furthermore I mean the quantitative way in which this concept has been developed by contemporary sociology. In contemporary sociology relations among social facts tend to mean statistical regularities. This conception of social structure is widely diffused throughout the discipline. There are even those in the Marxian tradition who conceptualize social structure in this way. For example, it is largely because he holds this conception of social structure that Jon Elster (1983, 1985) rejects the concept in favor of methodological individualism. As pervasive as the Durkheimian conception of social structure is, it is nevertheless most forcibly upheld by the adherents to what has come to be called Structural Sociology. These are people such as Herbert Blalock, Peter Blau, Otis Dudley Duncan, Amos Hawley, John Kasarda, Bruce Mayhew, and Jonathan Turner.

Structural Sociology is essentially an attempt to construct a science of social structure that is completely autonomous of psychology. It thus begins with Durkheim's dictum to explain social facts only in terms of other social facts and not in terms of processes at the level of the individual actor. Structural Sociology further follows Durkheim in the adoption of the explanatory method that Durkheim refers to as concomitant variations. According to this approach, quantitative variations in social facts are explained . . .

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