Four Sociological Traditions

By Randall Collins | Go to book overview

This is not to say that the theoretical basis of rational/ utilitarian theory is necessarily adequate yet to this task. We have seen a consistent problem in the utilitarian tradition, on the level of how to motivate people for collective action. Can the appeal to interests alone motivate people to adopt great reforms, whether this appeal is embodied in the legal codes advocated by Bentham, in Adam Smith's freedom of the market, or in schemes for new rules of the social game such as those proposed by Rawls, Buchanan, or Coleman? There is an element of pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps in these proposals, as long as one starts from the isolated individual concerned for his or her own interests. As an alternative, we may still need to draw on the conflict theory, which suggests that people fight for their interests rather blindly, solving one problem but creating new ones. The other alternative is the Durkheimian tradition of social solidarity, which explains precisely the emotional links among people that rational/ utilitarian theory leaves out. To this alternative we now turn.


NOTES
1.
Strictly speaking, we could trace some basic utilitarian ideas back another half century to Thomas Hobbes. But Hobbes was in some ways a more complicated thinker than Locke. Hobbes's argument that rational individuals should give up their sovereignty to a ruler, in order avoid a war of all against all, is more similar to the "free rider" paradoxes of the 1960s than it is the benign social harmony outlined by the utilitarians who followed Locke. So we begin with the latter.
2.
From an economic viewpoint, the marriage itself is not something that is produced; it is an exchange, through which something that has been produced is being exchanged for something else.
3.
It is sometimes argued that high-paying occupations require especially high talent, so that relatively few people could enter them. This objection misses the point: it is not necessary that everyone in the world could become a doctor, but rather than the number of people who have the talent to do so is considerably larger than the number of doctors who are enough to meet the demand for medical services. If, in fact, the potential supply of doctors greatly exceeds the demand, then it would be possible, in the absence of barriers to entry, for competitive pressures to

-179-

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Four Sociological Traditions
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents ix
  • Prologue- the Rise of the Social Sciences 3
  • 1- The Conflict Tradition 47
  • Notes 118
  • 2- The Rational/Utilitarian Tradition 121
  • Notes 179
  • 3- The Durkheimian Tradition 181
  • Notes 236
  • 4- The Microinteractionist Tradition 242
  • Notes 289
  • Epilogue 291
  • Bibliography 297
  • Index 311
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