The Sociology of Knowledge: An Essay in Aid of a Deeper Understanding of the History of Ideas

By W. Stark | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
PROBLEM B: THE NATURE OF SOCIAL
DETERMINATION

(a) THE THEORY OF FUNCTIONAL INTEGRATION

ALMOST from the first page of the present book use has been made of a concept which is obviously basic to the sociology of knowledge as a whole--the concept of social determination. We have been satisfied so far with leaving it rather vague, defining it simply --if this can be called a definition at all--as a meaningful connection and coherence between substructure and superstructure, but not specifying what the characteristics of this relationship are: whether it is close or loose, univocal or compatible with wide variations, one-sided or reciprocal, and so on, and so forth. In a way, this is one of the most decisive, perhaps indeed the most decisive problem of the sociology of knowledge. For anyone who asserts that one phenomenon depends upon another, for instance that ideas depend upon social interaction, is in duty bound to analyse the mode of dependence that he is asserting. If he does not do so, he leaves his system wide open to destructive criticism. For this reason we must now squarely face the problem of the nature of social determination. But we have no need to shirk it: difficult though it is, it is none the less capable of a convincing and unambiguous solution.

In the literature, little conscious attention has been paid to this aspect of the theory, even though it is manifestly fundamental.1 Instead, we find a large variety of terms which, in and by themselves, would suggest confusion rather than clarity, vagueness rather than definite understanding. Merton has compiled a list of the principal terms used

____________________
1
The one and only essay of much importance on the subject is Paul Honigsheim six-page contribution to Versuche zu einer Soziologie des Wissens (ed. Scheler, 1924, 256seq.), entitled "Stileinheiten zwischen Wirtschaft und Geisteskultur". It contains a number of seminal ideas, but is not remarkable for depth of penetration. The only point which emerges clearly from it is the rather obvious one that the more fully integrated a society is, the closer the 'stylistic unity' of substructure and superstructure.

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