The Idea of Social Structure: Papers in Honor of Robert K. Merton

By Lewis A. Coser | Go to book overview

Ironic Perspective and Sociological Thought

LOUIS SCHNEIDER

I T is the aim of this paper to support the view that irony is intimately bound up with a great deal of sociological thought and that ironic perspectives stimulate such thought profoundly. It would be quite absurd to go so far as to claim that thinking in ironic terms is the alpha and omega of the whole sociological enterprise. Thus, the most penetrating ironies, by themselves, could hardly yield a theory of social structure. But the sociological significance of ironic perspectives or terms is easily suggested, as we shall see, by efforts to specify the meaning of irony as soon as one gets away from a very limited conception of it as a figure of speech.

In a broad, general sense social life is rife with ironies. One might make considerable ironic play with what Sutherland called '"white-collar crime." The area of "race relations" is a most inviting one for the ironist. Modern technology in its social and cultural bearings is equally inviting and equally important. Bureaucracy is tried and true subject matter for irony.

Our reach, here at least, must be restricted. We shall be particularly concerned with irony as bearing first on structural-functional analysis (under the rubric, "Ironic Perspectives") and second on labeling theory. Consideration will then be given to the idea of iatrogenesis or medically generated disease, for its suggestiveness in relation to labeling theory and to some broader matters.

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