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Social Action Systems Foundation and Synthesis ..

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Social Science History Bibliography

The general vision that informs Fararo's theoretical work is"the spirit of unification," a theme that is set out in SocialAction Systems: Foundation and Synthesis in SociologicalTheory, a 2001 book that analyzes key theories from thestandpoint of the aspiration of synthesis, moving toward morecomprehensive theories of social life.

Social Action Systems: Foundation and Synthesis in Sociological Theory.

For brevity, I select just five classical theorists and present acompact and brief listing of some of the key ideas of each of them:Mead, Weber, Simmel, Durkheim and Pareto, organized in terms of thethree components. The format serves to illustrate the three types ofintellectual interests that permeate the tradition of sociologicaltheory. Each theorist's main foundational contribution to theoreticalsociology is also highlighted at the outset of the listing of sampleelements of the three components in that theorist's work.

The Rules of Sociological Method (1895)

In this interpretation, Homans can agree with the classicalsociological theorist Charles Cooley who argued that individual andsociety are "twin-born," in that the person is socially constructed insocial interaction and that a society is a system of interaction. Inpractice, then, Homans took mind, self and symbols -- three importantelements from the Cooley-Mead standpoint -- as givens in the pursuit ofa pure theoretical sociology that would formulate and explain groupprocesses.

The most prominent mid-century efforts in theoretical sociology thataimed toward generality and synthesis -- the ideas of Parsons andHomans described earlier and a strong integrative effort by Blau (1964)- have failed on the criterion of acceptance as the paradigm of generaltheoretical sociology. Yet the spirit of what they tried to accomplishis not gone. We can call it "the spirit of unification," meaning avalue-commitment to generalizing synthesis efforts in episodes ofconsolidating components of distinct theoretical systems (Fararo1989b). Robert Merton emphasized this idea in his often-cited paper "OnSociological Theories of the Middle Range" (included in ([1949] 1968).A middle range theory employs a general conceptual scheme withanalytical elements, but it is scope-restricted to some abstractlyspecified class of empirical systems, e.g., thermodynamic systems. Itexplains intuitively very different empirical systems using the sameanalytical elements and laws that do not exhaust the content of theempirical system. In short, a middle-range theory is an analyticaltheory. Its scope is limited in the sense of dealing only with certainanalytical elements, not in the sense of dealing only with a class ofconcrete entities as classified in folk culture.

Emile Durkheim: An Introduction to Four Major Works

In Coleman's theory, macro-level systemic givens constrain andenable micro-level situations of actors. Making rational choices basedon their internal preferences and the situational constraints, actorsthen collectively shape macro-level outcomes. This is not equivalent toHomans' reduction program. Among other things, it is a trade-off ofbehavioral realism for the deductive fertility that optimizationarguments enable. Homans is much more attuned to the task of thescientific theorist: to explain empirical findings. Coleman's theory,in part, is more in the classical tradition of sociological theory as awhole in that it blends general theoretical, world-historical andnormative interests.

A model is an abstract entity that functions as a representation ofsome system in the world that is of sociological interest. My aim nowis to discuss a variety of types of models that theoreticalsociologists have employed in the analysis of social structures andsocial processes. Thereafter I will treat the philosophy andmethodology of model building in more general terms. It should be notedthat the term "model" is used in sociology in diverse ways. Very oftenit refers to statistical models employed in the analysis of data. Thisusage is excluded from this discussion, which is focused on models andmodel building in relation to sociological concepts and theories. Alsoexcluded is the diffuse idea of a general model of society as a kind ofsocial organism.

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Resilience: A Bridging Concept or a Dead End? …

In Social Behaviour: Its Elementary Forms George C. Homans demonstrates further how various empirical findings in the field studies of small groups follow, in logic, from a small number of general principles of behavioural psychology. In his view, both the individualistic and structural sociological approaches to social behaviour require, for their explanation, psychological propositions. Such propositions are not statements about the interrelations of institutions or about the conditions some society must meet in order to survive, rather they are statements about the characteristics of the behaviour “of men as men.” (This meant, Homans insisted, that sociology had no general propositions of its own, and thus, from then on, he was branded a “psychological reductionist.”) The general psychological principles that George C. Homans could deductively apply in explaining the basic social situation—in which the actions of each of at least two persons reward or punish the actions of the other—were already available to him in the writings of his long-time friend and Harvard colleague, B.F. Skinner. Homans, therefore, adopted Skinner’s behavioural psychology, along with a few basic ideas from marginal utility theory in microeconomics, and put forth a systematic set of five general propositions about elementary social behaviour grounded in notions of reward and punishment, deprivation and satiation, cost and profit, aggression and approval.

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