Contemporary sociologists implicitly assume or explicitly state that classical social theorists shared the Enlightenment’s optimistic vision that society would become more…
Contemporary sociologists implicitly assume or explicitly state that classical social theorists shared the Enlightenment’s optimistic vision that society would become more rational, free, ethical, and just overtime. I reexamine the primary works that laid the foundation for sociology and resituate them in their neo-Romantic origins.
Close readings of formative texts are provided to revisit modernist critiques of social progress in turn of the century sociology. The works of Ferdinand Tönnies, Thorstein Veblen, Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, and Max Weber exemplify this tradition.
Insights from social theory written during and around the neo-Romantic period mirrored the Zeitgeist, a time fascinated with irrationality, moral decay, unconsciousness, decadence, degeneration, cynicism, historical decline, and pessimism. However, classical sociology’s pessimism should not be interpreted as anti-modern. Rather, it contributed to the Enlightenment’s maturation.
Contemporary sociologists should recover the spirit of classical sociology’s gloomy extension of the modern project and bring societal processes to consciousness through human reason, untainted by the fable of progress. Without rational grounds for optimism, the most honest and sincere way to preserve the hope for alternatives and emancipation is through the continuation and advancement of the pessimistic tradition. To formulate new disillusioned theories of society, sociology ought to draw from its ignored tragic legacy.
Rather than accept accounts of classical sociologists as believers in progress, the tradition reveals a world of increasing disenchantment, atomization, anomie, alienation, confusion, quarrel, rationalization devoid of value, and unhappiness. Providing society thoughtful, systematic accounts of its own estrangement advances the project of modernity.
This article aims to show that studies of transnational risk regulation can benefit from Polanyian and neo-Polanyian research agendas in the field of law, economy, and…
This article aims to show that studies of transnational risk regulation can benefit from Polanyian and neo-Polanyian research agendas in the field of law, economy, and society. Risk regulation would then be understood as a corrective force within the market society. Drawing on the relevant literature in the field, Karl Polanyi’s work is contextualized both in the past (“scholarship before and beside Polanyi”) and in the present (“scholarship after and beyond Polanyi”). The review considers developments within sociology, its neighboring disciplines economics and jurisprudence, and the interdisciplinary research fields of “economy and society,” “law and society,” and “law and economy.” The article demonstrates that Polanyi is a “late classic” who shares the holistic orientation of classical historical scholarship. At the same time, it is argued that his “early revival” is due to the topicality of his criticism of the market society, and its inherent risks, in an era of neoliberalism and globalization. By going back and forth in time, the article situates Polanyi in a line of holistically minded scholarship that combines insights of general, economic, and legal sociology in what can be called the “economic sociology of law.” This is “old” and “new,” at the same time.
This chapter revisits some of the early contributions of classical sociologist Edward A. Ross (1866-1951) and his reflections on ecological influences in the development…
This chapter revisits some of the early contributions of classical sociologist Edward A. Ross (1866-1951) and his reflections on ecological influences in the development and progress of modern societies. Ross, who is known for his writings on social control, developed the notion that nature can strike back and thus reveal vulnerabilities of modern society. This idea is discussed to illustrate the tension between a purely sociological perspective on the natural world and attempts at integrating environmental variables into a social theory of interaction and causal influence. Building on Ross's insights, it is argued that 21st century sociological theories might consider unexpected ecological influences as unavoidable and thus as a “normal” control factor of modern society itself.
My main point is that the 1920s Chicago School got its scholastic or school-like quality primarily from its notion of what a human being is, from its social psychology, and only secondarily from its sociology. These sociologists developed the novel idea that humans are constituted by symbolic or cultural elements, not biological forces or instincts. They applied Franz Boas's discovery of culture to human nature and the self. In particular, they showed that ethnic groups and their subcultures are not biologically determined or driven by fixed instincts. In the 1910s and 1920s, the Americanization movement held that ethnic groups could be ranked on how intelligent, how criminal, and therefore how fit for democracy they were. This powerful movement, the extreme wing of which was lead by the Northern Ku Klux Klan, advocated different levels of citizenship for different ethnic groups. The Chicago sociologists spear-headed the idea that humans have a universal nature, are all the same ontologically, and therefore all the same morally and legally. In this way, they strengthened the foundations of civil liberties. The Chicago professors advanced their position in a quiet, low-keyed manner, the avoidance of open political controversy being the academic style of the time. Their position was nevertheless quite potent and effective. The actual sociology of the school, also quite important, was largely an expression of the democratic social psychology. In addition, the sociology was dignified and elevated by the moral capital of their theory of human nature.
During the great post–World War II economic expansion, modernization theorists held that the new American capitalism balanced mass production and mass consumption, meshed…
During the great post–World War II economic expansion, modernization theorists held that the new American capitalism balanced mass production and mass consumption, meshed profitability with labor's interests, and ended class conflict. They thought that Keynesian policies insured a near full-employment, low-inflation, continuous growth economy. They viewed the United States as the “new lead society,” eliminating industrial capitalism's backward features and progressing toward modernity's penultimate “postindustrial” stage.7 Many Americans believed that the ideal of “consumer freedom,” forged early in the century, had been widely realized and epitomized American democracy's superiority to communism.8 However, critics held that the new capitalism did not solve all of classical capitalism's problems (e.g., poverty) and that much increased consumption generated new types of cultural and political problems. John Kenneth Galbraith argued that mainstream economists assumed that human nature dictates an unlimited “urgency of wants,” naturalizing ever increasing production and consumption and precluding the distinction of goods required to meet basic needs from those that stoke wasteful, destructive appetites. In his view, mainstream economists’ individualistic, acquisitive presuppositions crown consumers sovereign and obscure cultural forces, especially advertising, that generate and channel desire and elevate possessions and consumption into the prime measures of self-worth. Galbraith held that production's “paramount position” and related “imperatives of consumer demand” create dependence on economic growth and generate new imbalances and insecurities.9 Harsher critics held that the consumer culture blinded middle-class Americans to injustice, despotic bureaucracy, and drudge work (e.g., Mills, 1961; Marcuse, 1964). But even these radical critics implied that postwar capitalism unlocked the secret of sustained economic growth.
In 1911 Sombart published Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben (Jews and Economic Life). As is well known Sombart conceived his essay – a response to Max Weber’s Die…
In 1911 Sombart published Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben (Jews and Economic Life). As is well known Sombart conceived his essay – a response to Max Weber’s Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism) – as an attempt ‘to study more carefully’ the influence of religion on economic life, to focus on the relationship between religion and the spread of the ‘spirit of capitalism’ and to explain the historical evolution of modern capitalism (from early to late capitalism).
This analytical work has partially been overshadowed by Sombart’s endorsement of Nazism (1934), especially with reference to the suspicion that he was anti-Semitic. In this chapter we deal (Parts 2 and 3) with the ‘ambiguous relationship’ between Sombart and Nazism, and Sombart’s reflections on the scientific irrelevance of racist theories. Then (Parts 4 and 5), we focus on the limits of Sombart’s methodological approach to the analysis of modern capitalism. The erroneous conclusions of his inquiry emerge if we compare them with those of scholars like Simmel, Schumpeter and Max Weber.
This will be an attempt to construct a pragmatist theory of the self, drawing on the four major classical pragmatists. From John Dewey, I will take the self as actor or…
This will be an attempt to construct a pragmatist theory of the self, drawing on the four major classical pragmatists. From John Dewey, I will take the self as actor or agent; from George Herbert Mead the social self; from Charles Sanders Peirce the semiotic or significative self; and from William James the emotion of self feeling. The four fit together reasonably well, and the result is a highly egalitarian, democratic and humanistic idea of what it means to be a human being.
To reexamine the Weber Thesis pertaining to the relationship between ascetic Protestantism – especially Calvinism – and modern capitalism, as between an economic “spirit”…
To reexamine the Weber Thesis pertaining to the relationship between ascetic Protestantism – especially Calvinism – and modern capitalism, as between an economic “spirit” and an economic “structure,” in which the first is assumed to be the explanatory factor and the second the dependent variable.
The chapter provides an attempt to combine theoretical-empirical and comparative-historical approaches to integrate theory with evidence supplied by societal comparisons and historically specific cases.
The chapter identifies the general sociological core of the Weber Thesis as a classic endeavor in economic sociology (and thus substantive sociological theory) and separates it from its particular historical dimension in the form of an empirical generalization from history. I argue that such a distinction helps to better understand the puzzling double “fate” of the Weber Thesis in social science, its status of a model in economic sociology and substantive sociological theory, on the one hand, and its frequent rejection in history and historical economics, on the other. The sociological core of the Thesis, postulating that religion, ideology, and culture generally deeply impact economy, has proved to be more valid, enduring, and even paradigmatic, as in economic sociology, than its historical component establishing a special causal linkage between Calvinism and other types of ascetic Protestantism and the “spirit” and “structure” of modern capitalism in Western society at a specific point in history.
In addition to the two cases deviating from the Weber Thesis considered here, it is necessary to investigate and identify the validity of the Thesis with regard to concrete historical and empirical instances.
The chapter provides the first effort to systematically analyze and distinguish between the sociological core and the historical components of the Weber Thesis as distinct yet intertwined components.
There is hardly any other field of knowledge where there is moreconflict or controversy between ideas and solutions proposed bytheoreticians and statesmen than in…
There is hardly any other field of knowledge where there is more conflict or controversy between ideas and solutions proposed by theoreticians and statesmen than in politics. To date, adequate methodological tools have not been developed which enable the truth or validity of the liberal or conservative approaches to be tested. A new research programme using a simultaneous equilibrium versus disequilibrium approach is proposed which has full application in politics as well as in economics and the social sciences. This research programme shows the organic relationship between society, state, economy, money and form of government, and thus leads to a methodological unification of all the social sciences, to a new principia politica.
So-called classical sociology took shape during perhaps the high point of a world dominated by imperial states. In the “west” the British, French, and German empires, along with a surging America, claimed political and sometimes territorial control over wide stretches of the globe. Beyond Europe and the United States, while the Ottoman and Qing empires were in there last days, new states were staking out their imperial claims such as Japan and Russia. The tension between a reality of empire and an ideal of sovereign nation-states eventually exploded in WWI. Curiously, much of this dynamic, especially the global power of empire, went theoretically unnoticed by the makers of modern sociology. This chapter explores this theme through a sketch of the failure of this theoretical reckoning in Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.