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28. The Future of Social Theory

Stephen Turner

Subject Sociology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405169004.2009.00029.x


Social theory, both the term and the subject, preceded the discipline of sociology. Non-academic writers, such as Herbert Spencer (1969 [1851]; 1897 [1876] ), and Benjamin Kidd (1894) , academics from other fields, such as the economist Simon Patten (1896) , as well as socialist thinkers, wrote extensively on the subject. Some of this “social theory” never became part of sociology. But during the first decade of the twentieth century, in the course of the division of the social sciences into disciplines in the United States, social theory had a disciplinary home. Disciplinarization produced a demand for theory writing of a particular kind: for a history with canonical texts, and for systematization, at least for the purposes of teaching a settled subject, and required theorists to pay attention to one another. This led, in the United States, to many surveys both of the history ( Barnes 1948 ; Barnes and Becker 1961 [1938] ; Becker 1971 ; Ellwood 1971 ) and present ( House 2004 ) of social theory, and to such things as a catalog of sociological concepts logically arranged, by University of Chicago graduate Earle Edward Eubank (1932) , to a series of dissertations on founding figures, and to classifications of theory. Eubank, like many Americans, was an admirer of the neo-Kantian influenced system-building of German social theorists and celebrated these “masters of sociology.” ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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