Sociological self images : paradigms and pluralisms in sociological theory, 1960s-1990s : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Sociology at Massey University
This thesis explores the identity and self-understanding of sociology as expressed chiefly in discourses of sociological theory. It takes as its starting point the 'identity crisis' of sociology that began in the 1960s with the demise of structural-functionalism, and continues into the present day. The thesis consists of three main parts. In the first chapter I discuss the methods by which the history of sociology can be reconstructed. I argue that the issues raised by these historical methodologies shed light on wider issues of sociological identity. In particular, the question of the coherence and openness/closure of sociological approaches is considered. In the next three chapters, I engage in a close reading of a number of substantive 'manifestos' for sociology, that attempt to delineate an epistemologically privileged space for sociological analysis. These are chosen to exemplify recent trends in sociological analysis including reflexive sociology, structural Marxism, neofunctionalism, structuration theory, sociology of postmodernity, and postmodern feminism. Each manifesto is considered with regard to its own particular merits and difficulties, but is also analysed in terms of a wider pattern of theoretical development. This pattern is termed the dialectic of openness and closure, a process whereby theories construct their arguments by criticising the closures and one-sidedness of previous approaches, only to create new closures themselves, in order to provide compelling explanations of important social phenomena. I argue that even though the emphasis on openness has become greater in recent times, closures are still effected by many sociologically-inspired theorists. In the concluding chapter, I examine pragmatic philosophies of social science as the logical end-point of the increasing openness of sociological approaches. I argue that these philosophies, if fully accepted, could lead in effect to a liberal approach that contains few critical resources. As an alternative, I suggest that the continuing operation of the dialectic of openness and closure is a good thing for sociology, allowing continued development, whilst still focusing explanatory power.