Sociology 319

January 13, 2000

Discussion Questions on Classical Sociology – Chapter 1 of Blackwell Companion

  1. Action and structure, and the connection between these, is a theme that Holton finds in the writings of the classical sociologists. How do each of the classical writers deal with this theme?
  2. Does modern society liberate or constrain?
  3. Each classical writer has a view of the social. Identify the definition of the social for each writer and attempt to state what the boundaries of this definition are, i.e. what human aspects would be included and what would be excluded in the social.
  4. Marx is usually thought of as being a revolutionary. On page 28 (second last paragraph), Holton argues that Marx had an evolutionary approach. How do you reconcile these.
  5. Each of the classical writers had an analysis of social structure, but in each case the basis for the structures differ somewhat. Identify the basis of structure for each of Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Simmel, and de Tocqueville.
  6. Durkheim emphasized economic features of modern society, such as the division of labour, as central to social organization, yet his theoretical approach is considered to argue that moral consensus and integrative normative elements, not economic forces, are what bind society together. In what sense is Durkheim’s theory not materialist like that of Marx?
  7. De Tocqueville is usually considered to be a political theorist. What elements of his approach could be considered to be sociologically important?
  8. On page 40, in the first paragraph on Weber, Holton notes that Weber had a multidimensional approach. What does this mean and what does this imply?
  9. On page 41, lines 7-8, Holton notes "meaning is not intrinsic to social facts, and, so to speak, waiting to be discovered by rational inquiry." What does this mean? Provide examples and explain its significance.
  10. Simmel discusses modern, urban social life. In doing this, he would appear to be discussing much the same topics as Weber, Durkheim, and Marx – the structures and dynamics of modern societies. What elements of Simmel’s analysis distinguishes his aproach from these other three classical writers?
  11. Why might classical American sociological theory emphasize interaction more and structure less than classical European theories?


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