Paradigms and Assumptions

(Perdue 1986:43-45, 167-170, 303-305)

Perdue, William D. 1986. Sociological Theory: Explanation, Paradigm, and Ideology. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

 

ASSUMPTIONS OF THE ORDER PARADIGM

Human Nature

1. Human nature is more private than public, individualistic than social, competitive than cooperative. Left unchecked, the force of self-interest may reduce a community of people to a mob of strangers.

2. The order conception of human nature is one of the power of reason. While subject to the dangers of unbridled passion or undisciplined wants, the species is capable of establishing those controls necessary to ensure survival. The principle of existence is embodied in a rationalism by which people surrender to social authority those reasonable powers essential to societal cohesion.

3. Personal inequalities are a part of the natural order. That is, there are fundamental and innate differences in talent, potential, and ultimate social worth.

 

The Nature of Society

1. Given the natural human disposition toward disorder, survival can be ensured only through the coming of powerful and integrated social institutions. Such institutions must be preserved because anarchy is tantamount to the mutual destruction of society and the individual.

2. Given the natural conditions of personal inequality, the good society will divide its tasks so as to reflect these innate differences (Durkheim [1893] 1933; Plato [c. 377 B. C.] 1974).

3. The nature of society is that of interdependent institutions and a supportive normative system that constrains private behavior. Remember that Plato, Durkheim, and others conceived society in organismic terms, while Talcott Parsons . . . employed the mechanical metaphor of a system. The natural state of society is therefore one of equilibrium, with each part or element contributing to the maintenance of the whole.

4. Institutions and norms exist in any given society because of a consensus on the part of members of that society.

5. Given a consensually validated social order, all members of a society should be expected to conform. Thus legitimacy logically follows the assumption of consensus.

6. Given the legitimacy of the existing order and the naturally adaptive properties of the social system, social change assumes a primarily evolutionary nature.

7. Forced social change represents a clear and present danger to the cohesiveness of society and the solidarity of its members.

 

The Nature of Science

1. As there is a systematic order in the natural universe, so there is system and order in the social universe. Social relationships reflect unique properties that can be discovered through the methods of science.

2. A positive science of society commands a search for certainty in relationships. Sociology shares with the natural sciences a quest for laws that yield prediction and control.

3. A science of society is empirical. Sensory-based knowledge and rigorous observation replace detached rationalism with its emphasis on pure reason.

4. Social facts have quantitative properties. Such may be measured and assigned numerical value. Quantitative change in one or more social facts (now variables) may be directly or indirectly connected to change in others. Thus lawful relationships may assume mathematical form.

5. The social milieu is distinctive and independent of the physical environment. However, a science of society need not be unique. The phenomena under examination may vary, but the nature of science does not. Chemists may study compounds, physicists thermodynamics, and sociologists society. Science does not alter its nature or methods simply because of a difference in the subject matter.

6. Theoretical relationships should be stated in clear language with all terms clearly defined. Modern positivists call for operational definitions that allow key concepts to be measured and uniformly understood by those testing theoretical propositions through research. To illustrate, if in a theory on human learning intelligence is a key concept, then the operational definition of intelligene might be: what intelligence tests measure.

(Perdue 1986:43-45)

 

ASSUMPTIONS OF THE PLURALIST PARADIGM

 

Human Nature

1. The interactionist conception of human nature is a strongly intimate one. There is great emphasis on the private world of the actor (Bendix 1977:1-10).

2. Human behavior is assumed to be intentional and voluntary. This does not mean that there are no outside influences. For example, we may play one role in the presence of one person and yet another role when we are with somebody else. Still, the pluralist would argue that external conditions do not simply determine our behavior. In a basic sense, people know what they are doing. We act with purpose and our conduct reflects a contemplated design (Berger 1963:125-126).

3. As can be gleaned from the thought of Rousseau, freedom and a socio-political system that ensures it will be crucial for pluralist theory. However, for Rousseau and many pluralist thinkers, this freedom is primarily individual and personal rather than collective. Thus, members of society remain sovereign parties to the social contract. The right of the person to speak her mind or to be all she can be, is an example of personal freedom. The concept of collective freedom (more in keeping with the conflict paradigm) stresses the welfare of the whole. For example, freedom does not exist unless all are free from want.

4. Human nature reflects an abiding dualism; it is both sociable and self-assertive.

 

The Nature of Society

1. Society ultimately is a social reality, a state of consciousness based on the shared ideas and meanings of its members. Thus, society does not exist outside but rather inside. Its essence is the subjective world of definitions and perceptions that we create through contact with others.

2. The cornerstone of a society is reciprocity--not in the sense of the sharing of rewards stressed by theories of social exchange but in the sense of orientation to others. If each member of a group behaves on the basis of what others are thought to be doing or thinking, the relationship is reciprocal (Freund 1969:118-123).

3. The meaning of reciprocal relationships, symbols, and conceptions of self must be understood as part of a bigger picture. Failure to achieve this leaves the study of human conduct at a psychological level. For example, while human beings create culture, they do not recreate it from scratch each time they interact. Guidance is provided by larger patterns of meaning such as customs, laws, and ideas. This point was driven home by Max Weber when he held that Protestant ideals are crucial to understanding the motivations for entrepreneurial behavior.

4. The broader institutional patterns of a society (such as the state, religion, education, the economy, the family) can best be conceived as an organization of roles that are interpreted and shaped by human action. Order and conflict sociologists also employ the concept of role. However, they are more deterministic than the pluralists. While interactionists understand that roles are not invented anew by each member of a society, they would stress that role content varies and is subject to reinterpretation. Hence, what it means to be a woman can be redefined over time.

5. People do not share the same world of meanings. The pluralist view is one of a heterogeneous society representing perhaps many cultures and certainly more than a few interest groups. Though members of most groups will share the most important meanings that hold a society together, they may disagree on customs and the choice of life-style. Also, not all groups will have the same influence or power.

It is crucial to note that pluralist theories do not assume a conflict of classes in society (at least not to the extent that the conflict tradition does). Nor do they embrace the value consensus of the order paradigm. The pluralist vision of society is rather one of the ongoing opposition of interest groups, and the clash of cultures. Tolerance and diversity are embraced, and forms of social control such as law are viewed with ambivalence. On the one side, law can be an instrument of arbitrary state power and the means by which the interests of dominant groups (not a dominant class) are advanced. On the other side, law, when it is the expression of a freely developed social contract, can be the means of reform.

6. This vision of ambivalence toward the law is quite consistent with the larger pluralist vision. The nature of society is one of an abiding dualism, an antagonistic cooperation. At one level we see the rise and fall of competing interests and the battle of organizations. At another level we find a general commitment to the order born of the social contract. One faction, no matter how influential for the historical moment, does not realize total and continuous control. It is checked by countervailing organizations and the sovereign right of people to dissolve their convenants, if the state persists in the unjust support of one group over others. Thus, the idealized pluralist portrait is one of a balance of power, where force is checked by force, and tyranny is eliminated by the means of the covenant.

 

The Nature of Science

1. The truly distinctive thing about people and their relationships evolves from their ability to think, to create a world of ideas and attach meaning to human conduct. Thus, for the pluralist paradigm, the philosophy of idealism is the basis for human science. Put simply, no object has meaning apart from a perceiving mind. The "stuff" of theory, its major concepts and logical linkages, must conform to this subjective imperative.

2. Human action has a strongly unpredictable quality to it. Thus, the explanations and methods of social science cannot be founded on concepts such as determinism, laws, or even statistical probability. Theories based on the pluralist paradigm ordinarily seek to explain the multiple realities of the social world (Freund 1969:37-47). However, this does not mean that pluralists habitually reject any sort of scientific generalization.

As a case in point, Weber distinctly rejected both nomothetic and idiographic conceptions of history. Whereas the former holds that the course of history follows general laws (cycles, linear progress, dialectical change), the latter conceives of history as unique and specific events. For example, the nomothetic approach would seek to find the general law or laws underlying all revolutions. On the other hand, the idiographic method would center on one unique case such as the Chinese Revolution.

Weber believed that similar events may share common analytic properties and that these together form an ideal type. Thus, he sought to resolve the nomothetic/idiographic controversy by arguing that phenomena are not unique but representative of such general analytic categories. Hence, the understanding of a specific phenomenon (such as the Chinese Revolution) is possible only if referred to the larger classification (such as all revolutions). Weber's use of the ideal type constitutes a kind of generalization. However, this remains quite apart from the quest for laws.

3. The primary unit of sociological investigation is the individual. The target of theory (and research) is consciousness, and consciousness is a property of the person (Freund 1969:112).

4. Sociological theory will not answer the question why in an absolute fashion. Nor will theory be constructed to valiantly resist falsification. Systems of thought will enhance our understanding of interpersonal action and the social construction of reality. This will be done through the discovery of ideas that heighten our awareness of how social actors interpret and make the empirical world about them. Given this assumption, it follows that pluralist theories will give rise to qualitative rather than quantitative research.

(Perdue 1986:168-170)

 

ASSUMPTIONS OF THE CONFLICT PARADIGM

 

Human Nature

1. The conflict conception of human nature is a strongly public one. There is a great emphasis on the cooperative nature of social beings.

2. Human nature is assumed to be rational and contemplative. Yet, it is in no sense independent of the historically founded structure of society. Thus, people do not individually choose their institutional reality. For example, they do not personally and intellectually "create" a mode of production. Nor do they freely create the existing forms of state power. They do not freely choose their class and other categorical positions or the ideologies to which they are systematically exposed. For this reason, what we think is strongly related to who we are, that is, to our real position in society. People do possess the potential to transcend the images of the ideology by means of experience, reason, and education. And on the basis of such understanding, they may organize to become a force for change.

3. Men and women become human through distinctively social activity (such as productive labor). Our humanity is discovered and confirmed in our collective attempts to shape the material world. Our essence is not subjective; we are not merely spirit, mind, or self-concept. Instead, we are real, objective, material beings.

4. Perhaps above all, human nature is perfectible.

 

The Nature of Society

1. Society ultimately is a structural reality, an institutional state of being that emerges in accordance with historical laws. Human beings routinely interpret that reality, sometimes correctly and sometimes falsely. However, there is a society "out there" to be discovered and understood.

2. Given the natural disposition toward a social existence, any society can be considered human only to the extent that its institutions facilitate cooperation, sharing, and the common interest. Such institutions have no scared standing, no life of their own, and their nature is dynamic rather than static.

3. Given a society of institutionalized inequality, marked by vast differences in wealth, power, and status, the social nature of human existence is denied.

4. The unequal society is marked by inherent conflict (both overt and covert, recognized and unrecognized) between and among groups with opposing interests. The existing order carries within both the seeds of its own destruction and the embryo of its successor.

5. Given inequality, the legitimacy of social order is in question. Conformity, adaptation, and adjustment become problematic, and real structural change (toward greater equality) is mandatory. Hence, from the conflict vantage point, the society of the future fits a utopian image: Human society as human nature is perfectible.

 

The Nature of Science

1. As humans are objective beings living in a real social universe, the philosophy of materialism is the basis for human science. Put simply, thought, will, and feeling exist, but they can only be explained in terms of a material social reality. What are referred to by the pluralists as multiple social realities are best understood as multiple "perceptions" of structural reality. Thus, the stuff of theory (including major concepts and logical linkages) must conform to this objective imperative.

2. The place of history in human science is indispensable. Historical research can reveal the general laws by which societies change, as well as discern the seeds of the present order in its predecessor.

3. Human science is a quest to understand the relational properties of social order. Things like institutions, organizations, classes, and so forth cannot be studied in isolation. Because societies are structurally interrelated "wholes," they must be studied holistically.

4. Given the historical sweep and holistic thrust of conflict theories, it follows that they will be macrosociological in form. Explanations will be centered at a high level of abstraction. Given the constancy of change, the reality of contradiction, and the fact that social phenomena are frequently both cause and effect, conflict theories will often reflect the use of dialectic logic.

5. One criterion by which the practice of human science is judged is its ability to make a better world. Sociology, specifically, is not, cannot, and should not be "value free." Marx complained that philosophers are content only to understand a world that desperately needed change. Many conflict sociologists would doubtlessly agree.

(Perdue 1986:303-305)

REFERENCES

Bendix, Reinhard. 1977. Max Weber. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Berger, Peter. 1963. Invitations to Sociology. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Durkheim, Emile. [1893] 1933. The Division of Labor in Society. Translated by George Simpson. New York: Macmillan.

Freund, Julian. 1969. The Sociology of Max Weber. New York: Random House.

Plato. [c. 377 B. C.] 1974. The Republic. Translated by G. M. A. Grube. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.

Perdue, William D. 1986. Sociological Theory: Explanation, Paradigm, and Ideology. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

 

 

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