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What is Sociological Theory? What types of issues to sociologists debate and investigate? What types of questions do sociologists ask?
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This solution explains sociological theory from several perspectives, and then explores the types of questions sociologists debate and investigate.
1. What is Sociological Theory? What types of issues to sociologists debate and investigate? What types of questions do sociologists ask?
First, it is important to understand that sociological theory means different things to different sociological theorists, depending on their orientation (i.e., interactionism, functionalism, Marxism, labeling theory, exchange theory).
Put in the formal terminology of the philosophy of science (Blumer, 1954):
"The aim of theory in empirical science is to develop analytical schemes of the empirical world with which the given science is concerned. This is done by conceiving the world with which the given science is concerned. This is done by conceiving the world abstractly, that is in terms of classes of objects and of relations between such classes. Theoretical schemes are essentially proposals as to the nature of such classes and of their relations where this nature is problematic or unknown. Such proposals become guides to investigation to see whether they or their implications re true. Thus, theory exercises compelling influence on research--setting problems, staking out objects and leading inquiry into asserted relations. In turn, findings of fact test theories, and in suggesting new problems invite the formulation of new proposals. Theory, inquiry and empirical fact are interwoven in a texture of operation with theory guiding inquiry, inquiry seeking and isolating facts, and facts affecting theory. The fruitfulness of their interplay is the means by which an empirical science develops."
In sum, sociological theory -
1. is an analytical scheme--a set of concepts and ideas
2. which set out what kinds of things a science or field of study is concerned with
3. and proposes hypothesis or guesses about how these things fit together
4. and suggest problems in order to test these guesses
5. and uses the findings to weed out the bad guesses and suggest yet other guesses
6. so that eventually you end up with an accurate map of the part of the world your science deals with by having good concepts and valid generalizations about how the objects your concepts define are related.
Or take another definition of sociological theory (Wirth, 1951):
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