Why Do The Sociologists Need Theories Sociology Essay


In simple terms, theories are used by sociologists to explain how social phenomena has occurred. A theory is used as an explanation by sociologists as to why something occurs in society. Durkheim quotes, “sociology is a way to discover ultimate truths about society, for the purpose of social improvement” (Seidman, 2008). For most sociologists this quote summarizes the reasons they study society and in turn use theories to explain social phenomena. Theories offer people in sociology and outside sociology another view or take on a certain aspect of society. The more theories there are, the more choice and freedom of thought there is for someone looking for answers as to why society is the way it is. Hence theories are essential to the continuing development of society, providing potential answers to those who seek them. It is natural for humans to ask why and seek answers. Sociologist also use theories to abstract particular information and convert it into more general material, so that others can make sense of it. Further more they use theories to categorise and group sociological happenings into a specific class.

In order to illustrate the above, the Neo-Marxist theorists Althusser and Gramsci will be compared, seeing as they both have their own unique approach to Marxism and interpreted Marx’s idea’s in different ways. Gramsci was the humanitarian Neo-Marxist while Althusser was more of a scientific Neo-Marxist (Kellner, 2005). With Althusser being a structuralist he in turn rejected Marx’s Hegelian essentialism, the two kinds of which being economism and humanism (Scott, 2007). Hence Althusser was very much an anti-economist and anti-humanist. Althusser viewed ideology itself a determining inflection that moulds consciousness and ultimately represents a considerably large swerve away from economic determination (Scott, 2007). For Althusser ideology portrayed the relationship between the persons imagination and their actual conditions of existence. He felt that ideology transformed humans into subjects of ideological process that shaped them while at the same time they are conned into viewing themselves as self- determining agents. (Benton 1998). Further more Althussers theories can often relate to functionalism (Swingewood, 2000).

Gramsci was also a strongly influential Marxist thinker. Like Althusser, he rejected economism, but also rejected crude materialism and instead offer a humanist version of Marxism which focused on human subjectivity (Nield & Seed, 1981). He adopted the term hegemony to depict the supremacy of social class’ over others which in essence referred in particular to the bourgeoisie dominance over the working class (Nield & Seed, 1981). As well as hegemony being used as an economic and political tool, he felt it gave the dominant bourgeoisie class the ability to project its own way of viewing the world upon the lower classes who then accept this as common sense and part of life. A key difference between the two Marxist theories is that contrary to Althusser, Gramsci highlights struggle and conflict (Nield & Seed, 1981). He claimed that common sense was not a solid state and constantly transformed itself. Gramsci’ s theory meant a rejection of economism due to the fact it saw the struggle for ideological hegemony as a major factor in social change. Overall, there were more criticisms of Althusser’s theories that in turn led many to favor Gramsci’s theories, with particular credit given to his theory of hegemony.

A number of strengths can be found across the board of Marxist theory. Contrary to the mass media, Marxism takes into account the importance of explicit theory (Swingewood, 2000). The Marxist critical theory attracts consideration to the matter of political and economic interests in the mass media and emphasizes the social inequalities in media representation whilst revealing the myth of value-free social science (Swingewood, 2000). Whilst Althussers theories help to attenuate the allegory of the absolute individual, other Marxist attitudes see the media as a ‘site of struggle’. Marxist theory accentuates the importance of social class in relation to the media and the publics understanding of media, which remains a valuable factor in media assay (Kellner, 2005). This Marxist analysis is useful in that during the distribution of power in society, certain types of reality end up with more influence than others, which in essence means Marxist theory reveals how the media makes less important new seem far more important that it is. Meanwhile more serious and important news is sometimes swept aside and not focused on by the media for a tactical purpose. While the strengths of Marxist theory seem to outweigh the limitations, some limitations can be found. Some contest that Marxism is just another ideology, with some Marxists being accused of being too doctrinaire (following the theory regardless of its practicality). Fundamentalist Marxism is crudely deterministic, allowing not much amplitude for human agency or subjectivity (Swingewood, 2000). Another point is that Marxism is often seen as an elevated form of theory which concentrates on the grand scheme and in turn averting empirical research. This means Marxist analysis of media does not include vigorous enough studies.

In conclusion, sociologists need theories to explain social phenomena and explain how the sociological world has come to be like it is. Theories offer people another view on a certain aspect of society. We all think theoretically in our own way, although the key difference that sociological theorists use is that they think theoretically in a systematic manner. Sociological theorists will arrive at different explanations for events than the theoretical approach of a normal person, and therefore will need to create a theory to explain it. Using the example of Marxist theories and theorists, in particular Althusser and Gramsci, it is possible to see why sociologists need theories.



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