Development of Sociology and Its Relation to Other Social Sciences

Topics: Sociology, Social sciences, Economics Pages: 28 (9847 words) Published: October 18, 2010

Sociology Among the Social Sciences
Mattei Dogan
Source: Encyclopedia of Sociology, 2nd Edition, E. Borgatta and R. Montgomery (eds.), pp. 2913-2927 The relationship between sociology and the other social sciences is in reality relationship between sectors of different disciplines, not between whole disciplines. Sociology is one of the most open disciplines toward other disciplines. This openness is manifested in the citation patterns in academic publications, which allow one to measure the degree of coherence of a discipline, the relationship between specialties within a discipline, and the interactions among disciplines. If specialists in a subdiscipline tend to cite mostly or exclusively specialists in the same subdiscipline, and if relatively few authors cite outside their own subdiscipline, then as a whole the discipline has a low degree of internal coherence. It could be compared to watertight compartments or containers in large ships. In this case, the real loci of research are the specialties. If, by contrast, a significant proportion of authors, cross the borders of their specialties, the discipline as a whole can be considered an integrated territory. As can be seen in the analytical and alphabetical indices of most compendiums and textbooks, sociology has a weak core. The fragmentation of the discipline into isolated specialties can be seen in most sociological treatises: "We divide up the discipline into a number of topics, each the subject of a chapter. These chapters are minimally integrated" (Calhoun, 1992, p. 185). Theoretical sociology is presented as a subfield disconnected from substantive domains: "General sociology has been relegated primarily to introductory textbooks and to a lesser extent to a sort of social theory that most practicing sociologists use but little in their work" (idem). For instance, in the Handbook of Sociology edited by Neil Smelser, the 22 chapters represent autonomous specialties, that are only weakly related to each other. Few of the 3 200 authors cited in that work are mentioned in more than one specialty (Dogan, 1997). This lack of consensus among sociologists has been emphasized in a symposium devoted to this Handbook (Calhoun and Land, 1989). In the general works in sociology published in the last two decades, the most frequently cited authors are ancestors, not contemporary sociologists. With some exceptions such as Parsons, Merton, Lazarsfeld, Mills, few mentors belong to the immediately previous generation. Nowadays, sociologists in their pattern of references are like children elevated by their grandparents. This cult of the ancestors is surprising, because "following advances in the division of labour and specialization, the works of the classics ceased to be directly useful to an average sociologist. To do correct research in a specialized branch of sociology one does not in fact have to read the works — bulky, often abstruse, and semi-philosophical in nature — written by Marx and Spencer, Simmel and Weber, Mead and Znaniecki. To do such research if suffices to master, on the basis of a possibly


recent handbook, the standard techniques and the current theories of the middle range" (Szacki, 1982, p. 360). The fragmentation of sociology can be explained in part by the absence of any consensus on a dominant, integrative theory, or a widely-accepted paradigm. If a consensus could be reached among sociologists, it would be that sociology has today a small, soft and old core, that is not a centripetal discipline, and that it expands in all directions. Its territory looks very much like the decaying Roman empire when most soldiers were at distant frontiers, without an army in the capital. Openess to what? To other disciplines. There is very little communication between the fifty specialized domains recognized by the International Sociological Association, and between the thirty sectors of the American Sociological Association. If cooperation among the...

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