The Geneology of Social Theory
What started out as a relatively simple assignment, has taken on a life of its own this evening. Our assignment was simple. Create a geneological tree consisting of social theorists that we feel represent classical social theory. The point was, or what I understand the point to be, is that everyone will have a different idea of what classical sociology is and who best represents it.
It was agreed upon in the seminar, that the arborious design was problematic, as it implied certain hierarchies and ‘branches’, and it also became skewed because it was laid out in a relative time sequence, not a theoretical sequence.
So, my problem stems from my typical knack for a) overanalysing even the simplest tasks (that were probably meant to be fun and b) thinking too far from the box that deep down in my heart, i know i should be sitting in…
I have a theory that classical social theory can be seen as, as sashay put it to me this evening, emphasizing the concept of cannonical instead of classical as denoting a particular period of time.
What I find peculiar about the debate of time within attempting to define the boundaries of classical social theory, is that most people have very fixed ideas of when it ended, but seem quite flexible when determining when it began even though sociology as a formal discipline was introduced rather late in terms of intellectual thinking.
So, since we allowed people such as Plato and Aristotle, Rousseau, Kant and Locke to be included in the definiton of Classical Sociology, I have come to my own reasoning in pushing the boundaries in the other direction as well. If I am to think about classical social theory as being cannonical, then people not commonly thought as classical can definitly be included. Contemporary feminist theory should be included as part of the classical literature in the sense that it should be included as part of a foundation of knowledge that is necessary in order to understand other volumes of work. With each new (and i mean box-shatteringly innovative) nuggets of theory, we should consider it to be part of the classical body of work. Or perhaps the problem is not with the dates and time frame, but with the terminology. Perhaps we should abandon the idea of classical social theory for a very strict modern/post-modern … or maybe before and after Marx =)
The other option is to very clearly state the meaning of classical and find theorists that fall ONLY under those categories….who’s definition would be the most homogenous to create a very definitive list of thost that qualify as “classical social theory”.
I learned classical social theory in a very progressive way. What I mean is, all old theory was paired with contemporary theory (as current as 1996 articles found in popular culture magazines such as Wired) to show us the progression of theoretical threads. Although I attribute the way I think through theory to this method (currently working on Parsons and VideoGames), it skewed any definitional lines of classical social theory for me.