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The Founders of
Social Theory
Alistair Tuach
Founders of Social Theory

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)

Max Weber (1864-1920)
Karl Marx





1818-1883, German scholar
Marx stated that the engine of
human history is class
conflict.
He claimed there is a strong
conflict between the
bourgeoisie and the
proletariat.
The struggle between the
classes would end only when
the proletariat revolted.
The result would be a
classless society.
Karl Marx




After identifying social
classes, Marx suggested
eventually only two classes
would exist
Bourgeoisie – owners
(factories, land,)
Proletariat – work for the
bourgeoisie.
Class conflict – owners
overthrown and classless
(communist) society
established
Marx: capitalist modernity
Capitalism leads to;
 Social conflict, class struggle
 Alienation from:

 work
 Products
 Human
beings
 Human potential
Emile Durkheim

Durkheim ;1858-1917 son of
French rabbi

Society exists because of broad
consensus (Functionalist)

Suicide study showed social
factors influenced suicide.
Introduced techniques to study
sociology
Durkheim: problems in modernity

Anomie resulting from: lack of
 Moral
regulation/ order
 Limitless ambitions
 Sense of worthlessness
 Lack of meaning in life
Lack of social integration
 Class conflict
 Developed Functionalism

Emile Durkheim

Durkheim’s goal was to
recognise sociology as
an academic discipline.

He studied suicide rates.

The key factor in suicide
is social integration.

Those with weaker ties
are most likely to commit
suicide.
Max Weber

Max Weber 1864-1920

People act on the basis of their
own understanding of a situation

This was a departure from
tradition, emotion, and
superstition. Science – not luck
or fate.
Max Weber


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Unlike Marx, Weber did not
believe economics was the
force of social change.
Religion was the key.
The Protestant ethic - the
belief that working hard
would please God.
Weber argued that
Protestant beliefs led to the
growth of Capitalism.
Religion was the central
factor in the rise of
Capitalism.
The Role of Values in Social Research

Weber claimed sociology should remain
value free - values should not affect
research.

Sociologists stress replication repeating a study by other researchers to
compare results.
Social Facts

The best interpreter of human action is someone
who “has been there.”

Social Facts- patterns of behaviour that
characterise a social group.

Each pattern reflects some condition of society.
Theoretical Perspectives in
Sociology

Sociologists use four main theories:
 1) Structural Functionalism
 2)
Conflict Theory
 3)
Feminism
 4)
Social Action Theory (Symbolic Interactionism )
Levels of Analysis:
Macro and Micro

Functionalists, Conflict and Feminist theorists
tend to focus on the macro level - large scale
patterns of society.

Symbolic Interactionists focus on the micro
level - social interaction in small scale patterns.
Structural Functionalism

The central idea is that society is a whole unit,
made up of interrelated parts that work together.

Like an organism, if society is to function
smoothly, its parts must work together in harmony.

When all parts fulfill their functions, society is in a
“normal” state.
Conflict Theory

States that society is composed of groups engaged
in fierce competition for scarce resources.

People in positions of authority try to enforce
conformity, which, in turn, creates resentment and
resistance.

The result is a constant struggle.
Feminism

Gender issues and sexual inequality

Help to bring female experiences into
understanding

The nature of societies is Patriarchal (run by
men)
Action Theory/Symbolic Interactionism

Studies how people use symbols to establish
meaning, develop views of the world, and
communicate.

Our behaviours depend on the way we define
ourselves and others.

Symbolic Interactionists study face to face
interactions and relationships.
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