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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
He claimed there is a strong
conflict between the
bourgeoisie and the
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
Class conflict – owners
overthrown and classless
(communist) society
Marx: capitalist modernity
Capitalism leads to;
 Social conflict, class struggle
 Alienation from:
 work
 Products
 Human
 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
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
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
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
The Role of Values in Social Research
Weber claimed sociology should remain
value free - values should not affect
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
Sociologists use four main theories:
 1) Structural Functionalism
 2)
Conflict Theory
 3)
 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
The result is a constant struggle.
Gender issues and sexual inequality
Help to bring female experiences into
The nature of societies is Patriarchal (run by
Action Theory/Symbolic Interactionism
Studies how people use symbols to establish
meaning, develop views of the world, and
Our behaviours depend on the way we define
ourselves and others.
Symbolic Interactionists study face to face
interactions and relationships.