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Encyclopedia of Social Theory



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Encyclopedia of Social Theory
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The past several decades have seen a growing interest in social theory. In economics, a resurgence in neo-classical thinking has generated theories of rational or public choice with a claim to applicability not only in the economic realm but in all political, social, cultural and even religious domains of society. Post-structuralism, postmodernism, feminist theory, critical theory and some versions of neo-Marxism have triggered a renewed interest in culture and its repertoires. This 'cultural turn' has initiated studies in symbols, rituals and cults, leading to a renaissance of the 'cultural sciences' with a wide impact on the social and human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) in general. Structuration theory and theories of practice have sought to provide an integrated approach to agency and structure. All these theoretical developments have occurred against the backdrop of a changing social world, fuelling critiques of previous ways of theorizing the categories of gender, race, class, nation state, community and identity. Social theory can be characterized as an interdisciplinary field: an interface between the social sciences and humanities on the one hand, and philosophy on the other hand. Social theory shades over into neighbouring and competing endeavours in cultural and political theory. With cultural theory, it shares a concern for the symbolic dimension of social life; with political theory, it emphasises that nothing is strictly 'non-political' or neutral and that social life is inextricably bound up with problems of struggle, competition, power and conflict - omnipresent phenomena by no means restricted to the polity, politics and policies. Social theory operates in at least three dimensions: the epistemological/methodological (or metatheoretical), the theoretical and the substantive. The first dimension covers perennial issues such as: What is human agency? How can we account for it? How do we conceptualize human action? Does social theory follow models of the natural sciences with an emphasis on causality and explanation? Or should social theory look more to the humanities in favour of accounts of meaning and understanding (Verstehen)? In short: Is social theory largely causal or hermeneutical? The second dimension deals with questions such as: How do we relate agency to social structure? How do we bridge the micro-, meso- and macrolevels of social inquiry in our theories? What analytical makeup is necessary to provide full-fledged understanding and possibly explanation? How do we conceptualize historical events, social interaction, social structures, institutions and organizations as well as chains of social action? The third dimension comprises substantive modes and types of analysis. Social theory typically reaches beyond purely scientific tasks of description and explanation in order to aim at evaluation and normative critique. Its humanistic heritage implies an orientation to future alternatives and visions of better worlds, beyond mere charting of the 'status quo'. This normative critical aspiration is an intrinsic feature of social theory. Social theory, therefore, is by definition a vast and comprehensive enterprise. Its inter- and trans-disciplinary character, its wide variety of approaches, schools and directions and the burgeoning of developments over the last decades make the need for a comprehensive reference source all the more pressing and desirable. Such a reference source must cut across all relevant disciplines, theories, approaches and schools in order to demonstrate the unity of the endeavour in the diversity of contributions. The proposed Routledge Encyclopedia of Social Theory aims to be this kind of universal reference tool for students and researchers alike. Its trans- and interdisciplinary structure will make it an indispensable guide to the problems, concepts, categories, theories, models, analyses and critiques of social theory in disciplines such as economics, history, geography, political science, sociology, theology, philosophy and interdisciplinary programs such as cultural studies, feminist studies, postcolonial studies and development studies.
Release date NZ
December 22nd, 2005
Edited by Austin Harrington Edited by Barbara L. Marshall Edited by Hans-Peter Muller
Country of Publication
United Kingdom
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