Sociology Index

Classical Sociology

There is a debate within the academic sociological community over the importance and relevance of learning and discussing classical sociological theory. Are theories written over a century ago still relevant to our understanding of the social world? The notion that classical sociological theory is outdated stems from the idea that modern, contemporary theory can replace it.  Classical sociological theory is also applicable outside of published sociology. Many believe that the ideas developed by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Max Weber, David Emile Durkheim, and Dubois WEB no longer pertain to our world. The works of classical sociologists, and founding sociologists are both relevant and essential.

Ideas developed by Karl Marx, Engels, Max Weber, David Emile Durkheim, and Dubois very much pertain to our world. Contemporary theories stem from ideas put forth by the classical theorists. The basic premise of all classical sociological theory is that the contemporary world is the outcome of a transition from “traditional” to “modern” societies.

It does not take a well formed sociological imagination, nor does it take much abstract thought to see conflict running rampant in the world. Designing the content and context of teaching classical sociology based on the perspectives of both female and male scholars and further, contrasting their different descriptions of the transition from traditional society to modern society, will provide students with a broader view of sociology as a science. Such an approach to teaching sociology introduces the significance of gender mechanisms in sociological analysis already in the teaching of classical sociology.

Sociological theory aims to understand what we know as the modern world. There is undoubtedly a lack of women's accounts in classical sociology. Only a masculine view of classical sociological theories and concepts that are presented as non-gender specific and universal affects the conceptions of sociology as a science. Modernity is defined by the rise of nation states and also a new conception of the individual whose thoughts and desires is independent of others.

The characteristics that motivated that transition has been presented by three sociologists commonly referred to as founding fathers of classic sociological thought. The classical sociological canon is framed by the works of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim. Karl Marx relied on a particular understanding of historical materialism and ‘laws of history’ (Tucker 1978; Seidman 2004).

Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism is a critique of Marx’s historical materialism to argue that the material conditions required to fuel capitalism are not enough and that capitalism also requires ideological formulations to help create the conditions needed to transition fully from feudalism to capitalism.

Emile Durkheim argued that transition from traditional/primitive to modern/advanced societies is an evolutionary process that requires intervention into primitive societies by advanced societies as well as natural changes.

Classical sociology and cosmopolitanism: a critical defence of the social by Bryan S Turner.
Abstract: It is frequently argued that classical sociology, if not sociology as a whole, cannot provide any significant insight into globalization, primarily because its assumptions about the nation-state, national cultures and national societies are no longer relevant to a global world. Sociology cannot consequently contribute to a normative debate about cosmopolitanism, which invites us to consider loyalties and identities that reach beyond the nation-state. My argument considers four principal topics. First, I defend the classical legacy by arguing that classical sociology involved the study of 'the social' not national societies.