On Theory….Tony Style

Theory is a bitch.  A little bit of theory goes a long way, as Reinhard Bendix aptly put it. I used to be more enamored with theoretical advance and synthesis than I now am. Theory, however is essential…but sometimes setting the controls for the heart of the sun only burns you out…..

As my old mentor Tony Oberschall put it in 1973(ix): “A theory in the usual sense is made up of hypotheses that can be empirically confirmed or disconfirmed, that are systematically linked in order to provide explanations for a large body of observations bearing on the same topic and that can be used to predict future events. Single hypotheses that repeatedly have been confirmed are best thought of as empirical generalizations. Conceptual schemes, typological elaborations, semantic analyses of concepts and terminological controversies cannot be empirically verified and are not theories, rather they are approaches to a topic preparatory to the formulation of a theory. Sociology has reached the stage where these preparatory activities no longer hold center stage, as they have for so long.”

I have an empirical generalization about who would like this statement and who would object, and a theory about the disciplinary implications of rejecting positive theory versus wallowing in the muck of constant recreation…..

3 Responses to “On Theory….Tony Style”

  1. Anon Says:

    In other words since qualitative sociology falls within the pre-theoretical routine of “Conceptual schemes, typological elaborations,..,” its contribution to sociological knowledge- which is about theory building, testing, rebuilding is at best at the clerical level.

    • sherkat Says:

      No. If you don’t understand this, you don’t understand what sociological theory is. Tony is/was a qualitative comparative historical sociologist. I guess you’ve never heard of him…..

  2. Anon Says:

    Qualitative sociology does not attain the level of scientific generalization to come up with “sociological” theory, in the context of sociological knowledge, which is the end purpose of all “sociological” research- theory building- qualitative sociology does contribute but at the pre-“sociological” theory clerical level. My concern was with Tony’s quite commonplace definition of theory, “in the usual sense” and not who he was.

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