chapter  2
25 Pages

Theoretical matters

Sociological theory,1 as generally understood within the discipline, is not theory in the scientific sense but something quite different. Hedström and Swedberg (1996) point out that much contemporary sociological theory is not about explanation but about the interpretation of social phenomena, which they describe as non-explanatory discourse. Prominent contemporary theorists, such as Giddens and Alexander, see theory’s purpose not as explanatory but as discourse or conceptualizations of a more philosophical nature (see Goldthorpe 2000: 2). A sizable component of sociological theorizing is critical theory, which seeks human emancipation from oppression by analyzing the forms of oppression, mainly capitalism and other Western institutions (corporations, marriage, the health and education systems, the labor market, etc.). Another type of non-explanatory theory is normative theory, which is about what societies should be rather than what they are. These socalled theories do not allow the development of testable propositions and so are immune from falsification (Goldthorpe 1990: 405; Lenski 1988).2

“Theory” immune from falsification is essentially a system of beliefs. For these theorists and their disciples, much empirical work is simply not relevant, since it is based on contestable and unacceptable “positivist” assumptions. If quantitative empirical work is referred to at all, it is in a very cursory, dismissive or uninformed way.