Series: Beginnings
Author: Marcel Stoetzle

Beginning classical social theory introduces students and educated general readers to thirteen key social theorists by way of examining a single, exemplary text by each author. After an introductory reflection on the concept of ‘social theory’, the book is organized chronologically, ranging from Comte to Adorno.

The chapters address key themes of classical social theory, including modernity, democracy, gender, class, the commodity form, community, social facts, race, capitalism, strangeness, love and marriage. They present a diverse range of arguments that introduce readers to how classical theorists thought and wrote.

The book is written as a tool that promotes independent, critical engagement with, rather than reproduction of knowledge about theory. It answers the need for a book that helps students develop the skill to critically read theory.

After short, contextualizing introductions to each author, every chapter presents a close reading of one single key text demonstrating how to break down and analyze their arguments. Rather than learning how to admire the canonical theorists, readers are alerted to the flow of their arguments, the texts’ contradictions and limitations and to what makes them ‘classical’. Having gotten ‘under the skin’ of one key text by each author will provide readers with a solid starting point for further study.

The book will be suitable as the principal textbook in social theory modules as much as alongside a more conventional textbook as a recommended additional tool for self-study. It will appeal to undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as educated lay readers.

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If it is not mysterious, it is not social theory
Marcel Stoetzle

As long as there is any life in society, as well as suffering, trouble and unease, there will also be the desire for methodical, sustained, critical inquiry into its nature, dynamics, contradictions and – as yet – unfulfilled possibilities: social theory. Social theory takes many forms. In the academic context, it mediates between social science and societal practice: social theory is the self-reflection of social-scientific practice on its societal backgrounds, functions, aims and purposes. Social theory asks why, how and what for? It is only

in Beginning classical social theory
The myth and reality of social existence
Anthony King

can be employed so that it, too, contributes to contemporary debates in social theory. Certainly, this myth cannot resolve the technical issues of those debates – it cannot demonstrate the shortcomings of the concepts of structure and agency – but it does usefully symbolise the major positions in this debate. Thus, the work operates around two visions of social order, symbolised by the Ring and the Fellowship. Each represents alternative social ontologies: while the Ring signifies a dualistic society of autonomous individuals, unified only by a centralised, all

in Human agents and social structures
Marcel Stoetzle

The last chapter of this introduction to ‘classical’ social theory looks at a short, typically dense text that exemplifies the writing style and theoretical perspective of Theodor W. Adorno, another key figure of the ‘Frankfurt School’ of Critical Theory. The text is entitled ‘Society’ and was initially published as an entry in a social science handbook. This article creates a kind of dialogue between some of the principal positions within sociological theory on one of its key concepts: society. It discusses many of the themes that are constitutive of

in Beginning classical social theory
Marcel Stoetzle

field of social theory. De Beauvoir, born in Paris, was from a conservative bourgeois family who had lost their fortune in the war economy and high inflation of the First World War. During childhood, her intellectual development benefited from a rich mix of cognitive dissonances: her family were bourgeois in terms of status and education, but had little money in the bank; her mother was religious, as was Simone until the age of 14, while her father was an atheist and rationalist; her father was very proud of her sharp mind and complimented her on thinking

in Beginning classical social theory
Marcel Stoetzle

politics. The becoming positive of modern society is, on the one hand, a necessary development rooted in the course of human civilization and, on the other hand, something we have to work and struggle for. This ambiguity – we are sailing with the wind, but still need to do the rowing – will remain a characteristic of positivistic social theory far beyond and long after Comte himself. In the remainder of the ‘Foreword’, Comte adds an acknowledgement of his intellectual debt to Saint-Simon and a nod in the latter’s direction that the contribution of literature and

in Beginning classical social theory
Marcel Stoetzle

outside the consciousness of the individual. (51) These sentences are of the greatest importance for the history of social theory and, although they look innocent enough, they had enormous repercussions. The notion that language is a system that exists independently of the use anyone makes of it and ‘outside the consciousness of the individual’ anticipates the principal insight of structuralism in linguistics. Durkheim’s text might well have inspired some of the famous formulations of the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), first published in 1915, that

in Beginning classical social theory
Marcel Stoetzle

political affiliations. His first publication that related directly to Marx, defending Marx’s concept of ideology against Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, also appeared in 1930. Horkheimer’s first book of social theory was published in 1934 – when he was already in exile – under a pseudonym. Entitled Twilight: Notes from Germany , it consists of aphorisms and short pieces that are based on micro-level observations of themes of social domination in capitalism. (It is available in English in a volume called Dawn and Decline. ) From his reading of

in Beginning classical social theory
Marcel Stoetzle

rest Till the last moon droop and the last tide fail, And the fire of the end begin to burn in the west; And the heart shall be weary and wonder and cry like the sea, All life long crying without avail, As the water all night long is crying to me. The first thing that seems significant here is that a book called The Souls of Black Folk , a classic of American social theory, begins with a poem by an English writer who lived in Wales and was famous for being an intermediary between contemporary English

in Beginning classical social theory
Marcel Stoetzle

wealth stemmed from agricultural trade with England. Tönnies’s father was a regular at the Hamburg stock exchange: a provincial kind of conservatism and commercial modernity were intertwined in their world. Tönnies studied classics and philosophy and moved towards social theory from political philosophy; he was a leading specialist on Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), the rationalist theorist of the modern state whom he considered to be the most important founding father of sociology. He was familiar with the philosophers of the Enlightenment, such as Hobbes, Hume and Spinoza

in Beginning classical social theory