Interpretative Origins of Classical Sociology

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In their efforts to define the boundaries of a new discipline, the founders of modern sociology – Durkheim, Simmel, and Weber – left a rich legacy of theoretical insights. This book seeks to trace the influence of a package of interpretative ideas – signs, representations, symbols, and meanings – on the issues addressed by the founders in the development of classical sociological theory.


“If the subject matter under study in the human sciences looks different depending on the perspective from which it is approached, then in what regard do such perspectives differ? They may of course lack congruity in many respects; however, a crucial distinction between them may be the criterion for what is real. In China we may observe surviving relatives burning cardboard miniature cars, television sets, or bogus bank notes on grave sites in order to bring their deceased loved ones into the possession of those items. In a Western setting someone very smart may obtain a piece of a host after it has been consecrated, subject it to chemical analysis and find no difference between it and hosts that have not been consecrated. What is reality to these people, orient or occident, and how do they test whether something is real or just imagined? And, most importantly, would they accept the notion that something may be real to me yet not real to you? From William James to Erving Goffman a key question in the context of interpretation has been: Under what condition do people think things are real?

Dr. Jules Wanderer has now presented a book on these and related problems. It is – using a familiar title of a book by Susan Sontag – sociology in a new key. Dr. Wanderer admirably avoids the frequent imposition that a book may be either learned and hard to read or composed in easy access language but superficial in content. Here is a very learned book that is delightful to read because of the clarity of language use. It tells an old story, one that dates back to Durkheim, Simmel, and Weber: The subject matter of the human sciences is dramatically different from what the natural sciences study in that human persons and groups are conscious of themselves – or at least they have that potential – while planets, molecules and atoms are not. This then not only justifies but even requires an epistemology which the human sciences cannot share with physics, astronomy, chemistry, or biology. It is these and other exciting issues that the present book addresses. It is – unfortunately – a very topical book, because, alas, the human sciences are at the brink of disowning their reputable past as disciplines of interpretation. This new book belongs in the hands of students of sociology, cultural anthropology, education, psychology, political science, social philosophy, economics and others; students who may want to share the wisdom of the past of their disciplines in order to be taken seriously in the debate about which direction to go in the future.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Dr. Horst J. Helle, Institute für Soziologie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität

“ ... Dr. Wanderer is a gifted writer. Not only is the prose engaging (the form), but the content is, too ... I believe this book would be a wonderful addition to a high-level (honors) sociology (or philosophy) class, a graduate class in social theory or symbolic-interaction. This book would be of great interest to any social theorist.” – Laurel Richardson, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University

“ ... The book succeeds on a number of levels that will make it useful for audiences across the social sciences and humanities. Since it offers very concise statements regarding a range of important theorists using very straightforward prose, it will appeal to graduate students (and even undergraduates) interest in social theory ... I found the book a very readable, reliable and discerning guide to the major theorists that I am most familiar with (Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Garfinkel, Giddens, Schutz, and to a lesser extent, Simmel), which gave me confidence in the author's claims about others (such as Freud and some of the early functionalists). Dr. Wanderer has been careful to flag extant controversies regarding theorists (providing additional sources where relevant), while offering documentary sources for challenging claims and left interpretations of thorny passages (that never overwhelm the narrative low of the text).” – Geoffrey Raymond, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Interpretative Sociological Theory
2. Founding a New Discipline
3. Weber's Development of Verstehende Sociology
4. Husserl's Intentional Theory
5. Schutz's Repair of Weber's Verstehende
6. Durkheim's Sociologism: Social Constructions of Reality
7. Simmel's "Forms of Experiencing"

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