A definition of sociology

This post is about a qualitative and quantitative sociology of knowledge, applied to the gathering of intelligence for political and economic actors. Political actors are those motivated primarily by the acquiring of power. Economic actors are those motivated primarily by accumulation of capital. The following definition of sociology comes from this perspective.

Sociology is the study of how people interact with each other and with their context, and the patterns of behaviors these interactions come to produce. Talcott Parsons, an early American pioneer in cultivating a specifically sociological social science, offered that people interact in four broad senses: economically, politically, legally, and culturally. Future sociologists have not improved upon Parsons’ overall conception, as much as they have dispersed themselves within it, claiming territories of focus, often providing rich details of economic, political, and cultural behavior. May I suggest that sociological social science is at its best when it shows how interactions between dimensions (e.g. interactions between culture and politics and economics) explain the outcomes in question.

My own conception of sociology follows closely to Parsons’, which came to be called his AGIL model. I maintain four dimensions, only I merge legal interactions under the political, and introduce a specifically psychological dimension on a par with the cultural, the economic, and the political.

So my definition of sociological intelligence is that it is the explanation of human behavior in terms of economic, political, cultural, and psychological interactions.

Adding a psychological dimension to Parsons’ account helps explain a few key empirical outcomes we see in advanced capitalism. Namely the explosion on the scene of new communications media and intellectual property, and the resulting proliferation of symbolic forms of data. These relatively new institutions introduce a psychological, imagined, and/or knowledge-based basis to modern social structure, a theme that runs through Giddens, Bourdieu, Habermas, Alexander, and I would argue, Foucault.

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