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Study Both Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory

The study of sociological theory is a core component of modern sociological degree programs like the Northern Kentucky University (NKU) online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Sociology. NKU’s program includes courses in both classical sociological theory and contemporary sociological theory, covering the progression of the field from its inception to modern times. This comprehensive study of sociological perspectives over time gives students a broad understanding of the development of theories of social structure from the micro individual level to the macro societal level.

What Is the Role of Theory in Sociology?

Sociology focuses on the study of people in their social context as individuals, groups and societies. It is a scientific field, aimed at both quantitative and qualitative study of social structures and their effect on people and societies as a whole. This science is inherently empirical, based in observation and analysis. It is a living social science.

Understanding, developing and revising theories is an important part of the science. Theories inform and frame sociological research and analyzation and are the result of collective bodies of sociological findings. Contemporary theorizing helps to build consensus and generalizable knowledge in the field. Accordingly, students of sociology are often primarily concerned with studying present day culture and social issues through the lens of contemporary sociological thought.

Why Study Classical Theory?

If students of sociology focus on studying current social issues and contemporary thought, they may question the relevance and importance of studying classical sociological theory. But most contemporary sociological theory is in some part informed by or a reaction to various classical theories.

For example, conflict theory developed from the Marxist concept of oppressive social structures and social change which consisted of the wealthy, powerful minority exploiting the working majority as well as the revolution that Marx believed would arise from that. This basic concept of wealth and power inequality in social stratification (hierarchies of social and economic groups in a society) influenced many sociological theories to come, from critical theory to feminist theory as well as the theories of globalization so prevalent in modern sociology.

Lessons From Historical Context

The mention of modern day globalization brings up an important aspect of the relevance of classical sociological theories: historical context. From the chaos of the French Revolution informing Auguste Comte’s scientifically based theories to the Industrial Revolution and rise of capitalism informing Marxism to the Progressive Era spurring feminism, sociological theories developed from the context of their times. And these theories cannot be fully understood without examining their historical context.

Sociologists develop theories to make sense of and address current social issues. Transitions between traditional societal hierarchies of power and rule to those of nation states, colonialism and industrialized societies led to many classical theories. Current transitions to globalized industrialization and the impact of technological innovation inform modern societal issues of inequality and global forms of social stratification.

The social issues and problems of individuals and communities across the globe are becoming increasingly intertwined. This is the context of research and theory in present day sociology. The study of classical sociological theory in historical context as well as contemporary sociological theories within their contexts provides useful insight for sociologists. Applying this insight to the complex social issues of today’s globalized world is an essential part of modern sociology.

Learn more about the NKU online Bachelor of Science in Sociology program.


ThoughtCo.: Major Sociological Theories

ThoughtCo.: Feminist Theory in Sociology

ThoughtCo.: Sociology of Globalization

ThoughtCo.: Understanding Conflict Theory

ThoughtCo.: Understanding Critical Theory

Springer: Contemporary Sociological Theory

McGraw Hill: Classical Sociological Theory Contemporary vs. Classic Social Theory: Another Bogus Teaching Distinction

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