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By ppk147 - Posted on 29 February 2008


December, 1965 Volume 30, No. 6     


PlTIRIM A. SOROKIN Harvard University Analytical-factfinding and synthesizing-generalizing periods alternate in the history of science and philosophy; at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century sociology has been predominantly synthesizing and generalizing, in the sociology of the last 40 or 5O years it has been preeminently analytical and fact-finding. Preoccupied mainly with techniques, narrow concrete problems and analytical theorising, detached from empirical realities, recent sociology has neither produced a great, synthesis nor discovered a great, empirical uniformity. United States theories and research represent mainly reiteration, variation, refinement, and verification of methods and theories developed by sociologists of the preceding period. Through em­pirical research, recent sociology has given us a fuller knowledge of a jew "specks" and dimensions of the total, immense, multidimensional sociocultural reality but it. has not sub­stantially increased our understanding of the total '"superorganic" reality. If sociology is going to grow as a basic science of sociocultural phenomena, it is bound to pass into a new synthesizing-generalizing phase. Empirical signs indicate that for several reasons this transi­tion has already begun. Stipulating certain conditions, we can reasonably expect a syn­thesizing sociology, unifying into a rich, logically and empirically valid system all the sound parts of the existing analytical theories and integrating all the little and "middle-range" uniformities of today's sociology.

Spencer, Tarde, Bernard, Whitehead, Berr and Joel noted a recurrent alter­nation of analytical, fact-finding pe­riods and generalizing or synthesizing periods in the history of science and philosophical thought.[1]In the terms of this theory, (the general sociology of the last 45 yeats or so (1920-1965) appears to be more analytical and fact-finding than the general sociology of the preceding period (1875-1920). Com­pared with the recent period, general soci­ology at the end of the I9th and the be­ginning of the 20th century was more productive in formulating vast sociological syntheses, in discovering broad uniformi­ties and trends, and in building grand sys­tems of sociology. Exemplified by the sys­tems of Spencer, Marx, Durkheim, Tarde, Weber, Scheler, Simmel, Spengler, Tdnnies, Ward, Sumner, Pareto, Ross and others, this period established and developed sociology as a generalizing science, boldly delineated its essential character, its subject-matter, tasks, and methods. Their synthesizing the­ories are still the basic framework and refer­ential systems for today's sociology.The diagnosis of contemporary sociology as predominantly analytical, elaborative, and fact-finding is derived from several of its essential characteristics.1.   In comparison with research done dur­ing the preceding period, recent sociological research has been directed more toward the techniques of investigation and somewhat less toward the discovery and formulation of substantive, broad theories concerning basic sociocultural problems.2.   The bulk of recent sociological re­search has dealt mainly with the compara­tively specific "microsociological" problems and only a minor part of it has investi­gated such "macrosociological" fundamental problems of sociocultural reality, as "civili­zations," "cultural systems and supersystems" or "global societies" and the social systems of history. This preoccupation with narrow, concrete phenomena has led many sociologists to take a negative attitude toward broad investigations of the basic so­ciocultural forms and processes, toward "grand systems of sociology," and toward philosophical analysis of the presuppositions and assumptions of empirical research.3.   The main body of current research represents mainly a reiteration, variation, refinement and verification of the methods and theories developed by sociologists of the preceding period, beginning with the Mecha­nistic and ending with the Sociologists schools.[2]  Almost all the technical refine­ments and the reformulations of previous theories and uniformities concern the sec­ondary features. Few of these improvements represent anything revolutionary or basi­cally new. They supply us with larger statis­tical samples and collections of "facts;" they suggest some refinements of the techniques of interviewing or questioning, statistical sampling, data processing and content anal­ysis, some elaboration of sociometric, psycho­metric, psychodramatic, "scalogrammatic," "group-dynamic," "operational," "projec­tive," "cybernetic," "semantic," "experi­mental," "functional-structural," and "ana­lytical" research; they furnish us with a number of formulae of uniformities, indexes, and tests, allegedly more "precise" than be­fore; and once in a while they offer an im­proved variation of a previous sociological theory. But when these refinements, im­provements, and reformulations are viewed in the light of the preceding currents of so­ciological thought, they turn out to be, at best, improvements of details only and sometimes no improvements at all. In spite of an enormous amount of sociological re­search done in this period, with a few ex­ceptions it has been a "pedestrian," "epi-gonic" and "Alexandrian" rather than a truly creative period. No new Platos and Aristotles, Newtons and Galileos of sociol­ogy have emerged during the period, nor even many leaders of the caliber of the eminent sociologists of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century— Spencer, Tarde, Durkheim, Weber, Pareto, Scheler, Spengler, Ward, Summer, W. I. Thomas, and the like. It remains "epigonic" also in its accentuation of "negative" social phenomena like crime, insanity, conflicts, and other forms of "sociocultural pathology" instead of a concentrating on such positive



"Each science has its eras of deductive reason­ing, and its eras when attention is chiefly directed to collecting and collating facts." Herbert Spencer, First Principles, New York: Appleton, 1SS8, p. 269."It is safe lo predict that a century of adjust­ment . . . will follow the century of discovery . . . Civilization requires that an afflux of discovery and an effort la harmonize discoveries shall coincide or follow one another." Gabriel Tarde, The Laws of Imitation (trans, hy Elsie Clews Parsons), New York: Henry Holt, 1903, pp. 151ff."Thus we observe experimentation and systematic theorizing  alternatively  succeeding   one   another


Analyzed in my Contemporary Sociological

“Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin: a giant of 20th century sociological thought" Robert K. Merton