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Nature of Sociological Theory

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2892 words Published: 11th Jan 2018

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Different people see Sociological & theory in different ways. Different people have regarded different aspects of sociology as theory and students are also involved because their works are based on theories.

How do we define a theory? In other to give an answer to this question, we must have some definition which must help us in this task.

Mennell, S. (1972) distinguished what a theory should be and what by convention is named Sociological theory. He started by saying that sociology theory in some cases is not sociological theory. What this means is that, it deals in most cases with a body of ideas attached to theory, and this is not always their in the strict Sense of it.

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For Mennel a real sociological theory is formalized and ultimately testable explanations which are accumulated to a large extent in the ordinary process of Sociology Research i.e. sociological theory must be related to Sociological Research. Our theories may only try to explain limited and specific properties of reality. They may belong to some or all area of sociology such as Urban sociology, Sociology of the Family, Political sociology etc. i.e. they may only cover an aspect of sociology and not all. They may be what R.K. Merton calls MIDDLE RANGE THEORIES, i.e. theories that are interested in specific or limited areas e.g Social roles.

Mennel goes on to ask the question, what is social theory in the customary sense. Sociological theory is a general collection to topics. it also tends to include the discussion of Some Epistemological issues such as what is science, what is sociological theory. Is it a science? Etc. this is what Stephen Mennel refers to as META THEORY. There is another category which Mennel calls PARA-THEORY. He got this from the works of Ralph Dorhendorf. He defines it as all statement before, around and after Sociological theory which are capable of empirical test themselves but are geared towards theories, We also wasn’t to distinguish this type of theory from what is known a s BASK THEORY. It does not necessary have to be scientifically validated, i.e. it does not contain empirical components as it basis. Although most of the great Sociologists may have developed theory without going on to test them. They ore more or less based on their experience or from reading.

Some writers have called the above type GRAND THEORY. This theory is concerned with providing a scheme that can be used to explain the empirical data of research. This type of theory depends on interrelated construct, concepts, prepositions, scientific statements etc. that presents a systematic view of phenomenon by specifying relationship among variables with the purpose of explaining and predicting phenomenon. This type of their is based on data collected from society and it is usually used in explaining certain segments of social reality. We may s ay that Grand theory is based on abstractive ideologies, patterns and principles which undering given nature and social world order i.e. it is global scheme. Ware as empirically based theory concentrates on formulating, generalizing from specific data in other to explain phenomenon. We may say at this point, that the two seems necessary in order to provide a concueate analysis of social reality. However, they may not be isolated from each. other.

Grand theory tends to be constructed on abstract terms and we may question what process of abstraction does it given to the understanding of the whole social process. Empirically. based theory is derived solely from the data collected from social processes.

For Goode and Hatt:…. a theory states a logical relationship between facts. From this theory other prepositions can be deduced that should be true, if the first relationship holds. These d educed propositions are hypotheses. To them, and to many others as well, a hypothesis is a minor theory. it “states what” were looking for” and “Leads to an empiritical test”. It is a proposition capable to empirical verification but not yet verified.

It is apparent at there is more then a semblance of circularity in the reasoning of those who discuss the relationship between a theory and a hypothesis. It is commonly claimed that all “scientific” hypotheses arc- derivations from empirically supportable theory. It is also typically asserted that every theory had its beginnings in on hypothesis. Hence, one mans hypothesis may be another’s theory. It all depends on the aim and ingenuity of the investigator.

Scientific theories are logical systems of propositions which attempt to account for why phenomena ore the way they are and predict their behaviour. Theories are built of data generated, for example Mertonian paradigms and sociological perspectives are synonymous. The direct data generation and theorizing efforts to some aspects of the social world. Thus one can produce specific theories from a particular perspectives e.g. the theory of segmenting opposition and Merton’s social structure and anomie theory fall within the functional perspective. A theory can also be seen as a logically consistent statement of causal laws. Causal laws ore statements of regularities in concomitant occurrences between antecedents and events. The question we should be asking ourselves is, Are we limited by the process of data collection? We have to have a facilitating relationship between the two. Theories which are based on empirical footing helps to direct the grand theory and provides concrete data for the grand theory and helps the researcher develop a conceptual framework.

The word ‘theory’ derives its meanings and usage from the user. To call a statement a theory is sometimes intended to increase its value by suggesting that it goes beyond ‘mere facts’ e.g when a person says I hove a theory about James he means that he cannot be deceived by him. But sometimes, the word theory as clearly used to reduce the value of a speculative idea by denying it a close connection with reality. In this sense it is often asserted “tings are all right in theory” but not in practice.

Theories would have no value if they did not go beyond facts. Facts are nothing more than statements which we believe to bear truth about particular events which have occurred.

Theories ore not meant to be about particular events but about the whole categories of events, it is generally said that Theories or some theories are nothing but general facts.

A statement general fact would be either a shorthand or number of statements of the same kind or type, a general statements of the characteristics of a type of events.

It is true that all theories go beyond facts; however not all statement which go beyond facts are theories. For example if say that, the colonial masters colonized Nigeria, and established a foreign culture that would otherwise not have developed. I am going beyond facts, but no one can know what culture would have developed if there had been no Colonization in the first instance.

However, one can guess, and ones guess is an hypothesis. This guess is not a theory; because it stated something about particular events or particular complexes or events but it states nothing in general about the characteristics of colonial domination.

To be testable this theory would have to state the kind of evidence that could be treated as refuting it. Instances of species which have survived being w c-Il adapted to particular environment or instances of Species which were well adapted to a particular environment but which had not survived.

In the final analysis, the criterion of a adaptability is the capacity for survival 1.e. One does not really know how adoptable a species is until one has already observed its Capacity for survival. The fact that such a theory is not strictly testable does no mean that it has little value. Its values lies in directing inquiries of the students of evolution In conjunction other theories, some of which are highly testable it has helped evolutionary biologists to explain a great deal.

Its own role is programmatic, it says if you are making enquires of this kind, makes a species more or less adaptable table in a particular environment This has proved useful. This example removed the assumption that if is only the social sciences attempt to be satisfied or utilize theories which ore not strictly testable.


Cohen; (1968) in his book Modern Social Theory out lined four broad types of theories and they are as follows: –

  1. Analytical Theory
  2. Normative Theory
  3. Metaphysical theory
  4. Scientific theory

These are like theories of mathematics or logic which may state nothing about the real world but consist of some sets of axiomatic statements which are true by definition and from which other statements ore derived for example Adam Smith’s their on human economy which stress that people tend to maximize their gains while minimizing their losses.


These theory elaborates a set of ideal state of which one may aspire for example, ideologist fall within this category Normative theories are subjective in the sense that they deal with the ideal or what ought to be rather than what is.


These are theories which are beyond the senses in other words, they have no empirical foundation. A good example is Darwin’s theory on Evolution of man and Malthusian’s theory of population.


This is ideally a universal empirical statement which exacts a causal connection between two or more variables (or types of events). At this simplest, it has this form e.g. whenever x occurs they Y occur X = Y.

Scientific theories are universal because it state something about the condition under which some events or types of events always occur

If theories go beyond facts, they must have a connection with reality. Hence no experience of reality is worth recording, or could be recorded if it is not for theories.

The most elementary theories, which we use a re embedded in our language. All language must use certain universal, categories; and to use a universal category is in effect to use a theory. If for example It says’ that ‘James is a deviant presume certain universal characteristics associated with deviance, as opposed to conformity.

Without universal categories there will he no communication, without communication there will be no culture, no society, no science, no technology, no shored experience of die world of reality. Theoretical consideration end theoretical concepts, implicit or explicit have an essential rule in shaping the direction of research, in direction observation an and in guiding description itself,

For a theory to be used wisely with sharp awareness, awareness users must have the knowledge of its nature and of its varieties. We need to know its concepts and diverse terminological forms they take.

We should be familiar with the history of sociological theoretical endeavours with its changing emphasis, its successes and failure, and its promise for the future, These in themselves constitute the subject matter of the studying of sociological theories.


Theory is a set of prepositions complying ideally with the following conditions;

  1. The propositions must be put in terms of exactly defined concepts.
  2. They must be consistent with one another.
  3. They must be such that from them the existing generalization could be deductively derived.
  4. They must be fruitful i.e. show the way to further observation and generalizations were increasing the scope of knowledge.

From the foregoing, sociological theory can be understood in the sense in which the word theory is used in other sciences. Hence it is;

‘a structure of systematically organized law like propositions about society that con be supported by evidence.

The aim a sociological theory from the foregoing is explanation that goes beyond description and systematic definition (or taxonomy). Some characteristics of sociological theory. It is needful to odd that many sociological theories do not meet the ideal criteria of science (i.e. universality, empruism, and causality).


Theories are thoughts and ideas used to explain particular Social phenomenon or situations in society. It is a set of systematically relatered propositions a imed at explaining a particular situation. They are thoughts, ideas, or conceptual schemes used to solve societal problems. A theory is good and useful when it is able to solve problems successfully.

  1. Sociological theories attempts to explain and investigate problems, issues or events within the context of observable social phenomenon, they attempt to offer scientific and theoretical explanation which on the basis of the past have immediate applicability and are also capable of application to similar problems in the future. All theories attempt more than anything also the question “Why”.
  2. All contemporary sociological theories are selective in their analysis of social phenomenon. No one theory con interest or explain a total social phenomenon (such as the Grand Theory by TALCOTT PARSONS and middle range theories by ROBERT K. MERTON) for example, DEMOGRAPHISM as a sociological perspective is concerned with man’s various responses caused by increase in population. Then TECHNOLOG1SM emphasizes the effect of technology on man and social organization, while ECOLOGISM emphasizes the influence of non human environmental on human behaviour.
  3. Contemporary sociological theories must be empirically grounded. They are not merely thoughts or speculations. They are not “armed chair theories” but are based on observable facts that can be subjected to scientific observation and analysis. They are thoughts backed by verified fact or knowledge.
  4. Sociological theories tends to state scietific and observable relationships between variables usually between the dependent and independent variables.

independent Variable -independent Variable


  1. All sociological theories attempts to solve the problem of order in the society,
  2. All contemporary sociological theories deal with social phenomenon that are either imposed or generated by the individuals and these imposed or generated phenomena must either be subjective or objective.

Finally, any sociological theory that does not fall into these set of categories is not qualified to be called a sociological theory.


Theories in any discipline have certain function which they perform in investigation info societal problems,

  1. It extends the Scope of the original empirical findings by showing the interrelationship between various variables.
  2. It provides facts for the accumulation of both theory and research findings.
  3. If increase the fruitfulness of research through the successive exploration of the implicajiohs of research findings.
  4. lt introduces a ground for the predictions.
  5. It entails precision which is derivable from test-ability or verification The importance of precision in theory was stated by R.K, Merton when he wrote those theories which admits a precise precision confirmed by observation taken on strategic importance since they provide an initial basis for choice between competing hypothesis.


The Problems of Order

To take the position that sociological theory centers around the problem of social order may result into laying criticism of conservation ideological bias. To those who sees conflict, they will assume that the position presents or emphasizes order and affirms its desirability.

It is certain that people in most societies desire order, they may not accept any kind of order at all cost. The fact that order is desired by many does not justify its central position in sociological theory.

When order is presented as being at the centre of sociological theory it is done so because of the following

  1. Order is itself something positive, and its opposites only conceivable in terms of it.
  2. The very idea of human society presupposes order.
  3. The existence of social order is problematic and cannot be taken for grated.
  4. The investigation of the problem of order illuminates (or shows) the nature of disorder in its various aspects.


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