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Social Theory, Social Research, and a Theory of Action

James S. Coleman
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 91, No. 6 (May, 1986), pp. 1309-1335
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2779798
Page Count: 27
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Social Theory, Social Research, and a Theory of Action
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Abstract

After an extraordinarily promising beginning in 1937 with The Structure of Social Action, Talcott Parsons abandoned his attempt to ground social theory in a theory of purposive action. The functionalism that resulted moved in one direction, while social research has progressively moved in an individual-behavioristic direction, resulting in an ever-widening divergence between research and theory. This paper describes paths in research and in theory development, that will reconstitute relevance of each for the other. The essential elements are two. The first is use of a theory of purposive action as a foundation for social theory; this entails acceptance of a form of methodological individualism and rejection of holism. The second is a focus in social research and theory on the movement from the level of individual actions to macrosocial functioning, that is, the level of system behavior.

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