The Open UniversitySkip to content
 

Sociology, what's it for? A critique of Gouldner'

Hammersley, Martyn (1999). Sociology, what's it for? A critique of Gouldner'. Sociological Research Online, 4(3)

URL: http://www.socresonline.org.uk/4/3/hammersley.html
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar

Abstract

In this paper I argue against the influential 'mission statement' offered by Alvin Gouldner in his book For Sociology. This treats the discipline as supplying a reflexive perspective on social life that will lead political action towards the realisation of Enlightenment ideals. I point out that Gouldner is inconsistently reflexive, preserving his own position from the corrosive effects of the kind of sociological analysis he applies in criticising others. I contrast this with the reflexivity advocated by Steve Woolgar, deriving from the sociology of scientific knowledge. Woolgar suggests that reflexivity is always selective, and that (contrary to Gouldner) there is no sociological essence to be realised. Instead, the task for sociologists is to construct and reconstruct both sociology and its context, so as to bring off a practically successful mode of knowledge production. I argue that while Woolgar's position points to some genuine problems, it too is unsatisfactory. This is because he shares with Gouldner the assumption that a sociological perspective can be the basis for action in the world; what might be called the 'grand conception' of its role. I conclude that a more modest approach is required, similar to the position taken by Max Weber. This treats sociology as no more than a source of specialised factual knowledge about the world. Its practical value is considerable, but nevertheless limited. Above all, it cannot offer a self-sufficient answer to questions about 'what's wrong?' or 'what is to be done?'.

Item Type: Journal Article
Copyright Holders: 1999 Sociological Research Online
ISSN: 1360-7804
Academic Unit/Department: Education and Language Studies > Childhood, Development and Learning
Interdisciplinary Research Centre: Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology (CREET)
Item ID: 20388
Depositing User: Users 9543 not found.
Date Deposited: 30 Apr 2010 15:15
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2010 20:49
URI: http://oro.open.ac.uk/id/eprint/20388
Share this page:

Actions (login may be required)

View Item
Report issue / request change

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   + 44 (0)870 333 4340   general-enquiries@open.ac.uk