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Nature of Sociological Theory





Different people see Sociological & theory in several ways. Differing people have regarded different facets of sociology as theory and students are also involved because their works derive from theories.

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

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

For Mennel a genuine sociological theory is formalized and finally testable explanations that are accumulated to a huge extent in the normal procedure for 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 region of sociology such as Urban sociology, Sociology of the Family, Political sociology etc. i. e. they could only cover an aspect of sociology and not all. They might be what R. K. Merton calls MIDDLE RANGE THEORIES, i. e. theories that are enthusiastic about specific or limited areas e. g Social roles.

Mennel goes on to ask the question, what's social theory in the customary sense. Sociological theory is an over-all collection to topics. it also will are the discussion of Some Epistemological issues such as what is science, what's sociological theory. Is it a science? Etc. this is what Stephen Mennel refers to as META THEORY. There is certainly 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 can handle empirical test themselves but are geared towards theories, We also wasn't to distinguish this type of theory from what's known a s BASK THEORY. It does not necessary need to be scientifically validated, i. e. it generally does not contain empirical components as it basis. Although the majority of the great Sociologists may have developed theory without going to test them. They ore more or less based on their experience or from reading.

Some writers have called the aforementioned type GRAND THEORY. This theory is concerned with providing a scheme that can be used to clarify the empirical data of research. This sort of theory will depend on interrelated construct, concepts, prepositions, scientific statements etc. that displays 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 which 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 clarify phenomenon. We might say at this point, that the two seems necessary to be able to give a concueate analysis of social reality. However, they may not be isolated from each. other.

Grand theory tends to be constructed on abstract conditions and we may question what procedure for abstraction will it directed at the understanding of the whole social process. Empirically. based theory comes from solely from the info collected from social processes.

For Goode and Hatt:. . . . a theory states a logical relationship between facts. Out of 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 numerous others as well, a hypothesis is a minor theory. it "states what" were looking for" and "Causes an empiritical test". It is a proposition competent to empirical verification but not yet verified.

It is apparent at there exists more a semblance of circularity in the reasoning of these who discuss the partnership between a theory and a hypothesis. It really 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 just how these 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 for some areas of the social world. Thus one can produce specific theories from a particular perspectives e. g. the idea of segmenting opposition and Merton's social structure and anomie theory fall within the functional perspective. A theory can be seen as a logically steady statement of causal laws. Causal laws ore statements of regularities in concomitant occurrences between antecedents and events. The question we ought to be asking ourselves is, Are we tied to the procedure 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 concrete data for the grand theory and helps the researcher create a conceptual framework.

The word 'theory' derives its meanings and consumption from an individual. To call a statement a theory may also be designed to increase its value by suggesting which it goes beyond 'mere facts' e. g whenever a person says I hove a theory about James he means that he cannot be deceived by him. But sometimes, the word theory as obviously used to lessen the value of the speculative idea by denying it an in depth connection with reality. On this sense it is often asserted "tings are all right theoretically" however, not in practice.

Theories could have no value if they did not go beyond facts. Fact is only statements which we believe to bear truth about particular events that have occurred.

Theories ore not designed to be about particular events but about the complete categories of events, it is normally said that Theories or some theories are only general facts.

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

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

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

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

In the ultimate analysis, the criterion of a adaptability is the capacity for survival 1. e. One does not really know how adoptable a species is until you have already observed its Capacity for survival. The fact that such a theory is not strictly testable does no imply that it offers little value. Its values lies in directing inquiries of the students of evolution Together other theories, a few of which can be highly testable it includes helped evolutionary biologists to clarify a good deal.

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


Cohen; (1968) in his publication Modern Social Theory out lined four broad types of theories and they're the following: -

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

These are like theories of mathematics or logic which might state nothing about real life but contain some sets of axiomatic statements that happen to be true by definition and that other statements ore derived for example Adam Smith's their on human economy which stress that individuals have a tendency to maximize their gains while minimizing their losses.


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


These are theories which are beyond the senses quite simply, they haven't any 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). As of this simplest, it has this form e. g. whenever x occurs they Y occur X = Y.

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

If theories go beyond facts, they need to have a reference to reality. Hence no experience of the truth is worth recording, or could be recorded if it's not for theories.

The most elementary theories, which we use a re embedded inside our language. All language must use certain universal, categories; and to use a universal category is in effect to employ a theory. If for example It says' that 'James is a deviant presume certain universal characteristics associated with deviance, instead of 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 will need to have the data 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 annals of sociological theoretical endeavours using 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 couple of prepositions complying ideally with the next conditions;

  1. The propositions must be placed in terms of exactly defined concepts.
  2. They must be consistent with each other.
  3. They must be such that from them the prevailing generalization could be deductively derived.
  4. They must be fruitful i. e. show the best 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 can be 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 really is needful to odd that lots of sociological theories do not meet up with the ideal conditions of science (i. e. universality, empruism, and causality).


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

  1. Sociological theories attempts to clarify and investigate problems, issues or events within the context of observable social phenomenon, they try to offer scientific and theoretical explanation which based on 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. Nobody theory con interest or clarify a complete social phenomenon (like the Grand Theory by TALCOTT PARSONS and middle range theories by ROBERT K. MERTON) for example, DEMOGRAPHISM as a sociological perspective can be involved with man's various responses caused by upsurge 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 aren't merely thoughts or speculations. They aren't "armed chair theories" but are based on observable facts that can be subjected to scientific observation and analysis. They can be thoughts backed by verified fact or knowledge.
  4. Sociological theories will state scietific and observable relationships between variables usually between your dependent and independent variables.

independent Variable -independent Variable


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

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


Theories in virtually 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 boost 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 need for precision theoretically 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 offer an initial basis for choice between competing hypothesis.


The Problems of Order

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

It is for certain that people in most societies desire order, they might not exactly accept any sort of order by any means. The fact that order is desired by many will not justify its central position in sociological theory.

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

  1. Order is itself something positive, and its opposites only conceivable in terms of computer.
  2. The very notion 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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