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Getting Sociology Right

A Half-Century of Reflections

Neil J. Smelser

Publication Year: 2014

Neil J. Smelser, one of the most important and influential American sociologists, traces the discipline of sociology from 1969 to the early twenty-first century in Getting Sociology Right: A Half-Century of Reflections. By examining sociology as a vocation and building on the work of Talcott Parsons, Smelser discusses his views on the discipline of sociology, and how his perspective of the field evolved in the postwar era.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction (2013)

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pp. 1-12

Over a period of nearly four decades covering most of my professional career (1967–2005) I wrote a dozen-plus essays on the nature, status, methodology, problems, current situation, and future of the academic discipline of sociology. The topics of these essays were very different from one...

Part I: Early Searching

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1. The Optimum Scope of Sociology (1969)

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pp. 15-34

The word optimum in the title of this communication to my colleagues suggests two guidelines that I shall follow. First, the word implies that sociologists have a number of different ways to define the scope of the field and that some ways are better than others. It suggests, therefore, that I should strike an evaluative note in this...

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2. Sociology and the Other Social Sciences (1967)

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pp. 35-81

An inquisitive layman will often ask a sociologist, “What is sociology, anyway?” The question is not an easy one. Moreover, after the sociologist replies—usually haltingly and in general terms—the layman may pose a second question, such as “Well, how is that different from social psychology...

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3. Some Personal Thoughts on the Pursuit of Sociological Problems (1969)

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pp. 82-102

The editors have invited us to try our hands in the search for that elusive phantom, “The Craft of Sociology.” Even worse, they have given us complete freedom, except for suggesting that we might wish to venture both some biographical observations and some reflections on the state of the...

Part II: Later Explorations

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4. Biography, the Structure of Explanation, and the Evaluation of Research in Sociology (1980)

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pp. 105-115

One of the maxims that my teacher and friend Talcott Parsons was fond of repeating was this: in dealing with any theoretical topic, it never fails to repay one’s efforts to go first to the great classical thinkers on that topic. Parsons himself observed that principle repeatedly, revisiting and recasting...

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5. External Influences on Sociology (1990)

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pp. 116-130

It is common—and helpful—to distinguish between internal or autonomous forces that shape the development of scientific inquiry on the one hand and those that arise externally in the cultural and social milieus of that scientific enterprise on the other. By the former we refer to the power...

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6. Sociology’s Next Decades: Centrifugality, Conflict, Accommodation (1990)

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pp. 131-147

Within the past two years, a book bearing the title of The Future of Sociology (Borgatta and Cook 1988a) made its appearance. In that volume, some thirty sociologists surveyed the present and gazed into the future. Some commented on the field as a whole; some on institution-based...

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7. Sociology as Science, Humanism, and Art (1994)

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pp. 148-162

It was about 150 years ago that William Graham Sumner was born, the son of an English machinist who endowed him with a work ethic, a sense of personal integrity, and a stubborn independence from the world—qualities that were cloned on the son in such a way that they were never...

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8. Problematics in the Internationalization of Social Science Knowledge (1991)

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pp. 163-190

My objective in this essay is to develop a statement of those conditions that facilitate and those that obstruct the internationalization of social science knowledge. The topic merits investigation, if for no other reason than that the internationalization of culture of all forms is an increasingly...

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9. Social Sciences and Social Problems: The Next Century (1995)

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pp. 191-209

Those with memory inform me that Vannevar Bush was not fond of the social sciences. To quote a historian of science writing on the fortieth anniversary of his famous report to President Truman, “[Bush] disrespected the social sciences intellectually and regarded them for the most...

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10. The Questionable Logic of “Mistakes” in the Dynamics of Knowledge Growth in the Social Sciences (2005)

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pp. 210-232

Upon receiving an invitation to contribute to this special issue on errors in science, I immediately responded to the editors that I did not wish to do so because it was a big mistake to think that the logic of “big mistakes” applies to the history and dynamics of the behavioral and social sciences...

Part III: Some Recent Reflections

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11. Looking Back at Twenty-Five Years of Sociology and the Annual Review of Sociology (1999)

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pp. 235-257

In accepting the assignment for this essay I did not realize how complex it would turn out to be. If I had been given two or three times the space allotted, it would not have sufficed. Accordingly, I have had to be schematic in preparing my remarks. I will limit my comments to six...

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12. Sociological and Interdisciplinary Adventures: A Personal Odyssey (2000)

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pp. 258-298

Every academic discipline, including those in the behavioral and social sciences,* presents a number of tensions that its practitioners must resolve, if only implicitly and by indecision. Three of these tensions are particularly salient for this essay...

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Afterword (2013)

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pp. 299-314

A dozen years have elapsed since the publication, in 2000, of chapter 12 on disciplinarity-interdisciplinarity. That passage of time alone calls for some reflection, updating, and revision of observations made in the accumulated essays on sociology and the social sciences. In 2001 I retired as director of the Center for Advanced Study in the...


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pp. 315-325

E-ISBN-13: 9780520958487
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520282070

Page Count: 305
Publication Year: 2014