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AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW

December, 1964 Volume 29, No. S

BRINGING MEN BACK IN *


GEOKGE C . HOHANS
Harvard University

A theory of a phenomenon is an explanation of it, shottmg how it foUows as a conclusion


from general propositions in a deductive system. With all its empirical achievements, the
functional school never produced a theory thai was also an explanation, since jrom its general
propositions about the conditions of social equilibrium no definite conclusions could be drawn.
When a serious effort is made, even by functionalists, to construct an explanatory theory, its
general propositions tum out to be psychologicalpropositions about the behavior of men,
not the equilibrium of societies.

I AM going to talk about an issue we have


worried over many times. I have wor-
ried over it myself. But I make no ex-
cuses for taking it up again. Although it
THE INTERESTS OF FUNCTIONALISM

I begin by reminding you of the chief


interests and assumptions of fimctionalism,
is an old issue, it is still not a settled one, especially as contrasted with what it was
and I think it is the most general inteUectual not interested in and took for granted,
issue in sociology. If I have only one chance for the questions it did not ask have re-
to speak ex cathedra, I cannot afford to turned to plague it. If what I say seems
say something innocuous. On the contrary, a caricature, remember that a caricature
now if ever is the time to be nocuous. emphasizes a person's most characteristic
features.
In the early 'thirties a distinct school of
First, the school took its start from the
sociological thought was beginning to form.
study of norms, the statements the members
Its chief, though certainly not its only, in-
of a group make about how they ought to
tellectual parents were Durkheim and Rad-
behave, and indeed often do behave, in
diffe-Brown. I call it a sch(X)l, though not
various circumstances. It was especially
all its adherents accepted just the same
interested in the duster of norms called
tenets; and many sociologists went ahead
a role and in the duster .of roles called an
and made great progress without giving
institution. It never tired of asserting that
a thought to it. The school is usually called
its concern was with institutionalized be-
that of structural-functionalism, or func-
havior, and that the unit of social analysis
tionalism for short. For a whole generation
was not the acting individual but the role.
it has been the dominant, indeed the only
The school did not ask why there should
distinct, school of sociological thought. I
be roles at all.
think it has run its course, done its work,
Second, the school was empirically in-
and now positively gets in the way of our
terested in the interrelations of roles, the
understanding social phenomena. And I
interrelations of institutions: this was the
propose to ask. Why?
structural side of its work. It was the sort
of thing the social anthroptologists had been
Presidential Address delivered at the annual doing, showing how the institutions of a
meeting of the American Sociological Association
in Montreal, September 2, 1964. primitive society fitted together; and the
810 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW
sociologists extended the effort to advanced whether their consequences are good or
societies. They would point out, for instance, bad for the society as a whole. At any rate,
that the nuclear family rather than some the empirical interests of functionalism
form of extended kinship was characteristic have led to an enormous amount of good
of industrialized societies. But they were work. Think only of the studies made by
more interested in establishing what the in- Murdock ' and others on the cross-cultural
terrelations of institutions were than in why interrelations of institutions.
they were so. In the beginning the analyses As it began to crystallize, the functional
tended to be static, as it is more convincing school developed theoretical interests as
to speak of a social structure in a society well as empirical ones. There was no ne-
conceived to be stable than in one under- cessity for the two to go together, and the
going rapid change. Recently the school British social anthro]x>logists remained
has turned to the study of social change, relatively untheoretical. Not so the Ameri-
but in so doing it has had to take up the can sociologists, particularly Talcott Par-
question it disregarded earlier. If an insti- sons, who claimed that they were not only
tution is changing, one can hardly avoid theorists but something called general theo-
asking why it is changing in one direction rists, and strongly emphasized the impor-
rather than another. tance of theory.
Third, the school was, to put it crudely, Theirs was to be, moreover, a certain
more interested in the consequences than kind of theory. They were students of Durk-
io the causes of an institution, particularly heim and took seriously his famous defini-
in the consequences for a social system con- tion of social facts: "Since their essential
sidered as a whole. These consequences characteristic consists in the power they
were the functions of the institution. Thus possess of exerting, from outside, a pressure
the members of the school never tired of on individual consciousnesses, they do not
pointing out the functions and dysfunctions derive from individual consciousnesses, and
of a status system, without asking why a in consequence sociology is not a corollary
status system should exist in the first place, of psychology." - Since Durkheim was a
why it was there to have functions. They great man, one can find statements in his
were especially interested in showing how writings that have quite other implications,
its institutions helped maintain a society but this caricature of himself was the one
in equilibrium, as a going concern. The that made the difference. If not in what
model for research was Durkheim's effort they said, then surely in what they did,
to show, in The Elementary Forms of the the functionalists took Durkheim seriously.
Religious Life, how the religion of a primi- Their fundamental unit, the role, was a
tive tribe helped hold the tribe together. social fact in Durkheim's sense. And their
Such were the empirical interests of func- theoretical program assumed, as he did,
tionalism. As empirically I have been a that sociology should be an independent
functionalist myself, I shall be the last to science, in the sense that its propositions
quarrel with them. It is certainly one of should not be derivable from some other
the jobs of a sociologist to discover what social science, such as psychology. This
the norms of a society are. Though a role meant, in effect, that the general proposi-
is not actual behavior, it is for some pur- tions of sociology were not to be proposi-
poses a useful simplification. Institutions tions about the behavior of "individual
are interrelated, and it is certainly one of consciousnesses"or, as I should say, about
the jobs of a sociologist to show what the menbut propositions about the character-
interrelations are. Institutions do have con- istics of societies or other social groups as
sequences, in the sense that, if one institution such.
may be taken as given, the other kinds of
institution that may exist in the society are
probably not infinite in nimiber. It is cer- 1 George P. Murdock, Social Structure, New
tainly one of the jobs of a sociologist to York: Macmillan, 1949.
search out these consequences and even, *mile Durkheim, Lfs rigUs de la mitkode
sodologiqut (8th ed.), Paris: Alcan, 1927, pp. 124-
though this is more difficult, to determine 12S.
BRINGING MEN BACK IN 811
Where functionalism failed was not in its answer to the question as they have now.*
empirical interests but, curiously, in what it But even then, the functionalists could
most prided itself on, its general theory. have done better than they did, and cer-
Let me be very careful here. In a recent tainly the excuse is valid no longer. Today
Presidential Address, Kingsley Davis as- we should stop talking to our students about
serted that we are all functionalists now,* sociological theory until we have taught
and there is a sense in which he was quite them what a theory is.
right. But note that he was talking about A theory of a phenomenon consists of \
functional analysis. One carries out func- a series of propositions, each stating a re-
tional analysis when, starting from the ex- lationship between properties of nature.
istence of a particular institution, one tries But not every kind of sentence qualifies as
to find out what difference the institution such a proposition. The propositions do
makes to the other aspects of social struc- not consist of definitions of the properties:
ture. That is, one carries out the empirical the construction of a conceptual scheme
program of functionalism. Since we have is an indispensable part of theoretical work
all learned to carry out functional analyses, but is not itself theor>'. Nor may a proposi-
we are in this sense all functionalists now. tion simply say that there is some relation-
But functional analysis, as a method, is ship between the prof>erties. Instead, if
not the same thing as functional theory. there is some change in one of the proper-
And if we are all functional analysts, we ties, it must at least begin to specify what
are certainly not all functional theorists. the change in the other prop>erty will be.
Count me out, for one. If one of the properties is absent, the other
The only inescapable office of theory ^ will also be absent; or if one of the propjer-
is to explain. The theory of evolution is ^ Ues increases in value, the other will too.
an explanation why and how evolution oc- The prop)erties, the variables, may be prob-
curs. To look for the consequences of in- abilities.
stitutions, to show the interrelationships Accordingly, to take a famous example,
of institutions is not the same thing as ex- Marx's statement that the economic organi-
plaining why the interrelationships are what zation of a society determines the nature
they are. The question is a practical and of its other institutions is an immensely
not a philosophical onenot whether it useful guide to research. For it says: "Look
is legitimate to take the role as the funda- for the social consequences of economic
mental unit, nor whether institutions are change, and if you look, you will surely find
really real, but whether the theoretical them!" But it is not the sort of proposition
program of functionalism has in fact led that can enter a theory. For by itself it says
to explanations of social phenomena, in- only that, if the economic infrastructure
cluding the findings of functional analysis changes, there will be some change in the
itself. Nor is the question whether function- social superstructure, without beginning to
alism might not do so, but whether it has suggest what the latter change will be. Most
done so as of today. I think it has not. of the sentences of sociology, alleged to be
theoretical, resemble this one of Marx's,
yet few of our theorists realize it. And while
THE NATURE OF THEORY
we are always asking that theory guide re-
With all their talk about theory, the search, we forget that many statements like
functionalists neverand I speak ad- Marx's are good guides to research without
visedlysucceeded in making clear what being good theory.
a theory was. It must be allowed in their To constitute a theory, the propositions
excuse that, in the early days, the philoso- must take the form of a deductive system. \
phers of science had not given as clear an One of them, usually called the lowest-order
proposition, is the proposition to be ex-
"The M>'th of Functional Analysis as a Special
Method in Sociology and Anthropology," American See especially R. B. Braithwaite, Scientific
Sociological Review, 24 (December, 19S9), pp. 757- Explanation, Cambridge: Cambridge University
773. Press, 1953.
812 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW
plained, for example, the proposition that tion of functionalism. Instead it belongs
the more thoroughly a society is industrial- to the class of psychological propositions.
ized, the more fully its kinship organization Nor is the statement that one institution
tends towards the nuclear family. The other i.s a function of another, in the qua.si-mathe-
propositions are either general propositions matical sense of function, characteristic.
or statements of particular given conditions. Though many functional theorists make
The general propositions are so called be- such statements, non-functionalists like my-
cause they enter into other, perhaps many self may also make them without a qualm.
other, deductive systems besides the one The characteristic general propositions of
in question. Indeed, what we often call a functional theory in sociology take the form:
theory is a duster of deductive systems, "If it is to survive, or remain in equilibrium,
sharing the same general propositions but a social systemany social systemmust
having different expUcanda. The crucial possess institutions of T\TeX." For instance,
requirement is that each system shall be if it is to survive or remain in equilibrium,
deductive. That is, the lowest-order propo- a society must possess conflict-resolving
sition follows as a logical conclusion from institutions. By general propositions of this
the general propositions under the specified sort the functionalists sought to meet Durk-
given conditions. The reason why statements heim's demand for a truly independent
like Marx's may not enter theories is that sociological theory.
no definite conclusions may in logic be The problem was, and is, to construct
drawn from them. When the lowest-order deductive systems headed by such proposi-
proposition does follow logically, it is said tions. Take first the terms equilibrium and
to be explained. The explanation of a phe- survival. If the theorist chose equilibrium,
nomenon is the theory of the phenomenon. he was able to provide no criterion of social
A theory is nothingit is not a theory equilibrium, especially "dynamic" or "mov-
imless it is an explanation. ing" equilibrium, definite enough to allow
One may define properties and categories, anything specific to be deduced in logic
and one still has no theorj'. One may state from a proposition employing the term. I
\
that there are relations between the proper- shall give an example later. When indeed
ties, and one still has no theory. One may was a society not in equilibrium? If the
state that a change in one property will theorist chose survival, he found this, too,
produce a definite change in another prop>- surprisingly hard to define. Did Scotland,
erty, and one still has no theory. Not until for instance, survive as a society? Though
one has properties, and propositions stat- it had long been united with England, it
ing the relations between them, and the still possessed distinctive institutions, legal
propositions form a deductive system and religious. If the theorist took survival
not imtil one has all three does one have a in the strong sense, and said that a society
theory. Most of our arguments about theory had not surN'ived if all its members had
would fall to the ground, if we first asked died without issue, he was still in trouble.
whether we had a theory to argue about. As far as the records went, the very few
societies of this sort had possessed institu-
FUNCTIONAL THEORIES
tion of all the types the functionalists said
were necessary for survival. The evidence
As a theoretical effort, functionalism never put in question, to say the least, the empiri-
came near meeting these conditions. Even cal truth of the functionalist propositions.
if the functionalists had seriously tried to Of course the functionalists were at liberty
meet them, which they did not, I think to say: "If a society is to survive, its mem-
they would still have failed. The difficulty bers must not all be shot dead," which was
lay in the characteristic general propositions true as true could be but allowed little to
of functionalism. A proposition is not func- be deduced about the social characteristics
tional just because it uses the word function. of surviving societies.
To say that a certain institution is func- Indeed the same was true of the other
tional for individual men in the sense of meet- functional propositions. Even if a statement
ing their needs is not a characteristic proposi- like: "If it is to survive, a society must
BRINGING MEN BACK IN 813
possess conflict-resolving institutions," were I have said that the question is not whe-
accepted as testable and true, it possessed ther, in general, functional theories can be
little explanatory power. From the proposi- real theories, for there are sciences that
tion the fact could be deduced that, given possess real functional theories. The ques-
a certain society did survive, it did possess tion is rather whether this particular effort
conflict-resolving institutions of some kind, was successful. If a theory is an explana-
and the fact was thus explained. What tion, the functionalists in sociology were,
remained unexplained was why the society on the evidence, not successful. Perhaps
bad conflict-resolving institutions of a par- they could not have been successful; at
ticular kind, why, for instance, the jury was any rate they were not. The trouble vdth
an ancient feature of Anglo-Saxon legal their theory was not that it was wrong, I
institutions. I take it that what sociology but that it was not a theory.
has to explain are the actual features of
actual societies and not just the generalized
AN ALTERNATIVE THEORY
(features of a generalized society.
I do not think that members of the func- Here endeth the destructive part of the
tional school could have set up, starting lesson. I shall now try to show that a more
with general propositions of their distinc- successful effort to explain social phenomena
tive type, theories that were also deductive entails the construction of theories different
systems. More important, they did not. from fimctional ones, in the sense that their
Recognizing, perhaps, that they were blocked general propositions are of a different kind,
in one direction, some of them elaborated precisely the kind, indeed, that the func-
what they called theory in another. They tionalists tried to get away from. I shall
used what they asserted were a limited and try to show this for the verj' phenomena
exhaustive number of functional problems the functionalists took for granted and the \
faced by any society to generate a com- very relations they discovered empirically. ^
plex set of categories in terms of which I shall even try to show that, when func-
social structure could be analyzed. That is, tionalists took the job of explanation seri-
I they set up a conceptual scheme. But anal- ously, which they sometimes did, this other
'ysis is not explanation, and a conceptual kind of theory' would appear unacknowl-
scheme is not a theory. They did not fail edged in their own work.
to make statements about the relations be- The functionalists insisted over and over
tween the categories, but most of the state- again that the minimum unit of social I
ments resembled the one of Marx's I cited analysis was the role, which is a cluster of ^
earlier: they were not of the tjpe that norms. In a recent article, James Coleman
enter deductive systems. From their lower- has written: " . . . sociologists have charac-
order propositions, as from their higher- teristically taken as their starting-point a
order ones, no definite conclusions in logic social system in which norms exist, and
could be drawn. Under these conditions, individuals are largely governed by these
there was no way of telling whether their norms. Such a strategy views norms as
choice of functiorial problems and categories the governors of social behavior, and thus
was not wholly arbitrary. What the function- neatly bypasses the difficult problem that
alists actually produced was not a theorj' Hobbes posed." ^ Hobbes' problem is, of
but a new language for describing social course, why there is not a war of all against
structure, one among many possible lan- all.
guages; and much of the work they called Why, in short, should there be norms
theoretical consisted in showing how the at aJl? The answer Coleman gives is that,
words in other languages, including that in the kind of case he considers, norms
of everyday life, could be translated into arise through the actions of men rationally
theirs. They would say, for instance, that calculating to further their own self-inter-
what other people called making a living est in a context of other men acting in the
was called in their language goal-attainment.
But what makes a theory is deduction, not
' James S. Coleman, "Collective Decisions," Soci-
translation. ological Inquiry, 34 (1964), pp. 166-181.
814 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW
same way. He writes: "The central postulate gave is much like that of Coleman and
about behavior is this: each actor will at- the psychologists. Later he added the sug-
tempt to extend his power over those actions gestive remark: "The true problem is not
in which he has most interest." Starting to study how human life submits to rules
from this postulate, Coleman constructs it simply does not; the real problem is how
a deductive system explaining why the the rules become adapted to life.""
actors adopt a particular sort of norm in The question remains why members of
the given circumstances. a particular society find certain of the re-
I do not want to argue the vexed question sults of their actions rewarding and not
of rationality. I do want to point out what others, especially when some of the results
sort of general proposition Coleman starts seem far from "naturcilly" rewarding. This
with. As he recognizes, it is much like the is the real problem of the "intemalization"
central assumption of economics, though of values. The explanation Ls given not by
self-interest is not limited to the material any distinctively sociological propositions
interests usually considered by economists. but by the propositions of learning theory
It also resembles a proposition of psychol- in psychology.
ogy, though here it might take the form: The functionalists were much interested
the more valuable the reward of an acti\'ity, in the interrelations of institutions, and it
the more likely a man is to perform the was one of the glories of the school to have
activity. But it certainly is not a character- pointed out many such interrelations. But
istic functional proposition in sociology: the job of a science does not end with
it is not a statement about the conditions pointing out interrelations; it must try to
of equilibrium for a society, but a statement explain why they are what they are. Take
about the behavior of individual men. the statement that the kinship organiza-
Again, if there are norms, why do men tion of industrialized societies tends to be
conform to them? Let us lay aside the fact that of the nuclear family. 1 cannot give
I that many men do not conform or conform anything like the full explanation, but I
very indifferently, and assume that they can, and you can too, suggest the beginning
all do so. Whj' do they do so? So far as of one. Some men organized factories be^
the functionalists gave any answer to the cause by so doing they thought they could
question, it was that men have "internal- get greater material rewards than they could
ized" the values embodied in the norm. get otherwise. Other men entered factories
But "intemalization" is a word and not for reasons of the same sort. In so doing
an explanation. So far as their own theory they worked away from home and so had
was concerned, the functionalists took con- to forgo, if only for lack of time, the culti-
formity to norms for granted. They made vation of the extended kinship ties that
the mistake Malinowski pointed out long were a source of reward, because a source
ago in a book now too little read by sociol- of help, in many traditional argricultural
ogists, the mistake made by early writers societies, where work lay closer to home.
on primitive societies, the mistake of as- Accordingly the nuclear family tended to
suming that conformity to norms is a mat- become associated with factory organiza-
ter of " . . . this automatic acquiescence, tion; and the explanation for the associa-
this instinctive submission of every member tion is provided by propositions about the
of the tribe to its laws. . . ." " The alterna- behavior of men as such. Not the needs of
tive answer Malinowski gave was that society explain the relationship, but the
obedience to norms "is usually rewarded needs of men.
according to the measure of its perfection, Again, functionalists were interested in
while noncompliance is visited upon the the consequences of institutions, especially
remiss agent." ^ In short, the answer he their consequences for a social system as
a whole. For instance, they were endlessly
* Bronislaw MaHnowski, Crime and Custom m
concerned with the functions and dysfunc-
Savage Society, Patenon, N.J.: Littlefield, Adams, tions of status systems. Seldom did they
19S9, p. 11.
' Ibid., p. 12. * Ibid., p. 127.
BRINGING MEN BACK IN 815
ask why there should be status systems in EXPLAINING SOCIAL CHANGE
the first place. Some theorists have taken
the emergence of phenomena like status ' My next contention is that even con-
systems as evidence for Durkheim's conten- fessed functionalists, when they seriously
tion that sociology was not reducible tof try to explain certain kinds of social phe-
psychology. What is important is not the nomena, in fact use non-functional explana-
fact of emergence but the question how the-^ I tions without recognizing that they do so.
emergence is to be explained. One of the This is particularly clear in their studies
of social change.
accomplishments of small-group research
is to explain how a status system, of course Social change provides a .searching test
on a small scale, emerges in the course of for theory, since historical records are a
interaction between the members of a prerequisite for its study. Without history,
group.* The explanation is provided by^ the social scientist can establish the con-
psychological propositions. Certainly no temporaneous interrelations of institutions,
functional propositions are needed. Indeed^ but may be hard put to it to explain why
the theoretical contribution of small-group the interrelations should be what they are.
research has consisted "in showing how the With historical records he may have the
kinds of microscopic variables usually ig-. information needed to support an explana-
nored by sociologists can explain the kinds I tion. One of the commonest charges against
of social situations usually ignored by psy- \ the functionalist school was that it could
chologists." ^^ not deal with social change, that its analysis
What is the lesson of all this? If the very was static. In recent years some function-
things functionalists take for granted, like alists have undertaken to show that the
norms, if the very interrelationships they charge was unjustified. They have chosen
empirically discover can be explained by for their demonstration the process of differ-
deductive systems that employ psychologi- entiation in society, the process, for instance,
cal propositions, then it must be that the of the increasing specialization of occupa-
general explanatory principles even of soci-|' tions. In question as usual is not the fact
ology are not sociological, as the function-| of differentiationthere is no doubt that
alists would have them be, but psychologi- the over-all trend of social history has been
cal, propositions about the behavior of men, in this directionbut how the process is
not about the behavior of societies. On the to be explained.
analogy with other sciences, this argument A particularly good example of this new
by itself would not undermine the validity development in functionalism is Neil Smel-
of a functional theory. Thermodynamics, ser's book. Social Change in the Industrial
for instance, states propositions about ag- Revolution: An Application of Theory to
gregates, which are themselves true and the British Cotton Industry 1770-1840.^^
genera], even though they can be explained The book is not just good for my pur-
in turn, in statistical mechanics, by propo- poses: it is good, very good, in itself. It
sitions about members of the aggregates. provides an enormous amount of well organ-
The question is whether this kind of situa- ized information, and it goes far to explain
tion actually obtains in sociology. So far the changes that occurred. The amusing
as functional propositions are concerned, thing about it is that the explanation Smel-
which are propositions about social ag- ser actually uses, good scientist that he is,
gregates, the situation does not obtain, for to account for the changes is not the func-
they have not been shown to be true and tional theory he starts out with, which
general. is as usual a non-theory, but a different
kind of theory and a better one.
Smelser begins like any true function-
' See GeorRe C. Homans, Social Behavior: Its
alist. For him a social system is one kind
Elementary Forms, New York: Harcourt, Brace & of system of action, characterized as fol-
World, 1961, esp. Ch. 8. lows: "A social system . . . is composed
>" C. N. Alexander, Jr. and R. L. Simpson, "Bal-
ance Theory and Distributive Justice," Sociological
Inquiry 34 (1964), pp. 182-192. "Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959.
816 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW
of a set of interrelated roles, collectivities, I shall not give the other five steps, as
etc. . . . It is important to remember I should make the same criticism of them
that the roles, collectivities, etc., not indi- as I now make of the first two. I think
viduals, are the units in this last case." they provide by implication a good explana-
Moreover, "all systems of action are gov- tion of the innovations of the Industrial
erned by the principle of equilibrium. Ac- Revolution in cotton manufacturing. But
cording to the dominant tJTie of equilibrium, what kind of an explanation is it? What-
the adjustments proceed in a certain direc- ever it is, it is not a functional one. Where
tion: if the equilibrium is stable, the units here do roles appear as the fundamental
tend to return to their original position; units of a social system? Where are the four
if the equilibrium is partial, only some of functional exigencies? Not a word do we
the units need to adjust; if the equilibrium hear of them. Instead, what do we hear of?
is unstable, the tendency is to change, We hear of dissatisfaction, a sense of op-
through mutual adjustment, to a new equi- portunity, emotional reactions, and aspira-
librium or to disintegrate altogether." Fi- tions. And what feels these things? Is a
nally, "all social systems are subject to role dissatisfied or emotional? No; Smelser
four functional exigencies which must be himself says it is "various elements of the
met more or less satisfactorily if the system
population" that do so. Under relentless
is to remain in equilibrium." " Note that
pressure let us finally confess that "variotis
by this argument all social s>^stems are in
elements of the population" means men.
equflibrium, even systems in process of
And what men? For the most part men
disintegration. Though the latter are in
engaged in making and selling cotton cloth.
unstable equilibrium, they are still in equi-
librium. Accordingly they are meeting more And what were they dissatisfied with? Not
or less satisfactorily the four functional with "the productive achievements of the
exigencies. You see how useful a deductive industry." Though some statesmen were
system can be in soda] science? More seri- certainly concerned about the contribution
ously you will see that definitions of equi- made by the industry as a whole to the
librium are so broad that you may draw wealth of Great Britain, let us, again under
any conclusion you like from them. relentless pressure, confess that most of the
men in question were concerned with their
But for all the explanatory use Smelser
own profits. Let us get men back in, and
makes of it, this theory and its subsequent
elaboration is so much window-dressing. let us put some blood in them. Smelser
When he really gets down to explaining himself makes the crucial statement: "In
the innovations in the British cotton textile Lancashire in the early 176O's there was
industry, especially the introduction of excited speculation about instantaneous
spinning and weaving machinery, he forgets forttmes for the man lucky enough to stum-
his ftmctionalism. The guts of his actual ble on the right invention."" In short,
explanation lie in the seven steps through the men in question were activated by
which he says the process proceeds: self-interest. Yet not all self-interests are
selfish interests, and certainly not all the
Industrial difierentiation proceeds, therefore, innovations of the Industrial Revolution can
by the following steps: be attributed to selfishness.
(1) Dissatisfaction with the productive Smelser's actual explanation of technical
achievements of the industr>' or its relevant innovation in cotton manufacturing might
sub-sectors and a sense of opportunity in
terms of the potential availability of adequate be sketched in the following deductive sys-
facilities to reach a higher level of produc- tem. I have left out the most obvious steps.
tivity. 1. Men are more likely to perform an
(2) Appropriate symptoms of disturbance
in the form of "unjustified" negative emo- activity, the more valuable they perceive
tional reactions and "unrealistic" aspirations the reward of that activity to be.
on the part of various elements of the popw- 2. Men are more likely to perform an
lation.'" activity, the more successful they per-
" Ibid., pp. 10-11.
" Ilrid., p. 29. " Ibid., p. 80.
BRINGING MEN BACK IN 817
ceive the activity is likely to be in get- ones. There is no assumption that they are
ting that reward. isolated or unsocial, but only that the laws
3. The high demand for cotton textiles of human behavior do not change just be-
and the low productivity of labor led cause another person rather than the phy-
men concerned with cotton manufactur- sical environment provides the rewards for
ing to perceive the development of behavior. Nor is there any assimiption
labor-saving machinery as rewarding in that psychological propositions will explain
increased profits. everything social. We shall certainly not
4. The existing state of technology led be able to explain everything, but our fail-
them to perceive the effort to develop ures will be attributable to lack of factual
labor-saving machinery as likely to be information or the intellectual machinery
successful. for dealing with complexitythough the
5. Therefore, by both (1) and (2) such computers will help us hereand not to
men were highly likely to try to develop the propositions themselves. Nor is there
labor-saving machinery. any assumption here of psychological re-
6. Since their perceptions of the technology ductionism, though I used to think there \
were accurate, tiieir efforts were likely was. For reduction implies that there are
to meet with success, and some of them general sociological profwsitions that can
did meet with success. then be reduced to psychological ones. I
From these first steps, others such as the now suspect that there are no general socio-
organization of factories and an increasing logical propositions, propositions that hold
specialization of jobs followed. But no dif- good of all societies or social groups as i
ferent kind of explanation is needed for such, and that the only general proposi- \
these further developments: propo.sitions tions of sociology are in fact psychological.
like (1) and (2), which I call the value What I do claim is that, no matter what
and the success propositions, would occur we say our theories are, when we seriously
in them too. We should need a further try to explain social phenomena by con-
proposition to describe the effect of frustra- structing even the veriest sketches of de-
tion, which certainly attended some of the ductive systems, we find ourselves in fcict,
efforts at innovation, in creating the "nega- and whether we admit it or not, using what
tive emotional reactions" of Smelser's step I have called psychological explanations.
2. I need hardly add that our actual explana-
I must insist again on the kind of explana- tions are our actual theories.
I tion this is. It is an explanation using psy- I am being a little unfair to functional-
I chological propositions (1 and 2 above), ists like Smelser and Parsons if I imply
' psychological in that they are commonly that they did not realize there were people
stated and tested by psychologists and that around. The so-called theory of action made
they refer to the behavior of men and not a very good start indeed by taking as its
to the conditions of equilibrium of societies paradigm for social behavior two persons,
or other social groups as such. They are the actions of each of whom sanctioned,
general in that they appear in many, and that is, rewarded or punished, the actions
I think in all, of the deductive systems that of the other.** But as soon as the start
will even begin to explain social behavior. was made, its authors disregarded it. As the
There is no assumption that the men in theory of action was applied to society,
question are all alike in their concrete be- it appeared to have no actors and mighty
havior. They may well have been condi- little action. The reason was that it sepa-
tioned to find different things rewarding, rated the personality system from the social
but the way conditioning takes place is system and proposed to deal with the lat-
itself explained by psychological proposi- ter alone. It was the personality system
tions. There is no assumption that their
values are all materialistic, but only that
their pursuit of non-material values follows Talcott Parsons and Edward Shils (eds.),
the same laws as their pursuit of material Toward a General Theory of Action, Cambridge,
Mass.:
M Harv'ard University Press, 1951, pp. 14-16.
818 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW
that had "needs, drives, skills, etc." > It form of a deductive system. With all its
was not part of the sodal system, but only talk about theory, the functionalist school
conducted exchanges with it, by providing did not take the job of theory seriously
it, for instance, with disembodied motiva- enough. It did not ask itself what a theory
tion." This is the kind of box you get into was, and it never produced a functional
when you think of theory as a set of boxes. theory that was in fact an explanation.
For this reason, no one should hold their I am not sure that it could have done so,
style of writing against the functionalists. starting as it did with propositions about the
The best of writers must write clumsily conditions of social equilibrium, propositions
when he has set up his intellectual problem from which no definite conclusions could be
in a clumsy way. If the theorist will only drawn in a deductive system. If a serious
envisage his problem from the outset as effort is made to construct theories that will
one of constructing explanatory projKJsi- even begin to explain social phenomena, it
tioDs and not a set of categories, he will turns out that their general propositions are
come to see that the personal and the social not about the equilibrium of societies but
are not to be kept separate. The actions about the behavior of men. This is true even
of a man that we take to be evidence of of some good functionalists, though they will
his personality are not different from his not admit it. They keep psychological ex-
actions that, together with the actions of planations under the table and bring them
others, make up a sodal system. They are out furtively like a bottle of whiskey, for
the same identical actions. The theorist use when they reaUy need help. What I
will realize this when he finds that the same cisk is that we bring what we say about
set of general propositions, induding the theory into line with what we actually do,
success and the value proposition mentioned and so put an end to our intellectual hy-
above, are needed for explaining the phe- pocrisy. It would unite us with the other
nomena of both personality and sodety. social sciences, whose actual theories are
much like our actual ones, and so strengthen
CONCLUSION us all. Let us do so idso for the sake of
our students. I sometimes think that they
If sodology is a science, it must take begin with more understanding of the real
seriously one of the jobs of any science, nature of sodal phenomena than we leave
which is that of providing explanations for them with, and that our double-talk kills
the empirical relations it discovers. An ex- their mother-wit. Finally, I must acknowl-
planation is a theory, and it takes the edge freely that everything I have said
seems to me obvious. But why cannot we
" Smelser, op. dt., p. 10.
" Ibid., p. 33.
take the obviotis seriously?