Theories, Paradigms and Turns in Contemporary Social Theory

Monday, 16 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Frederic VANDENBERGHE, State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Theories, paradigms and turns in contemporary social theory


We don´t really have a history of contemporary social theory. Textbooks, handbooks and syllabi typically list a series of schools (from critical theory to actor network theory, from pragmatism to critical realism, from cultural sociology to rational choice) and authors (Archer, Boltanski, Collins, Honneth, etc.). Without discerning the underlying logic that moves the field, the whole looks a bit “like a certain Chinese encyclopedia”. To bring some order into contemporary theories, I will distinguish three constellations: post-Bourdieusian social theory; paradigmatic sociologies and turns. The first constellation is formed by the epigones of the “new theoretical movement” (Bourdieu, Giddens, Habermas and Luhmann) that tried to solve the agency-structure conundrum. Bourdieu now takes the position of Parsons, with the result that the best part of contemporary social theory (pragmatism, critical realism, critical theory) can be reconstructed as an engagement with Bourdieu. The second constellation does not deal with grand theory, but with theories of the middle range. Analytic sociology, cultural sociology, moral sociology, relational sociology are the best-known examples of attempts to consolidate various approaches into a paradigm (in Merton´s sense). The third constellation is more heterogeneous and is in constant flux. It is formed by a sequence of continuous “turns” (the linguistic, cultural, praxeological, ontological turns, twists and returns) that operate at the boundary of sociology and aim to subvert existing theories by heralding a new revolution.