Toward a Sociological Re-Engagement with the Social World: Insights from John Rawls's Social Theory
The problem of incapacitation is deeper for sociology than for other social science fields. As the discipline with the widest scope of critical social inquiry, its institutionalization has facilitated people’s learning about how to assume a detached observer’s viewpoint toward almost every aspect of their social environment, material and conceptual. The transformative effect of this reflexive attitude can easily undermine the existing social fabric and blur the reasons for acting collectively. Various works of now-classical sociology may have exacerbated the problem. Can we envision a sociology the aim of which is to create and support social actors who can also identify hopes for our future and act on them? Granting a more central role to normative inquiry may provide a way forward, making sociology not only scholarship “about society” but also “in society”, a force that can itself help generate faith in our capacity to cooperate with diverse and often antagonistic others to construct a better world. Although not usually seen as a sociologist, John Rawls set out a social philosophy, especially with regard to his concept and practice of “ideal theory”, that is particularly relevant in this context. Useful sociological insights drawn from his social theory are discussed.