Judicial Dictionary

Sociological theory

The sociological theory refers to the use of abstract and often complex theoretical frameworks to explain and analyze social action, social processes and social structures.

Sociological theories are a major part of sociology. In contrast, social theory, which is sometimes considered a branch of sociology, is inherently interdisciplinary, as it deals with ideas from multiple fields, including anthropology, economics, theology, history, philosophy, and many others.

Social theories developed almost simultaneously with the birth of sociology itself. In the 19th century three great, classical theories of social and historical change were created: social evolutionism (of which social Darwinism is a part), social cycle theory and Marxist historical materialism. Although the majority of 19th century social theories are now considered obsolete, they have spawned modern social theories, including multilineal theories of evolution (neoevolutionism, sociobiology, theory of modernisation, theory of post-industrial society) or the theory of subjectivity.

By the mid 20th century, sociologists had developed sociological theories which were based in the institutions and literature of professional sociology. At the same time, sociologists have continued to use and contribute to social theories which are used across a range of disciplines. (See sociological theory for some types of sociological theory.)

There is a tension in the discipline between more abstract theory and more empirical theory. Some social and sociological theories tackle very large-scale social trends and structures using hypotheses that cannot be easily falsified and require support by historical or philosophical interpretations. Social theories about modernity or globalization are two examples. Some theorists, such as deconstructionists or postmodernists, may argue that any systematic type of social scientific research theory is inherently flawed.

In empirical social research, empirical findings can provide support for sociological theories and vice versa. For instance, statistical research grounded in the scientific method may find a severe income disparity between women and men performing the same occupation. This finding supports the complex social theories of feminism or patriarchy. A sociological perspective (see sociological imagination) has through the years appealed to students and others dissatisfied with the status quo because it carries the assumption that societal structures may be arbitrary or controlled by specific powerful groups, thus implying the possibility of change.


Applied sociology
Comparative sociology
Environmental Sociology
Gender inequality
Network analysis
Political sociology
Population Control
Social change
Social Construction
Social psychology
Sociology of culture
Sociology of deviance
Sociology of education
Sociology of gender
Sociology of law
Sociology of religion
Sociology of science
Sociology of work



Randall Collins. 1994. Four Sociological Traditions. Oxford, Oxford University Press
Anthony Giddens. 2006. Sociology (5th edition), Polity, Cambridge.
Merton, Robert K. 1959. Social Theory and Social Structure. Toward the codification of theory and research, Glencoe: Ill. (Revised and enlarged edition) ISBN 1-56000-667-6
Ritzer, George and Douglas Goodman. 2004. Sociological Theory, Sixth Edition. McGraw Hill.
Wallace, Ruth A. & Alison Wolf. 1995. Contemporary Sociological Theory: Continuing the Classical Tradition, 4th ed., Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-036245-X
Harrison White. 1992. Identity and Control. A Structural Theory of Social Action. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Evan Willis. 1996. The Sociological Quest: An introduction to the study of social life, ISBN 0-8135-2367-2


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