Do sociological theories weaken taking personal responsibility for our actions?

Yes, there are obvious dangers in adopting sociological perspectives wholesomely. Firstly, sociology as a branch of rational enquiry, alongside psychology, is the most contested among all sciences. Several sociological theories such as Conflict Theory, Functionalism and Network Theory have elicited substantial proofs to the contrary, that their validity cannot be taken for universal truths. In other words, many sociological theories do not stand rigorous tests and experiments the way general scientific theories do. Take say Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. During the course of last two centuries, copious evidence has been gathered in support of this theory. Recognizing its merits, many theologians who support Creationism have tried to incorporate evolution within the theological framework. Rather than disputing the claims of evolution, they see it as a manifestation of the genius of God and his intelligent designing of the Universe and its lifeforms. The same could be said of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

More importantly, these cornerstone scientific theories qualify for an important pre-requisite, namely ‘falsifiability’, which was first propounded by Karl Popper. According to this criterion, a concept can be granted the status of a theory only if there are mechanisms and methods through which it can be proved wrong. Newton’s theories on physical motion qualify because they have been subsequently found inadequate and been supplanted by Einstein’s theories on motion and relativity. The problem with sociological theories and perspectives is that they seldom lend themselves easily for experimentation and verification. Analyses have to be based on historical data as present realities are always in a state of flux. Even the most influential sociological theory of the modern age, namely Karl Marx’s historical analysis of ‘class warfare’ has lost some of its relevance today, for it did not foresee the emergence of a middle class.

And finally, sociological perspectives tend to discount the concept of individuality, which is quite pronounced in human beings. Studies of animal behavior carried out to decipher the social arrangements of a particular species are generally consistent. But human beings, being the most intelligent species and also subject to thousands of years of ethno-cultural conditioning, are a lot more challenging to encapsulate within an analytical framework. Sociological explanations also tend to weaken the role of individual human volition in the functioning of society. A good case study in support of this position is the success of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. By appealing to the shared racial lineage of the majority of Germans, the Nazi propaganda apparatus generated a mass hysteria in support of its imperialist goals. The propaganda campaign succeeded in making disparate groups of people and distinct individuals believe in a common cause, which in reality was never in their own interests. While the Nuremberg trials following the end of the war only brought to justice the members of the Nazi party, it should be remembered that the whole generation of German citizens should also have been implicated in the crime.

Hence, sociological perspectives should not be considered as comprehensive explanations of conflicts and discontentment within societies (past and present). Human beings are unique in that education inculcates the ability to think critically and act exceptionally. And this ability has been pivotal to scientific and civilizational progress. Trying to fit all social phenomena into rigid theoretical frameworks can stifle the power and will of an individual member.

Works Cited:

Ritzer, George and Douglas Goodman. 2004. Sociological Theory, Sixth Edition. McGraw Hill.

Michael Hughes, Carolyn J. Kroehler, James W. Vander Zanden. ‘Sociology: The Core’, McGraw-Hill