Twentieth century developments in Sociology

In the early 20th century, sociology expanded in the United States, together with developments in both macro sociology interested in evolution of societies and micro sociology. Based on the pragmatic social psychology of George Herbert Mead, Herbert Blumer and others inspired sociologists developed symbolic interactionism. In Europe, in the Interwar period, sociology usually was both attacked by increasingly totalitarian governments and rejected by traditional universities. At the same time, originally in Austria and later in the U.S., Alfred Schultz developed social phenomenology. Also, members of the Frankfurt school developed critical theory, integrating critical, idealistic and historical materialistic elements of the dialectical philosophies of Hegel and Marx with the insights of Freud, Max Weber and others. In the 1930s in the U.S., Talcott Parsons developed structural-functional theory which included the study of social order and “objective” aspects of macro and micro structural factors.

From the World War II, sociology has been invigorated in Europe, although during the Stalin and Mao eras it was suppressed in the communist countries. In the mid-20th century, there was a general trend for American sociology to be more scientific in nature, due partially to the prominent influence at that time of structural functionalism. Sociologists developed new types of quantitative and qualitative research methods. In the second half of the 20th century, sociological research has been more and more employed as a tool by governments and businesses. Equivalent with the rise of various social movements in the 1960s, theories emphasizing social struggle, including conflict theory and neomarxist theories, began to receive more attention.

In the late 20th century, some sociologists embraced postmodern and poststructuralist philosophies. Increasingly, many sociologists have used qualitative and ethnographic methods and become critical of the positivism in some social scientific approach. Much similar to cultural studies, some modern sociological studies have been prejudiced by the cultural changes of the 1960s, 20th century Continental philosophy, literary studies, and interpretivism. Others have maintained more objective empirical perspectives, such as by articulating neofunctionalism, social psychology, and rational choice theory. Others began to debate the nature of globalization and the changing nature of social institutions. These developments have leaded some to reconceptualize basic sociological categories and theories. For instance, inspired by the thought of Michel Foucault, power may be studied as detached throughout society in a wide variety of disciplinary cultural practices. In political sociology, the power of the nation state may be seen as transforming due to the globalization of trade and the expanding influence of international organizations.