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Encyclopedia > Talcott Parsons
Talcott Parsons

Talcott Edgar Frederick Parsons (December 13, 1902May 8, 1979) was for many years the best-known sociologist in the United States, and indeed one of the best-known in the world. His work was very influential through the 1950s and well into the 1960s, particularly in America, but fell gradually out of favour from that time on. The most prominent attempt to revive Parsonian thinking, under the rubric "neofunctionalism," has been made by the sociologist Jeffrey Alexander, now at Yale University. Image File history File links !!!Parsons,T.2. ... Image File history File links !!!Parsons,T.2. ... is the 347th day of the year (348th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1902 (MCMII) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Tuesday [1] of the 13-day-slower Julian calendar). ... is the 128th day of the year (129th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Also: 1979 by Smashing Pumpkins. ... Sociology (from Latin: socius, companion; and the suffix -ology, the study of, from Greek λόγος, lógos, knowledge [1]) is the systematic and scientific study of society, including patterns of social relationships, social action, and culture[2]. Areas studied in sociology can range from the analysis of brief contacts between anonymous... There are very few or no other articles that link to this one. ... Yale redirects here. ...


Parsons served on the faculty of Harvard University from 1927–1973. A central figure first in Harvard's Department of Sociology, and then in its Department of Social Relations (created by Parsons to reflect his vision of an integrated social science), he produced a general theoretical system for the analysis of society that came to be called structural functionalism. Harvard University (incorporated as The President and Fellows of Harvard College) is a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA and a member of the Ivy League. ... Harvard Department of Social Relations was an interdisciplinary collaboration among three of the social science departments at Harvard University (anthropology, psychology, and sociology) during the middle of the 20th century, headquartered in William James Hall. ... The article is about functionalism in sociology; for other uses, see functionalism. ...

Contents

Biography

Talcott Edgar Frederick Parsons was born December 13, 1902 in Colorado Springs. His father was a Congregationalist minister and later president of Marietta College in Ohio. As an undergraduate, Parsons studied biology and philosophy at Amherst College and received his B.A. in 1924. After Amherst, he studied at the London School of Economics for a year, where he was exposed to the work of Harold Laski, R. H. Tawney, Bronisław Malinowski, and Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse. He then moved to the University of Heidelberg, where he received his Ph.D. in sociology and economics. It was at Heidelberg that he became familiar with the works of Max Weber, then relatively unknown to American social theorists; he later translated several of Weber's works into English. After a year teaching at Amherst (1923–24), he obtained a position at Harvard, first in economics and then in sociology. He first achieved significant recognition with the publication of The Structure of Social Action (1937), his first grand synthesis, combining the ideas of Durkheim, Weber, and Pareto, among others. At Harvard, he was instrumental in forming the Department of Social Relations, an interdisciplinary venture among sociology, anthropology, and psychology. Nationally, he was a strong advocate for the professionalization of sociology and its expansion within American academia. He was elected president of the America in 1949 and served as secretary from 1960–1965. He retired from Harvard in 1973, but continued teaching (at a number of other universities as a visiting professor) and writing until his death in 1979, while on a trip to Germany.[1] is the 347th day of the year (348th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... Year 1902 (MCMII) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Tuesday [1] of the 13-day-slower Julian calendar). ... The City of Colorado Springs is the second most populous city (after Denver) in the state of Colorado and the 48th most populous city in the United States. ... Amherst College is a private liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA. It is the third oldest college in Massachusetts. ... Mascot Beaver Affiliations University of London Russell Group EUA ACU CEMS APSIA Golden Triangle G5 Group Website http://www. ... Harold Joseph Laski (Manchester, June 30, 1893 – March 24, 1950 in London) was an English political theorist, economist, author, and lecturer, and served as the 1945-1946 chairman of the Labour Party. ... Richard Henry Tawney (R.H. Tawney) (1880 - 1962) was an English writer, economist, historian, social critic and university professor and a leading advocate of Christian Socialism Born in Calcutta, India, Tawney was educated at Rugby School and Balliol College, Oxford where he studied modern history. ... BronisÅ‚aw Kasper Malinowski (April 7, 1884 – May 16, 1942) was a Polish anthropologist widely considered to be one of the most important anthropologists of the twentieth century because of his pioneering work on ethnographic fieldwork, the study of reciprocity, and his detailed contribution to the study of Melanesia. ... Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse (September 8, 1864 - June 21, 1929) was a British liberal politician, one of the theorists of modern liberalism. ... The Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg, also known as simply University of Heidelberg, is the oldest German university. ... For the politician, see Max Weber (politician). ... David Émile Durkheim (April 15, 1858 - November 15, 1917) is known as the founder of modern sociology. ... Vilfredo Pareto Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto [vilfre:do pare:to] (July 15, 1848, Paris – August 19, 1923, Geneva) was a French-Italian sociologist, economist and philosopher. ... Harvard Department of Social Relations was an interdisciplinary collaboration among three of the social science departments at Harvard University (anthropology, psychology, and sociology) during the middle of the 20th century, headquartered in William James Hall. ... Year 1949 (MCMXLIX) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ...


Ideas

Parsons was an advocate of "grand prix," an attempt to integrate all the social sciences into an overarching theoretical framework. His early work—The Structure of Social Action—reviewed the output of his great predecessors, especially Max Weber, Vilfredo Pareto, and Émile Durkheim, and attempted to derive from them a single "action theory" based on the assumptions that human action is voluntary, intentional, and symbolic. Later, he became intrigued with, and involved in, an astonishing range of fields: from medical sociology (where he developed the concept of the sick role, to psychoanalysis—personally undergoing full training as a lay analyst), to anthropology, to small group dynamics (working extensively with Robert Freed Bales), to race relations and then economics and education. For the politician, see Max Weber (politician). ... Vilfredo Pareto Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto [vilfre:do pare:to] (July 15, 1848, Paris – August 19, 1923, Geneva) was a French-Italian sociologist, economist and philosopher. ... Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Émile Durkheim Émile Durkheim (IPA: ; April 15, 1858 – November 15, 1917) was a French sociologist whose contributions were instrumental in the formation of sociology and anthropology. ... The term group dynamics implies that individual behaviours may differ depending on individuals current or prospective connections to a sociological group. ...


Parsons developed his ideas during a period when systems theory and cybernetics were very much on the front burner of social and behavioral science. In using systems thinking, he postulated that the relevant systems treated in social and behavioral science were "open," meaning that they were embedded in an environment consisting of other systems. For social and behavioral science, the largest system is "the action system," consisting of interrelated behaviors of human beings, embedded in a physical-organic environment.[2] Systems theory is an interdisciplinary field of science. ... For other uses, see Cybernetics (disambiguation). ...


The procedure he adopted to analyze this system and its subsystems is called "the AGIL scheme" or "AGIL paradigm". To survive or maintain equilibrium with respect to its environment, any system must to some degree adapt to that environment, attain its goals, integrate its components, and maintain its latent pattern, a cultural template of some sort. These are called the system's functional imperatives.


In the case of the analysis of a societal action system, the AGIL Paradigm, according to Parsons, yields four interrelated and interpenetrating subsystems: the behavioral systems of its members (A), the personality systems of those members (G), the society as a system of social organization (I) and the cultural system of that society (L). To analyze a society as a social system (the I subsystem of action), people are posited to enact roles associated with positions. These positions and roles become differentiated to some extent and in a modern society are associated with such things as occupational, political, judicial and educational roles. AGIL is a sociological paradigm formulated by Talcott Parsons A is for Adaptation, G is for Goal attainment, I is for Integration, L is for Latency. ...


Considering the interrelation of these specialized roles as well as functionally differentiated collectivities (e.g., firms, political parties), the society can be analyzed as a complex system of interrelated functional subsystems, namely:

  • The economy -- societal adaptation to its action and non-action environmental systems
  • The polity -- societal goal attainment
  • The societal community -- the integration of its diverse social components
  • The fiduciary system -- processes and units that function to reproduce societal culture

Parsons elaborated upon the idea that each of these systems also developed some specialized symbolic mechanisms of interaction analogous to money in the economy, e.g.., influence in the societal community. Various processes of "interchange" among the subsystems of the societal system were postulated.


The most elaborate of Parsons's use of functional systems analysis with the AGIL scheme appear in two collaborative books, Economy and Society (with N. Smelser, 1956) and The American University (with G. Platt, 1973).


Parsons contributed to the field of breakdancing and hip-hop rapping. He divided evolution into four subprocesses: 1) differentiation, which creates functional subsystems of the main system, as discussed above; 2) adaptation, where those systems evolve into more efficient versions; 3) inclusion of elements previously excluded from the given systems; and 4) generalization of values, increasing the legitimization of the ever-more complex system. A breakdancer performing a one-handed freeze (also known as a pike) in the streets of Paris. ...


Furthermore, Parsons explored these subprocesses within three stages of evolution: 1) primitive, 2) archaic and 3) modern (where archaic societies have the knowledge of writing, while modern have the knowledge of law). Parsons viewed the Western civilisation as the pinnacle of modern societies, and out of all western cultures he declared the United States as the most dynamically developed. For this, he was attacked as an ethnocentrist. For alternative meanings for The West in the United States, see the U.S. West and American West. ...


Parsons' late work focused on a new theoretical synthesis around four functions common (he claimed) to all systems of action—from the behavioral to the cultural, and a set of symbolic media that enable communication across them. His attempt to structure the world of action according to a mere four concepts was too much for many American sociologists, who were at that time retreating from the grand pretensions of the 1960s to a more empirical, grounded approach. Parsons' influence waned rapidly in the U.S. after 1970. His son Charles Parsons is a distinguished figure in philosophy of mathematics. Charles Parsons is a distinguished figure in the philosophy of mathematics and son of famous social scientist Talcott Parsons. ...


Perhaps the most noteworthy theoretical contributions from Parsons were the formulations of pattern variables, the AGIL Paradigm, and the Unit Act. AGIL is a sociological paradigm formulated by Talcott Parsons A is for Adaptation, G is for Goal attainment, I is for Integration, L is for Latency. ...


Parsons had a seminal influence and early mentorship of Niklas Luhmann, pre-eminent German sociologist, originator of autopietic systems theory. Niklas Luhmann (December 8, 1927 - November 6, 1998) was a German sociologist, administration expert, and social systems theorist, as well as one the most prominent modern day thinkers in the sociological systems theory. ...


Pattern variables

Parsons asserted that there were two dimensions to societies: instrumental and expressive. By this he meant that there are qualitative differences between kinds of social interaction.


He observed that people can have personalized and formally detached relationships based on the roles that they play. The characteristics that were associated with each kind of interaction he called the pattern variables.


Some examples of expressive societies would include families, churches, clubs, crowds, and smaller social settings. Examples of instrumental societies would include bureaucracies, aggregates, and markets.


Literature

Parsons' analysis was largely developed within his major published works. Like many other sociologists he attempted to combine human agency and structure in one theory and was not confined to functionalism. This article is about functionalism in sociology. ...

  • 1937, The Structure of Social Action
  • 1951, The Social System
  • 1951, Toward a General Theory of Action - with Schills and Klucklohn
  • 1956, Economy and Society - with N. Smelser
  • 1960, Structure and Process in Modern Societies
  • 1961, Theories of Society - with Edward Shils, Kaspar D. Naegele and Jesse R. Pitts
  • 1966, Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives
  • 1968, Sociological Theory and Modern Society
  • 1969, Politics and Social Structure
  • 1973, The American University - with G. Platt
  • 1977, Social Systems and the Evolution of Action Theory
  • 1978, Action Theory and the Human Condition

Image needed Neil J. Smelser was a University of California, Berkeley sociologist who studied collective behavior. ... Edward Shils (1911-1985) was a Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and in Sociology at the University of Chicago and one of the worlds most influential sociologists. ... Jesse Richard Pitts (1921 - 2003), author and educator, was born in East Palestine, Ohio on June 13, 1921. ...

Bibliography

  • Alexander, J.C. 1982. Theoretical Logic in Sociology. Vol. I. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Alexander, J.C. 1984. “The Parsons revival in German sociology”, Pp. 394-412 in R. Collins (ed.). Sociological Theory 1984. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Cohen, I.J. 1996. “Theories of Action and Praxis”, Pp. 111-142 in B.S. Turner (ed.). The Blackwell Companion to Social Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Connell, R.W. 1997. “Why Is Classical Theory Classical?” American Journal of Sociology 102:1511-1557.
  • Fararo, Thomas J. 2001. Social Action Systems: Foundation and Synthesis in Sociological Theory. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Grathoff R. (ed.). 1978. The Theory of Social Action: The correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Talcott Parsons. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press.
  • Hamilton, Peter. 1983 Readings from Talcott Parsons. London: Tavistock Publications. 33-55.
  • Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. 1995. Sociology: Themes & Perspectives. London: Collins Educational.
  • Lackey, Pat N. 1987 Invitation to Talcott Parsons’ Theory. Houston: Cap and Gown Press. 3-15.
  • Levine, Donald N. 1991. “Simmel and Parsons Reconsidered.” American Journal of Sociology 96:1097-1116.
  • Luhmann, Nicklas. 1995. Social Systems. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Mills, C, Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination, Oxford University Press.
  • Parsons, Talcott. [1937] 1967. Structure of Social Action: Vol. II. Free Press.
  • Parsons, Talcott. 1951. The Social System. Free Press.
  • Perdue, William D. 1986. Sociological Theory: Explanation, Paradigm, and Ideology. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 112-119.
  • Rocher, Guy. 1975. Talcott Parsons and American Sociology. New York: Barnes & Nobles.
  • Sewell, W.H. Jr. 1992 “A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation.” American Journal of Sociology 98:1-29.
  • Turner, Jonathan H. 1998. The Structure of Sociological Theory. Cincinnati, OH: Wadsworth.
  • Wallace, Walter L. 1969 Sociological Theory: An introduction. London: Heinemann Educational Books.
  • Weber, Max. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations. Free Press.
  • Zeuner, Lilli 2001. “Social Concepts between Construction and Revision.” Danish National Institute for Social Research. Copenhagen.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Mayhew, Leonard (1982) "Talcott Parsons, 1902–79: a biographical note" in Talcott Parsons, Talcott Parsons on institutions and social evolution, Pp: xi-xii. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  2. ^ A good summary of the "action frame of reference" as it developed over time is found in Leonard Mayhew's introduction to his anthology of Parsons' major essays: Mayhew, Leonard (1982) "Introduction" in Talcott Parsons, Talcott Parsons on institutions and social evolution, Pp: 1-62. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Image File history File links This is a lossless scalable vector image. ...

External links


  Results from FactBites:
 
Talcott Parsons - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1264 words)
Talcott Parsons (December 13, 1902–May 8, 1979) was for many years the best-known sociologist in the United States, and indeed one of the best-known in the world.
Parsons served on the faculty of Harvard University from 1927-1973.
Talcott Edger Parsons was born December 13, 1902 in Colorado Springs.
Notes on Structural Functionalism and Parsons (6036 words)
Parsons thus became a major interpreter of these writers in America, and his interpretation may be considered to have developed the influence of these writers in a particular way.
Parsons referred to his own theory as action theory and argued that social phenomena must be understood in terms of individual meaning, but also must be examined at the "level of collective action among groupings of actors." (Turner, p.
Parsons was primarily interested in the social system, viewing it as the preserve of sociology, and examining social interaction and the relationships among individuals.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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