Visualizing Social Theory

Positivism is a theory developed by August Compte that believes that empirical research can be applied to the study of social life and interaction. This theory maintains that society, like the physical world operates on a system of laws and rejects abstract explanations(Bourdeau). Antipositivism is the opposing view, and the belief that social sciences should not be held to the same standard of empiricism used in the natural sciences. Antipositivists believe that research should understand the social actions between people. Jurgen Habermas is a German sociologist who is best known for his theories on communicative reason and disagrees with Compte’s strict beliefs on positivism. 

Compte believed that the only valid scientific knowledge came from empirical methods and “rejects the cognitive value of philosophical study.” ( Positivism emerged due to the inability of philosophy to solve problems that had arisen as a result of scientific development. ( “Positivism declared false and senseless all problems, concepts and propositions of traditional philosophy that could not be solved or verified by experience due to a high degree of abstract nature”( ).Compte thought that all knowledge should be limited to what could be measured methodologically; positivism rejects theoretical ideas to obtain knowledge. 

Habermas’ is a pragmatist, who believes in a practical approach to solving problems based on specific situations instead of theories and ideas. Habermas’ has studied communications in an attempt to put meanings into language. He uses a method known as rational reconstructions, which transforms intuitive knowledge into logical thought (Bohman, James and Rehg, William). While the natural sciences generate theoretical knowledge, rational reconstructions generate a theoretical knowledge through interpretation(Bohman, James and Rehg, William)  Due to his work in rational reconstruction, Habermas provides a modern view on Compte’s strict positivism. Habermas sees value in using rational, logical support, but combined with the benefits of intuitive thought.

Compte and Habermas would disagree with each other, because Compte would reject any findings of Habermas that are not empirically tested. Compte believes that the laws found in the natural sciences that dictate the cosmos can be applied to social sciences. Habermas however, would believe that only using a logical approach to explanations would severely limit his understanding of communications between people and hinder the overall understanding of knowledge of communications.  Habermas acknowledges the need for logic in research, but his findings of communications between people also relies on abstract data gained from social relations that cannot be empirically measured.


This image describes how knowledge achieved through positivism is gained solely by fact. This image shows that the man searching for happiness does consider any alternative approaches to finding the meaning of happiness other than fact. This image shows how positivism can be drawback to discovery, because the man is limited from finding the meaning of happiness based on his on experiences. His concern with fact limits him from finding any alternative ways to find the definition of happiness.  A singular focus on methodology can be a drawback, because it excludes valuable qualitative data that may be abstract and stifles creativity.


This picture represents why we need order and logic. Empirical research is important for testing and confirming data. Without logic, there would be chaos and it is necessary in research to have verifiable data. Theories and ideas should have a concrete foundation, and empirical data provides this foundation.


Bourdeau, Michel, “Auguste Comte”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), “Positivism Reference.” Accessed February 24, 2014.

Bohman, James and Rehg, William, “Jürgen Habermas”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),


Pierre Bordieu: The New Capital

Bordieu discusses how families invest in their children’s education’s because the relative weight of their cultural capital is greater than their economic capital. Students who have parents who are privileged or are intellectuals attend the best schools, so they get the best social positions, which effectively creates a monopoly on success. Bordieu uses a metaphor of a demon sorting students based on their cultural capital to illustrate how some students are selected to move forward in the education system based on nothing other than their cultural capital. Cultural capital does not determine success in education, but students who have high amounts of cultural capital are selected , thus continuing the pattern of preexisting social differences. Bordieu states that students who receive education at exclusive universities are predestined for success and are comparable to nobility.  According to Bordieu, the education system only reinforces privilege instead of allowing people to overcome  this “hereditary privilege”  through merit.

This picture illustrates how the child of wealthy parents  is guaranteed success, not because of his merit, but because his parents can afford the best opportunities for him. A child with similar potential, but less cultural and/or economic capital will be denied the same privileges due to the inequality in our education system.

tandberg: i can see a big future ... The Age 16th April 2008

Communication Boundaries

Goffman describes the physical and social boundaries that exist in  communication. Communication can be separated by physical boundaries such as walls and doors, which social convention dictates that people refrain from joining  by crossing these physical boundaries. When people are involved in accessible engagements, or encounters that occur, face to face,  they are divided socially into bystanders and participants. The bystanders are expected to follow social cues in order to tactfully join the conversation to become participants. Spacing occurs when people communicating distribute themselves cooperatively in the available space to create conventional closure which ensures open “talk lines” so that people can address one another without obstruction. Sound control establishes the proper volume that people will talk at, which is determined by the social setting they are present in. These requirements set a limit to the distance that communications can occur. Sound control and spacing must be present for a conversation to be considered proper.


These people are spaced so there is open talk lines between the three of them and they are talking at a level that is appropriate for their setting.



These people have violated the communication boundaries and must be restrained.


Theses Statements and Statements

Gentrification can revitalize urban neighborhoods.  However, gentrification is ultimately negative for a community because it leads to a loss of culture and the homogenization of diverse neighborhoods.

Gentrification can provide positives, but gentrification is ultimately negative for a neighborhood because original residents are displaced, conflict between new residents and original residents arises over changes to the neighborhood and the original identity of community is lost.

Gentrification is a politically motivated process that marginalizes low-income members of the community because it caters to new, wealthier citizens for revenue gains.  Gentrification leaves the original members of the community with a lack of political support to respond to the changes occurring.


1.  Auger, Deborah. “The Politics of Revitalization in Gentrifying Neighborhoods

2. The Case of Boston’s South End.” Journal of the American Planning Association 45.4 (1979): 515-22. Print.

3.  Brown-Saracino, Japonica.  A Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification,

4.Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009. 51-80. Print.

5. Sharon Zukin Annual Review of Sociology , Vol. 13, (1987) , pp. 129-147

The Structure of Social Groups

Bureaucracy is a form of administration used to increase organization and efficiency. Bureaucracy is used in both the private and public sectors to increase productivity by clearly defining roles and jobs for each member of the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is important to sociology and sociological understanding because it enforces a hierarchal role in society. With bureaucracy there is a clear chain of command and power flows from the top down. George Ritzer called the increased presence of bureaucracy in society “McDonaldization” because the specific expectations and rules exclude creativity and create a “blind obedience” to rules. This strict adherence to procedure can be dangerous to people and society  because people fail to respond to situations that occur outside of the standard operating procedure.

Bureaucracy Meme1

Psychologist Solomon Asch conducted experiments testing the degree of influence that social groups have on individuals. Asch found that in a group, the desire to conform is so strong that individuals would rather give incorrect responses to questions they know the correct answer to than give an response that differs from the group.

Conformity Asch Meme



For my research topic I would like to study the effect that social movements have on political policy.