Social Theory and the History of Sociology

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Instead of a mere chronological account of sociological ideas with biographical notes and ad hoc commentaries, the history of social theory aims to delineate how theory and theorizing have been profoundly shaped by changing historical contexts and social structures. Classical theorists such as Marx, Weber, and Durkheim are best understood as products of their times, while the definition of sociological classics is open to contestation and redefinition. Five major themes in the historical studies of sociological theory are discussed in this chapter, including thought and schools, science and tradition, history and the present, rethinking the canon, and decentering the West. In early studies, social theory was conceived as part of social thought, which consisted of a remarkable variety of theoretical schools and civilizational sources. Later on, a scientistic approach to modern social theory and its development rose to prominence, against which the notion of a sociological tradition was set forth as a counterpoint. On the other hand, intellectual historians insisted on the importance of contextualizing social theory, and objected to the projection of contemporary theoretical debates onto classical works. In more recent studies, the idea of canon and its exclusivity has been questioned. Marginalized and neglected theorists, including in particular women and black thinkers, were reappraised and reincorporated into the sociological canon. The Eurocentric bias of social theory, as a manifestation of the imperial origin and episteme of sociology, was also criticized. Notable attempts were made to utilize postcolonial thoughts for revisiting and reinventing social theory.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of the History of Human Sciences
EditorsDavid MCCALLUM
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages25
EditionLive Reference Work Entry
ISBN (Electronic)9789811541063, 9789811672552
ISBN (Print)9789811541063, 9789811672545
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2022. All rights reserved.


  • Canon
  • Classical theory
  • Eurocentrism
  • History of social theory
  • Modernity
  • Scientism
  • Social thought
  • Sociological tradition


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