Decolonize ALL The Things

The UNsettling reflections of a Decolonial Scientist in a Constant State of Rage

Summary of Classical Sociological Theory

January 31, 2017

The basic premise of all classical sociological theory is that the contemporary world is the outcome of a transition from “traditional” to “modern” societies.  Explain how Karl Marx, Max Weber, & Emile Durkheim describe this transition.  How do they define the consequences of such a transition on western societies?  What do they think about the future of modernity?



Sociological theory aims to understand what we know as the modern world.  This is approached through understanding the transition from pre-modern or traditional societies to modern societies.  The theorists commonly known as the founders or fathers of sociological theory are also three key figures in understanding this transition, its consequences, and ultimately what it will lead to in the future.  Before this transition can be understood, the characteristics that define traditional and modern societies must be operationalized.  Putting it into the colonial context then we can understand part of the defining characteristic of the transition to modernity as the development of the nation state (through what Cedric J. Robinson (2005) referred to as the monopoly of force that began in the 16th century).  Modernity is defined by the rise of nation states and also a new conception of the individual whose thoughts and desires is independent of others.  The characteristics that motivated that transition has been presented by three sociologists commonly referred to as ‘founding fathers’ of classic sociological thought.

The classical sociological canon is framed by the works of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim.  Karl Marx relied on a particular understanding of historical materialism and ‘laws of history’ (Tucker 1978; Seidman 2004).  Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism is a critique of Marx’s historical materialism to argue that the material conditions required to fuel capitalism are not enough and that capitalism also requires ideological formulations to help create the conditions needed to transition fully from feudalism to capitalism.  Emile Durkheim on the other hand argued that transition from traditional/primitive to modern/advanced societies is an evolutionary process that requires intervention into primitive societies by advanced societies as well as natural changes.

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