Contemporary Sociological Theory (IV)
Algimantas Valantiejus
Published 2010-12-14


Steven Seidman
postmodern social theory
the problem of „sociological tiredness“ in new theoretical historiography
the problem of „realism“
different criteria of postpositivism
epistemological continuum
the ideal of „equilateral triangle“

How to Cite

Valantiejus A. (2010) “Contemporary Sociological Theory (IV)”, Sociologija. Mintis ir veiksmas, 270, pp. 48-105. doi: 10.15388/SocMintVei.2010.2.6107.


This is the fourth part of a series of essays on contemporary sociological theory. The aim of these essays is to identify and critically assess the key concepts, ideas, epistemological principles, and the relational – symmetric and asymmetric – aspects of the ongoing global division of sociological labor. Although the concept of “theory” has deep roots in the professional discourses of East European intellectuals, sociological theory finds itself in a position where it cannot significantly affect the socio-political intellectual agenda. Moreover, sociological theory more and more is identified with the role of an “underlaborer.” If so, the problem needs to be posed in this way: it seems that current time has given us a chance to ask whether the shifting boundaries of democratic politics have begun to exert influence on the understanding of sociological theory. Thus, it is questionable that the mere “cumulative” growth of intellectual and institutional sociological recourses in a global context will automatically strengthen a theoretical sensibility. What is needed in sociological theoretical culture is not another symmetric-functional historicism, including the one-dimensional scientific mode of explanatory historicism (“from specificity to generality” [see Alexander 1982; 7]), but a deeper critical understanding of both analytical theoretical frameworks and normative discourses, including the attempts to understand the unevenly distributed global sociological field of asymmetric institutional and intellectual power relations. The examination of the fourfold functional model of Michael Burawoy had demonstrated that there are four dilemmas that he confronts in his attempts to articulate the idea of public sociology in a globalizing context: first, the contradiction between the universal content and national form of public sociology; second, the contradiction between analytical realism and pluralist relativism; third, the (nominal) contradiction between artificial types of public sociology and critical sociology; fourth, the contradiction between epistemological pluralism and value pluralism. The fourth part of a series of essays discusses the relevance of the relatively radical (“alternative”) conceptual proposal of Steven Seidman for contemporary metatheoretical debates, especially those concerned with (1) the relation between “analytic” and “ideological” frameworks, (2) the interplay between empirical generalizations and theoretical generalizations. Unlike Burawoy, Seidman is more genealogically conscious of local/temporal nature of social relations and various – symmetric and asymmetric – boundaries, including social theoretical and sociological theoretical. It is for this sensitive reason that Seidman rejects the “arrogance” of foundational theoretical schemes. Despite his recognition of the limits of a-contextual theorizing and the need to embrace local vs. universal perspective (for example, by evaluating conflicting perspectives and intellectual, social, moral, and political consequences), however, his model is constructed in such a way that it depends too much on the kind of one-dimensional inductive orientation. There are at least two further problems that result from the “event-based” narrative of postmodern social theory which deals carefully with its temporal and spatial boundaries: first, problems in identifying different criteria of the relation between the different multidimensional levels of epistemological continuum; second, problems related to developing ways of evaluating (a) the (probably) vital link between general categories of classical social theory and general (nevertheless, accountable) moral principles, (b) the relation between different principles of presuppositional theoretical level and moderate prognostic potentialities of postpositivistic (however, firmly classical, i.e., “social”) theory.

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