Sociology after Sociology

Alain Touraine



The unity of the sociology now termed classical was not that of a theory or discourse about social organization, social actors or the ways in which social wholes change; it was the study of society defined as a set of interdependent mechanisms ensuring the integration or combination of mutually opposed elements: the individualism of the actors and the internalization of institutional norms in the service of collective integration. The primary historical reason for the decline of this classical sociology is that its most stable foundation, the opposition between haves and have-nots along with that between men and women, was slowly undermined by a series of great social movements based at once on a quest for liberation and on the idea of equality It was the crisis in the earlier representations of social life which provoked, beyond the decline of the earlier sociology, the creation of a new intellectual space in which a constellation of forms of thought arose which constitute today what may be called contemporary sociology, and which is a sociology of ultramodernity. It is no longer in terms of objective situations or evaluations, economic or otherwise, that the social actor is explained. It is the cultural actor, his image of himself and his demands that govern a rapidly increasing part of social life. Th roughout the world and in all sectors of social life, actors are making a comeback. Reversal of the conception and role of institutions leads us to see them as instruments for the defence of individuals against norms. Today’s sociology is better explained by its future than by its past. The new sociology is already constituted as a set of questions and sensibilities, more widespread across the planet than any other previous form of social thought. But this de facto existence of the new sociology is not – not yet – accompanied by suffi cient self-refl ection. 

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