Theory programs and theoretical problems

Sociological Theory 23 (2):127-155 (2005)
Abstract
Some sociologists argue that sociological theory does not grow and the reason why it does not grow is that the discipline lacks a core of highly developed, almost universally accepted, paradigms; even worse, because it is reflexive, its criteria of problem and theory choice are so noncognitive that there are no paradigms, hence no progress, in its future. We do not question that sociology lacks a core of almost universally accepted paradigms, nor that highly developed paradigms may be a sufficient condition of theory growth, but we question both that universal acceptance of them is necessary and that sociology has nothing like them. We argue that theoretical research programs-sets of strategies, sets of interrelated theories embodying these strategies, and empirical models interpreting these theories-are sufficient for theoretical growth. An examination of three theoretical research programs in this article shows that they perform some of the same functions for theory growth as, in Kuhn, are performed by paradigms. Sociology may lack a universally accepted core, but there are theoretical research programs in sociology, and therefore already there is theory growth if it is looked for in the right place. Nor is there any warrant for the view that because its criteria of problem and theory choice are inescapably noncognitive, there are no paradigms, hence no progress, in sociology's future. If that were true, not only would sociology lack paradigms, but also theoretical research programs. We conclude from our study that sociology need not wait on the emergence of a universally accepted core. It is sufficient for the growth of theory that it develops further its existing theoretical research programs and that it encourages the creation of new programs
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