Talcott Parsons and the Phenomenological Tradition in Sociology: An Unresolved Debate

Jules-Rosette, Bennetta
October 1980
Human Studies;Oct80, Vol. 3 Issue 4, p311
Academic Journal
This article discusses the contributions sociologist Talcott Parsons to the phenomenological tradition in sociology. From his early work in "The Structure of Social Action" in 1937 forward, he drew upon a phenomenological perspective in developing his action theory. The voluntaristic theory of action, his earliest systematic thinking, combined the individual's orientation to normative ideals with what he later termed the concept of internalized compliance. This process of compliance was elaborated through his subsequent applications of both Freudian theory and economic models of rationality to explain individual behavior. While distinct from phenomenological descriptions of motive, these rationalist paradigms included the actor's state of mind and subjective orientations as variables. His continued concern and misgivings about a phenomenological perspective in sociology are revealed by the 1974 retrospective comment. He contended that direct recording and analysis of empirical reality was impossible. All facts obtain their status through interpretation and are subject to further verification on the theoretical level. Hence, empirical knowledge is the basic resource for systematic theorizing.


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