Classical sociology thinkers

The classic thinkers of sociology are the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx , the French sociologist Émile Durkheim and the sociologist, German political theorist Max Weber . Despite this, we cannot fail to mention the honorable participation of the French philosopher Auguste Comte, considered the “father” of sociology , for enunciating, for the first time, the need for a science capable of understanding the bases of society and creating intervention proposals for that it can develop fully.

With different views on the sociological method and the course of society, the authors of the so-called tripod of sociology (Marx, Durkheim and Weber) contributed immensely to the basic development of this science.

Marx, Weber and Durkheim are considered the fundamental theorists of sociology.

Birth of sociology: historical context

  • Historical background

Since the 14th century, Europe has seen an increasing rise of a new social class: the bourgeoisie . The Protestant Reformation, which took place in the 15th century, and a new worldview, less dominated by medieval Catholic logic, allowed this new social class to grow even more . The 16th and 17th centuries witnessed several social changes, such as scientific revolutions and the English Revolution .

In the eighteenth century, the independence of the Thirteen Colonies , which resulted in the establishment of the old English territory as the United States of America, a democratic republican country, and the French Revolution gave practical signs of the failure of the Old Regime ( absolutism ). The Enlightenment French – philosophical and political movement represented by Montesquieu and Voltaire , for example – also showed signs that the European people no longer accept absolutism as a legitimate political regime.

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At the turn of the 18th to the 19th century, Europe was faced with a political and social crisis : France was under instability and political chaos left by the revolution, in addition to the Industrial Revolution caused an intense change in Europe’s spatial configuration, especially from England, which took the lead in industrialization. There was an intense and sudden rural exodus in now industrialized cities, which caused social chaos due to the wave of misery, the spread of diseases and the consequent increasing violence in urban centers.

See also: Contemporary philosophy – area of ​​knowledge very influenced by this context

  • Emergence of Sociology

Faced with this situation, the French philosopher Auguste Comte started talking about the need to radically change the direction that society was taking. For the philosopher, it was necessary to reestablish order for France to resume its growth. This order could only be achieved by a rigid organization of society (as rigid as military standards require) and by the valorization of scientism .

Auguste Comte is considered the “father” of sociology.

Science, for Comte, is the main key to the intellectual and moral growth of society . To intervene effectively in this, it would be necessary to understand how it is structured, which would be possible by means of a science that was put to analyze it. First, the name of this science, in Comte’s theory, would be social physics . It was necessary for her to take a methodological rigor for herself as well as the sciences of nature. Later, Comte named his science sociology. All this theoretical philosopher set has become a kind of political and social movement that became known as p ositivismo .

  • Successors of Auguste Comte

Despite having stated for the first time the need to build a science that would study society, Comte did not develop a method for it to work, nor did he manage to climb the philosophical abstractions which he said he had to overcome in his work. Who identified this was the French sociologist Émile Durkheim , considered the first specialist in this area because he was the first to develop a method and go to the field to understand social structures. Durkheim also introduced sociology into the academic curricula of higher education.

Before him, Marx was already emerging with his historical dialectical materialist method of social analysis. Despite the validity of the method for understanding social and economic structures as a whole, he did not develop field work that would allow a thorough understanding of all aspects of society in a rigorous and complex manner, which made Durkheim take the position first sociologist.

Karl Marx developed the sociological and philosophical method called dialectical historical materialism.

Finally in the formation of the triad of classical sociology, we have the German sociologist, jurist and politician Max Weber . Weber proposed a method and a sociological look quite different from that proposed by Durkheim and Marx. Its historical importance is due, precisely, to the innovative vision that he brought to sociology .

To summarize the position of the classic authors, we can say that Durkheim and Weber are conservatives, defenders of capitalism, while Marx is in favor of a revolution to overthrow this system. For more details on the emergence of this science, visit: Emergence of sociology .

How classical sociology authors define social divisions

Each classic author of sociology understood society based on a different and peculiar view. Auguste Comte saw it as a complexity that should be addressed by positivism, always keeping in mind progress and scientism. The social classes resulting from capitalism would be less unequal with the progress and general order of society .

For Karl Marx , society had inherited the division into social classes from capitalism, which resulted in profound social inequality . For him there are two social classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat . The bourgeoisie would be the class that owns the means of production (factories), while the proletariat would be the sole owner of its labor force, usurped by the bourgeoisie via wage labor.

For Émile Durkheim , society is a whole organized based on its functions . The method proposed by him, functionalism, aims to understand the functions of each individual in society in order to understand it as a whole.

Émile Durkheim is considered the first sociologist.

Max Weber , in turn, sought to understand society as a complex whole of several different social actions . Each individual would act in a different way, and in order to know how these actions are ordered, it would be necessary to establish a parameter. The parameters would be the ideal types.

See also: Marxism – sociological doctrine created by Marx and Engels

Main classical sociologists and their theories

The following is a summary of the theories of the main classical theorists of sociology:

  • Karl Marx

Marx’s dialectical historical materialism understands that the history of humanity is based on a dialectical relationship between social classes . In the case of capitalism , the division is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Material production, the result of work, is the main constitutive element of society.

For Marx, the relationship between the two classes is unfair, and it is necessary, in his view, for a revolution of the proletarian class to dominate the means of production through the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat. This dictatorship, of a socialist nature, would tend to eliminate the differentiation of social classes for good , resulting in communism. To learn more about this theorist and his theory, visit: Karl Marx .

  • Emile Durkheim

Society is a complex whole ordered by facts and governed by functions that are the motives for understanding it. According to Durkheim, in addition to the understanding of functions, there should be, on the part of the sociologist, an understanding of the facts that govern different societies , as they are fixed. In his words, such facts are external to the individual, coercive and generalizing, which makes them the only option for concrete and scientific understanding of society. Find out more about this sociologist by reading the text: Émile Durkheim .

  • Max Weber 

German sociologist Max Weber strongly disagreed with Durkheim’s sociological theory. For that, there are no social facts, but social actions that are individual. The sociologist’s role is to understand the functioning of society by understanding individual social actions via a comprehensive method.

Max Weber developed the comprehensive method of sociology.

In order for there to be no lack of scientific rigor in the analysis, it would be necessary to understand a kind of expected pattern of social behavior . These patterns, Weber called ideal types, which are the standard of social understanding. Deepen your knowledge of this author and his concepts a little further by accessing: Max Weber .


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