... all our knowledge results from questions, which is another way of saying that question-asking is our most important intellectual tool.  I would go so far as to say that the answers we carry about in our heads are largely meaningless unless we know the questions which produced them. ... What, for example, are the sorts of questions that obstruct the mind, or free it, in the study of history?  How are these questions different from those one might ask of a mathematical proof, or a literary work, or a biological theory? ... What students need to know are the rules of discourse which comprise the subject, and among the most central of such rules are those which govern what is and what is not a legitimate question.
   --Neil Postman, Teaching as a Conserving Activity, 1979.


So what is the "sociological imagination"? It is the perspective described thusly (in pre-gender-sensitive times) by C. Wright Mills:
Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both. Yet men do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical change and institutional contradiction. ... The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals. ... The first fruit of this imagination--and the first lesson of the social science that embodies it--is the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and gauge his own fate only by locating himself within this period, that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances. ...We have come to know that every individual lives, from one generation to the next, in some society; that he lives out a biography, and that he lives it out within some historical sequence (The Sociological Imagination, 1959:3-10).


Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
--Voltaire (1694-1778)

A definition is no proof.
--William Pinkney, American diplomat (1764-1822)

A theory is more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises, the more different the kinds of things it relates and the more extended its range of applicability.
--Albert Einstein, 1949

According to Karl Popper (Logik der Forschung, 1935: p.26), Theory is "the net which we throw out in order to catch the world--to rationalize, explain, and dominate it." Through history, sociological theory arose out of attempts to make sense of times of dramatic social change. As Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills observed in Character and Social Structure (Harbinger Books, 1964:xiii), "Problems of the nature of human nature are raised most urgently when the life-routines of a society are disturbed, when men are alienated from their social roles in such a way as to open themselves up for new insight." Consider the historical contexts spawning the theoretical insights below:

SocioSite: Noted Sociological Theorists and Samplings of their Works

Frank E'well's Great Social Theorists: Malthus, Comte, Marx, Spencer, Veblen, Durkheim, Weber and DuBois

Alan Liu's Voice of the Shuttle: Great collection of synopses and primary works of the great theorists

Society for Social Research Page: Classical Sociological Theory. Good site for excerpts from the classics, courtesy of the University of Chicago.

Serdar Kaya's The Sociology Professor, a portal to social theories and theorists

Sociolog: many phenomenological links

Larry Ridener's Dead Sociologists' Society Index: Biographies of and excerpts from those who carved the discipline

Ed Stephan's "A Sociology Timeline from 1600"

Carl Cuneo's Course on Theories of Inequality

Marxist Internet Archive

Marxism Made Simple

Marx and Engels' Writings

Engels' The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

Antonio Gramsci writings

Habermas links collected by Antti Kauppinen

The Durkheim Page from Hewett

Verstehen: The Sociology of Max Weber

Mannheim Centre for European Social Research

Charles Horton Cooley's Social Organization: A Study of the Larger Mind

George Herbert Mead Repository at Brock University

All Things Simmelian--Georg Simmel Homepage

Erving Goffman

Game Theory Society--mathematically modeling "strategic interaction in competitive and cooperative environments"

Thorsten Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class

Foucault Homepage

Jean Baudrillard speaks

Anthony Giddens

Howard S. Becker's Home Page--replete with recent papers, biographical updates and web recommendations

Amitai Etzioni's Articles in Professional Journals and Books

"Contemporary Philosophy, Critical Theory and Postmodern Thought" from the University of Denver

Norbert Elias site from University of Sydney

FreudNet: The A.A. Brill Library

An evolving site to keep an eye on is Jim Spickard's Social Theory Pages, with historical backgrounds and intellectual biographies of the key players

Need a dictionary for those works of critical theorists and postmodernists? Try the Red Feather Dictionary of Critical Social Science

Gene Shackman's Social, Economic and Political Change--featuring links to theory, data and research about large scale long term political, economic and social systems change at the national and international level

World-Systems Archive

The Research Committee on Sociocybernetics (of the Intl. Sociological Association)

Want to see what theories sociologists are currently cooking up? Below is a sampling of sociological journals.

Electronic Journal of Sociology Home Page
Sociological Research Online
Journal of World-Systems Research
Journal of Mundane Behavior (first issue February 2000)
Annual Review of Sociology--with 12-years of searchable abstracts
Sociological Abstracts Home Page
The Canadian Journal of Sociology
Tables of Contents for all issues of Postmodern Culture
Return to A Sociological Tour Through Cyberspace