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What Is Theoretical Sociology?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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Theoretical sociology is a type of sociology that focuses on theory or theoretical outcomes. This is as opposed to practical sociology, which may be pursued in more concrete ways with more specific data sets or restrictions in scope for research projects. Theoretical sociology is often described as a broad research tradition that focuses on elements of sociology and worldview.

As a type of theoretical research, theoretical sociology is sometimes described as having two separate stages. The first stage would involve the identification and analysis of certain theoretical sociological problems or situations. Critical analysis, as a general method, would then lead to the second phase, which would consist of reactions to these problems in the form of action points or principles. This process may revolve around the idea of “treating” sociological ills in a particular society or community.

Some professionals also break down the field of theoretical sociology into several subcategories. Some of these include structural functionalism, which has been attributed to the work of sociological researcher named Emile Durkheim. Another major subcategory is sometimes described as Marxist, where the relatively familiar work of Karl Marx sets up various theoretical sociology problems and theoretical responses. Another general category is often called conflict theory, which can be theoretical but is often seen as having many practical applications in societies.

In order to study various kinds of theoretical sociology, academics may apply several labels to each subcategory. One of these would consist of a specific view of a society, or a scenario for theoretical research. Others might include a specific designation for the application of sociological criticism, as well as a set of key concepts or terms for a given theoretical sociology method.

To explain the role of theoretical areas of sociology, some in the social sciences relate it to the similar yet different idea of theory in sciences like physics. In both cases, the theory provides a hypothetical approach. In social sciences, some of the practical applications can be less concrete than in a science like chemistry, but theoretical sociology and similar research areas also seek to draw conclusions about causal events, or other features of a classical hypothesis, in order to address real issues in the field of sociology. As a useful area of the social sciences, this type of theory may be taught in academic departments and studied extensively by professional sociologists.

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Discussion Comments

By stoneMason — On Jul 02, 2014

I think theoretical sociology is confusing because we try to understand it as a whole. Instead, we should look at the various perspectives within this field like functional perspective or ecological perspective.

By candyquilt — On Jul 01, 2014

@discographer-- I think that theoretical sociology is misunderstood.

This type of sociology doesn't consider solutions to theoretical social problems. It considers theoretical solutions or theories for real social problems. So the problems are current and the solutions applicable. But in order to find the best solution, experts and researchers have "theorize" about the problem and how it could be solved.

Theoretical sociology tries to explain how social roles and systems have an impact. It encourages that we take these social roles seriously and try to understand how they affect various issues.

Does this make sense?

By discographer — On Jul 01, 2014

When I heard the word "theoretical," I get the feeling that what is being discussed doesn't exist or may not exist. So it doesn't have an application in today's life.

I don't see a point in studying something that is not of benefit but I'm not an expert on this topic.

What does everyone else think?

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