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Talcott Parsons on Institutions and Social Evolution

Selected Writings

Talcott Parsons is regarded, by admirers and critics alike, as a major creator of the sociological thought of our time. Despite the universal recognition of his influence, however, Parsons’s thought is not well understood, in part because his work presents the reader with almost legendary difficulties. Most of his important essays and books presume that the reader is familiar with his rather specialized vocabulary, and even when Parsons begins by defining basic terms, his special uses for words and his style of exposition strike many readers as forbidding.

In his extensive introduction to this volume, Leon H. Mayhew brings a new focus and clarity to Talcott Parsons’s work. Explicating Parsons on his own terms, Mayhew discusses the basic tools of Parsonian analysis and interprets the larger themes of his work. He provides a chronological account of the development of Parsons’s thought, his presuppositions, and his position on the ideological spectrum of social thought.

Mayhew then presents twenty of Parsons’s essays, touching on each of the major aspects of his work, including "action" theory and the celebrated four-function scheme. Other topics covered include the role of theory in social research, evolutionary universals in society, influence, control, and the mass media.

"Talcott Parsons on Institutions and Social Evolution will become a standard reference for those studying that development of his sociological ideas."—Martin Bulmer, The Times Higher Education Supplement

363 pages | 5.25 x 8 | © 1983

Heritage of Sociology Series

Sociology: Social Institutions

Table of Contents

A Biographical Note
Introduction, by Leon H. Mayhew
I. Sociological Theory and the Action Frame of Reference
1. The Role of Theory in Social Research
2. The Place of Ultimate Values in Sociological Theory
3. The Action Frame of Reference
4. Hobbes and the Problem of Order
5. Rationality and Utilitarianism
6. The Pattern Variables
II. Institutionalization
7. Integration and Institutionalization in the Social System
8. The Superego and the Theory of Social Systems
9. Illness and the Role of the Physician, with Rene Fox
10. The Hierarchy of Control
11. Specification
12. Jurisdiction
III. Institutionalized Exchange
13. Durkheim on Organic Solidarity
14. Double Interchanges in Economy and Society, with Neil Smelser
15. On the Concept of Influence
IV. Change, Evolution, and Modern Society
16. Some Considerations on the Theory of Social Change
17. The Mass Media and the Structure of American Society, with Winston White
18. Archaic and Historic Societies
19. Evolutionary Universals in Society
20. American Values and American Society, with Gerald M. Platt

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