Parsons, Talcott

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Encyclopedia entry

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The Wiley Blackwell encyclopedia of social theory

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action theory, four-function scheme, pattern variables, structural-functional analysis


As one of the founding fathers of modern sociology, Talcott Parsons (1902–1978) had devoted consistent efforts on the building of general theory. With an innovative synthesis of the works of Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, and Sigmund Freud, among others, Parsons sought to articulate a voluntaristic theory of action as the common theoretical core against which the scientific status of sociology can be secured. On this basis Parsons set forth the pattern variables, the four-function scheme, and other analytic constructs for the empirical studies of social system, covering a wide range of topics, such as health, education, Christianity, and American society. Once characterizing himself as an “incurable theorist,” Parsons's condensed and technical prose sounded obscure even for professional sociologists. But American sociology under Parsons's intellectual leadership attained paradigmatic status and won international acclaim. Contemporary sociologists who were concerned with the foundation of sociology and its theoretical rigor can learn from his past achievements and mistakes. The posthumous publication of his work on the American societal community promised a reappraisal of Parsons's theoretical system as a whole.



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ISBN of the source publication: 9780470658451

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Recommended Citation

Chen, H. F. (2017). Parsons, Talcott. In B.S. Turner, K.-S. Chang, C. F. Epstein, P. Kivisto, W. Outhwaite, & J. M. Ryan (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell encyclopedia of social theory. New York, United States: Wiley-Blackwell. doi: 10.1002/9781118430873.est0271