Who is Jeffrey C. Alexander?June 25, 2021
Jeffrey Charles Alexander is an American sociologist and one of the world’s leading social theorists.
Founding figure in what is referred to as the “strong program” in the contemporary school of sociology.
Alexander argued that in order to strengthen the structural functionalist theory, the concepts of conflict and subjective meaning should be included in this theory, and concepts such as system integration, interpretation of subsystems and balance should not be accepted as given, but should be seen as tendencies open to questioning.
J. Alexander is the most prominent name in studies conducted in the USA on new functionalism. He stated that Alexander Parsons’ theory is still very effective and criticized it for being too reductionist and not giving enough space to conflict and tension, but argued that these deficiencies can be eliminated (Ritzer and Smart, 2001:148).
Alexander argued that sociological studies can be understood in a continuum that includes the abstract, general, and metaphysical on the one hand, and the concrete, empirical, and factual on the other, and that studies can be placed at a point on this line. based on its conceptualization. Within this conceptualization, on a straight line, Alexander places general models and ideological orientations that try to describe and explain presuppositions, social processes and systems, and express them as “generalized discourse”. At the other extreme, he places observational statements, methodological assumptions, propositions, describing them as “research programmes”, and he considers this type of sociological research to be relatively unproblematic as they seek to explain and interpret particular empirical structures and processes. Between these two extremes are concepts, definitions, classifications and laws. While both generalized discourse and research problems are problem-solving activities, generalized discourse tends towards abstract issues whose empirical direction is relatively ambiguous and offers solutions that can be considered almost philosophical, while research programs deal with more specific empirical issues, such as the origins of social mobility within a society (Colomy, 1991: 272-3).
Within this understanding, Alexander thought that a bridge could be built between macro and micro sociology, and he focused on both order and action. He tried to combine the classical and modern theories, to combine the micro and macro levels by articulating the phenomenological perspective with structuralism. However, Alexander thinks that New functionalism is not just a revision or maturation of structural functionalism, according to him, this new approach is a reconstruction process that will enable him to differentiate and move away from the founder of structural functionalism, Parsons, and enrich it with other theories (Alexander and Colomy, 1990).
Metatheory is the name given to the broad perspective that encompasses two or more theories. Alexander also tries to develop a theory that will include all parts of sociological theory and a general theoretical logic for sociology, thus trying to develop a metatheory. However, it does not try to cover everything by tying it together conceptually, but tries to establish a looser structure that organizes studies at different levels and in different empirical fields within the framework of a general methodological logic (Alexander and Colomy, 1990:52).
Alexander explains the main orientations of the new functionalism as follows (Ritzer, 2008:262-3):
(a) New functionalism sees society as a structure made up of various parts interacting with each other in a certain pattern. This interaction pattern allows the system to differentiate from its environment. The parts of the system are symbiotically connected to each other and their interactions are not determined by external forces. In this respect, new functionalism is an open-ended and pluralistic theory that rejects one-cause reductionism.
(b) Alexander argues that neo-functionalism should avoid the tendency of social order to focus almost exclusively on the macro level and social structures, as in structural functionalism, and should give equal weight to action and order. Alexander tries to insert some interactionist elements into the general understanding of traditional structural functionalism, which sees society as a self-functioning macro system, thus making structural functionalism a stronger theory against criticism. In other words, it aims to transform functionalism into a theory that both sees society as a self-sufficient organism and can also see the dynamic aspects of society regarding change. According to Alexander, who tries to connect the individual and society conceptually in this framework, the action that takes place at the micro level, that is, at the level of interaction, is a tool that can ensure the realization of social change, but the individual will takes place within the framework of a certain social order. right