Who is Neil Smelser?

Who is Neil Smelser?

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Neil Joseph Smelser is an American sociologist who is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

He was an active researcher from 1958 to 1994. His research was on collective behavior, sociological theory, economic sociology, sociology of education, social change and comparative methods.

Smelser has conducted multidisciplinary research in sociology, psychology, economics and history, trying to expand the public sphere of sociology, to bridge conceptual and methodological distinctions, and to combine micro and macro levels. Smelser conducted multidisciplinary research in sociology, psychology, economics and history, tried to expand the public sphere of sociology, and tried to bridge conceptual and methodological distinctions.

Neil Smelser’s contribution to sociology can be analyzed in two main parts. First, Smelser argued that social reality should be decomposed into relatively autonomous analytical levels that are concretely interconnected, and that the micro, meso, macro, and global levels should be defined and interpreted as equal analytical levels, with none of which is more important or prioritized than the others. He stated that social structures, beliefs and emotions are also important at every level within them. Secondly, Smelser, who thinks that phenomena at the level of interaction are the result of the crystallization of social structures, argued that social structure cannot be separated from the analysis of social processes, social movements and social change under any circumstances (Alexander et al., 2004).

Trying to bridge or connect the micro and the macro, sociologists are concerned with either (a) micro and macro theories of social analysis, or (b) micro and macro levels. Smelser, who falls into the second group, argues that a theory should be developed that can explain the relationship between micro and macro levels of social analysis (Ritzer, 2008: 501-2).

Smelser focused on social change with a structuralist perspective. This study is important in terms of showing how the problem of social change can be handled with a conciliatory perspective (Cuff et al., 1989: 61). According to Smelser, the social system adapts itself to cope with the tensions that undermine its stability and integration and to regain a state of equilibrium; social change is this ‘adaptive arrangement’ of society. Smelser tested this idea in a study he conducted in an area (Lancashire) experiencing great social growth as a result of industrial development. In this study, he examined the structural differentiation process and concluded that the primary source of the changes that will occur in society is the value system.

In his study, he argued that the industrial structure in this region entered a process of differentiation due to its inability to meet its production needs, it became a more suitable and new industrial structure, and this change made the family institution inoperable and caused the family to enter into a structural differentiation process. According to Smelser, who shows that many other social institutions have entered the process of differentiation after the family, this shows that the parts of the society are mutually dependent on each other, that these parts are constantly adapting to each other and that they all tend to reach balance collectively. Smelser’s study reveals that social change stems from the value system, and that the value system, on the one hand, provides the necessary standards to legitimize new regulations and expectations, and on the other hand, determines the degree and direction of change (Cuff et al., 1989: 61).

In the face of the criticisms brought to structural functionalism after 1960, Smelser found these criticisms partially justified and argued that although structural functionalism tended to cover everything conceptually, it was not empirically comprehensive enough, and criticized this approach as being one-sided and polemical. Smelser adopted generality and synthesis as the most important scientific goals and concluded that a new approach should be developed based on a synthesis of accepted approaches known to be useful (Alexander et al., 2004).

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer Yıldırım