Toward a General Theory of Action: Theoretical Foundations for the Social Sciences

Transaction Publishers
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This new edition introduces the social science audiences of a new century to one of the classic highlights of the mid-twentieth century. This is the most general statement of the general theory of action as it was developed by its principle exponent, Talcott Parsons, and his close collaborators who formed the core of the fabled department of social relations at Harvard University. Toward a General Theory of Action is an extremely ambitious formulation of the ingredients, dimensions, and ranges that determine human behavior.

Parsons and Shils enunciate principles that are at the core of contemporary social science preoccupations-including the precarious balance between social integration and conflict. The volume is at once universal in intent and highly personal, an expression of Parsons' thought, one of the most notable sociological theorists of the century. Finally, the book symbolizes the interdisciplinary impulse that typified a widespread belief in the unity of the sciences. This edition includes the collaborative group's introductory statement, Richard Sheldon's essay on the theoretical and philosophical status of the general theory of action, and "Values, Motives and Systems of Action" by Parsons and Shils.

Guy Swanson, writing in the The American Sociological Review, noted that "Parsons and Shils have performed a major service in clearing away many old controversies, in showing the reasonableness of a behavioral foundation for general theory in social science as a whole and in sociology in particular, in clarifying the interrelations among many concepts, and in the insightful interpretation of particular pieces of data." It is testimony to this book's continuing significance that it continues to generate new lines of research and writings.

Talcott Parsons and Edward A. Shils are now deceased. Parsons had a lifelong association with Harvard University, and Shils had an equally long distinguished service at Chicago University in the United States and Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. The special editor for the Transaction edition, Neil J. Smelser is director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, at Stanford University. From 1958 through 1994 he served on the sociology faculty at the University of California at Berkeley. He is author of many books in the areas of social theory, social change, economic sociology, social movements and the sociology of education.
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Transaction Publishers
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Published on
Dec 31, 1965
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Social Science / Sociology / General
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During the years between the publication of the first of his two major works, The Structure of Social Action (1937), and the writing of his second, The Social System (1951), Talcott Parsons was primarily engaged in political activity through the Office of Strategic Services in its efforts to bring about the defeat of the Third Reich and to set the stage for a democratic reconstruction of postwar Germany. Beyond Parsons' analytic skills the essays reveal a dedicated liberal scholar, far removed from the stereotypes with which he came to be pilloried by later critics. The essays in this collection are the by-products of that special period of intense commitment. They reflect a single dominant theme: National Socialist Germany is seen as a tragically flawed social system but one requiring the same rigorous analysis Parsons brought to more normal and normative systems. Since virulent authoritarianism and even more virulent anti-Semitism were the dominant traits of that system as he saw it, Parsons dedicated many pages to each aspect. While he did not know the full horror of the Nazi ""war against the Jews"" he was able to develop a theoretical framework that continues to be a foundation stone for the analysis of national socialism. Gerhardt's editorial labors in the Parsons archive at Harvard have yielded nothing less than a ""new book"" by the foremost American sociological theorist of his time. This collection of both published and unpublished writings conveys Parsons' cohesive intent. To these otherwise fugitive and neglected essays Gerhardt contributes an introductory essay of her own: in part biography, in part intellectual and social history. She discovered Parsons work on National Socialism while studying his sociology of the professions and his use of medical practice to demonstrate how social science could become an antidote for fascism and authoritarianism. Uta Gerhardt is director of the Medical Sociology Unit at Justu
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