Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology arrow Social Change and Social Work

The Classical Sociological Thinkers and the First Modernity

We can shed some light on the subject by examining the fundamental questions of sociology, the theories put forward by the discipline's classical thinkers and Western modernization. In 1867, Karl Marx suggested that the Western capitalist method of production and its goal of producing endless additional value would lead to escalating cycles of economic and industrial life, the dominance and hegemony of the bourgeois class and the impoverishment and the exploitation of the working class (Marx 1954). Marx argued that the nation-state is a class state and insisted that transnational capital, which enables and restrains the activities of nation-states and ultimately undermines their prestige, will emerge. With his colleague Friedrich Engels, Marx suggested in 1848 that in the long run, these developments will, in the first phase, lead to revolution and the establishment of the socialist state and, at a later phase, to a communist society (Marx and Engels 1998). Another classical sociological thinker, Max Weber, suggested in 1930 that modern Western culture could be characterized by its specific calculating attitude and rational nature. The Protestant work ethic and especially the ascetic forms of Protestantism formed a basis for the breakthrough of capitalism and the processes of capital accumulation (Weber 1978a). Furthermore, Weber proposed (Weber 1978b, 880–900), the combination of religious asceticism, a calculating attitude and specific rational nature culminated in a bureaucratic administrative model and a formal, rational and positivist written law. Later generations in particular have adopted the metaphor of 'the iron cage of bureaucracy' where the activities of rational administration have withdrawn themselves from more humanist and materialist concerns. (e.g. Horkheimer 1947).

In turn, the third main thinker of classical sociology, Emile Durkheim, proposed in 1893 that the basis of social solidarity between people and communities changed as we moved from premodern communities towards modern ones. As the nature of social solidarity changes, so do the structures of societies. Durkheim argued that the most important field indicating the changes in social solidarity is legislation. According to Durkheim, the mechanical solidarity of premodern communities was based on the similarity of individuals and on maintaining solidarity through repressive law. In these communities, the status of repression and criminal law were salient in regulating social activities. As for the solidarity of the modern communities, organic solidarity is based on the differentiation and division of labour as well as on restitutive law (Durkheim 1949).

The characteristic features of modern societies, which combines the three classical perspectives described, set the conditions for the birth of paid work and class society. The features are linked inextricably with the economic, political and social segmentation of modern society. Even if the views and perspectives of Marx and Weber differed from each other, they both addressed the concept of class in their writings and suggested that there will be changes in class related to paid work in the transition from the premodern era to the modern one. In particular, Karl Marx emphasized bourgeois domination, hegemony and its subversive activity of the working population. He suggested that, in time, the working class would be impoverished and alienated from its work and output.

Consequently, modern social policy and social security systems were established along with the birth of industrial relations and labour policy. Social policy efforts and social work were linked to philanthropic efforts of relief for the poor, but at the same time – and above all – they demonstrated the internal solidarity of the social classes and gave form to collective risk management in which wage labourers were to be protected from unemployment and its consequences. Social policy took shape as social reformism, an expression of solidarity between the social classes. In many ways, the rise of social reformism could be explained by the fear upper social classes held of the collective working class movement and its power. This movement, they feared, would lead to revolution and topple the existing bourgeois social, economic and political order and ideals. However, despite the birth of modern class society and the emphasis on the conflicts between the social classes,
modernization trends have, during the past 250 years, significantly changed setups and relations between social strata, genders, and generations. In the long run there is no doubt: the gaps between groups have narrowed substantially and equality as well as human dignity have increased.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics