In the social sciences today, students are taught theory by reading and analyzing the works of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and other foundational figures of the discipline. What they rarely learn, however, is how to actually theorize. The Art of Social Theory is a practical guide to doing just that.
In this one-of-a-kind user’s manual for social theorists, Richard Swedberg explains how theorizing occurs in what he calls the context of discovery, a process in which the researcher gathers preliminary data and thinks creatively about it using tools such as metaphor, analogy, and typology. He guides readers through each step of the theorist’s art, from observation and naming to concept formation and explanation. To theorize well, you also need a sound knowledge of existing social theory. Swedberg introduces readers to the most important theories and concepts, and discusses how to go about mastering them. If you can think, you can also learn to theorize. This book shows you how.
Concise and accessible, The Art of Social Theory features helpful examples throughout, and also provides practical exercises that enable readers to learn through doing.
Richard Swedberg is professor of sociology at Cornell University. His books include Tocqueville’s Political Economy, Principles of Economic Sociology, and Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology (all Princeton).
"Who expected new ideas about 'the art of social theory,' or even knew that it was an 'art'? Vintage Swedberg: wry and erudite yet engaging and accessible, drawing on philosophy, epistemology, and cognitive science to argue that though theorizing requires creativity and imagination, it can be effectively taught. Read this."--Mark Granovetter, Stanford University
"This is a book about how to go about theorizing in the social sciences. It speaks to graduate students preparing for a dissertation and, perhaps more, to their mentors. It is a perfect textbook for a graduate seminar, and offers a stimulating challenge to any social scientist who is curious about how his or her own 'art of theorizing' compares with Swedberg's. I've been a theoretical social scientist for more than half a century, and I was captivated."--Thomas C. Schelling, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics
"Swedberg's book is a marvelous introduction to the craft of theorizing. This is no abstract primer. It describes how people actually go about theorizing and linking their theories to methods. By recognizing that we all theorize all of the time, Swedberg demystifies the process, making it accessible and exciting. The Art of Social Theory is erudite and rich with historical allusion. It is a pleasure to read."--Frank Dobbin, author of Inventing Equal Opportunity
"A unique meditation on the meaning and purpose of theory and theorizing. By opening up to students how theorizing is an intellectual craft, Swedberg brings the subject alive in a direct and real way. The Art of Social Theory will change how we teach theory and theorizing in sociology."--Isaac Ariail Reed, author of Interpretation and Social Knowledge: On the Use of Theory in the Human Sciences
Table of Contents:
Introduction: Why Theorize and Can You Learn to Do It? 1
Part 1: How to Theorize
Chapter 1. Starting Anew 13
Chapter 2. Social Observation 29
Chapter 3. Naming, Concept, and Typology 52
Chapter 4. Analogy, Metaphor, and Pattern 80
Chapter 5. Coming Up with an Explanation 98
Part 2: Preparing for Theorizing
Chapter 6. Heuristics 127
Chapter 7. Practical Exercises 146
Chapter 8. The Role of Theory 169
Chapter 9. Imagination and Art 188
Chapter 10. Summary and More 210
Appendix: How to Theorize according to Charles S. Peirce 230
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Richard Swedberg: