Talcott Parsons (December 13, 1902 – May 8, 1979) was an American sociologist and Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, known for the development of a general theory for the study of society, called action theory.
- Every social system is a functioning entity. That is, it is a system of interdependent structures and processes such that it tends to maintain a relative stability and distinctiveness of pattern and behaviour as an entity by contrast with its - social or other - environment, and with it a relative independence from environmental forces. It "responds", to be sure, to the environmental stimuli, but is not completely assimilated to its environment, maintaining rather an element of distinctiveness in the face of variations in environmental conditions. To this extent it is analogous to an organism
- Parsons (1942) "Propaganda and Social Control". in: Parsons (1954) Essays in sociological theory , p. 143
- The functions of the family in a highly differentiated society are not to be interpreted as functions directly on behalf of the society, but on behalf of personality.
- Parsons, Robert Freed Bales (1956) Family: socialization and interaction process. p. 16
- 'System' is the concept that refers both to a complex of interdependencies between parts, components, and processes, that involves discernible regularities of relationships, and to a similar type of interdependency between such a complex and its surrounding environment.
- Parsons (1968) "Systems Analysis: Social Systems" in: David L. Sills ed. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. p. 458; Cited in: Ida R. Hoos (1972) Systems Analysis in Public Policy: A Critique.
- The social system is, thus, a very complex entity. As an organization of human interests, activities and commitments, it must be viewed as a system and in functional perspective. This is the key to its lines of organization, its modes of differentiation, and its integration. Such a system may be considered as both structure and process, in different aspects and for different scientific purposes. Structurally, we have suggested that there is a double basis for systematizing differentiation and variation : that internal to the primary social system itself and that involved in its relations to its primary environments, as analyzed with reference to the general system of action. Processually, the categories of analysis must follow from and integrate with those of structure. I suggest that, given the central position language as definitive of human society, the more differentiated and specialized symbolic media of interchange constitute the master scheme for the systematic analysis of social system processes.
- Parsons (1968) "Systems Analysis: Social Systems" in: David L. Sills ed. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. p. 472
Talcott Parsons (1937) The structure of social action: a study in social theory with special reference to a group of recent European writers. Reprint 1949, 1968
- A theoretical system does not merely state facts which have been observed and that logically deducible relations to other facts which have also been observed. In so far as such a theory is empirically correct it will also tell us what empirical facts it should be possible to observe in a given set.
- p. 8
- The structure of a theoretical system tells us what alternatives are open in the possible answers to a given question. If observed facts of undoubted accuracy will not fit any of the alternatives it leaves open, the system itself is in need of reconstruction.
- p. 9
Talcott Parsons (1951) The social system. Glencoe, Ill. : Free Press.
- A social system consists in a plurality of individual actors interacting with each other in a situation which has at least a physical or environmental aspect, actors who are motivated in terms of a tendency to the "optimization of gratification" and whose relation to their situations, including each other, is defined and mediated in terms of a system of culturally structured and shared symbols.
- p. 5-6
- The most elementary communication is not possible without some degree of conformity to the “conventions” of the symbolic system.
- p. 6
- A social system is a mode of organization of action elements relative to the persistence or ordered processes of change of the interactive patterns of a plurality of individual actors.
- p. 15
- Without deliberate planning on anyone's part, there have developed in our type of social system, and correspondingly in others, mechanisms which, within limits, are capable of forestalling and reversing the deep-lying tendencies for deviance to get into the vicious circle phase which puts it beyond the control of ordinary approval-disapproval and reward-punishment sanctions.
- p. 319-320 as cited in: Paul Gingrich (2002) "Functionalism and Parsons," Sociology. 250. November 15-22, 2002
- Ideology is a system of beliefs, held in common by the members of a collectivity.
- p. 349
Toward a general theory of action (1951)
Talcott Parsons (1951) Toward a general theory of action
- Theory in the social sciences should have three major functions. First, it should aid in the codification of our existing concrete knowledge. It can do so by providing generalized hypotheses for the systematic reformulation of existing facts and insights, by extending the range of implication of particular hypotheses, and by unifying discrete observations under general concepts. Through codification, general theory in the social sciences will help to promote the process of cumulative growth of our knowledge. In making us more aware of the interconnections among items of existing knowledge which are now available in a scattered, fragmentary form, it will help us fix our attention on the points where further work must be done.
Second, general theory in the social sciences should be a guide to research. By codification it enables us to locate and define more precisely the boundaries of our knowledge and of our ignorance. Codification facilitates the selection of problems, although it is not, of course, the only useful technique for the selection of problems for fruitful research. Further than this, general theory should provide hypotheses to be applied and tested by the investigation of these problems...
Third, general theory as a point of departure for specialized work in the social sciences will facilitate the control of the biases of observation and interpretation which are at present fostered by the departmentalization of education and research in the social sciences.
- p. 3
- Culture has been distinguished from the other elements of action by the fact that it is intrinsically transmissible from one action system to another from personality to personality by learning and from social system to social system by diffusion. This is because culture is constituted by "ways of orienting and acting," these ways being "embodied in" meaningful symbols.
- p. 159
About Talcott Parsons
- Talcott Parsons, the "incurable theorist" in his own words,... brought together, in a systematic and generalized form, the main outlines of a conceptual scheme of social action and systems (e.g. 1951). His frame of reference focused on the description of the system of institutionalized roles, motivational process, economic exchange, political power and other Issues that according to his view should be included in a general sociological theory.
- Bela H. Banathy (1985) Proceedings, Society for General Systems Research international. Vol 1. p. xxv