The general sociology of Harrison White


In this thesis the main features of Harrison C. White’s general sociology are studied. Since the 1960s White has played a crucial role in the development of the social network approach. He is well known for both the fecundity of the analytical tools he has developed over the years and for the original contributions he has made to several sub­fields of the discipline. White has also developed an unconventional and highly individual approach to social reality that, as the end-result of a sustained synthesizing effort, has grown out of a long and persistent endeavor. Yet, more than a decade after its publication, this general theoretical approach still remains largely unexplored. The main argument of this study is that White’s approach represents one of the mast persistent, elaborated and systematic efforts to enrich the analytical rigorous of the social network approach by adding the substantive theoretical insights that have been elaborated mainly within the symbolic interactionist perspective and the tradition of phenomenological sociology. In this study, first the premises of White’s approach are examined. It is demonstrated how White uses social networks as an analytical tool in order to obtain causal explanations of social phenomena. It is also shown how White re- conceptualizes the notions of social relationship and embeddedness. Furthermore, it is also discussed how White, on the basis of these conceptual innovations, develops a novel image of modern social contexts. This study proceeds by presenting the set of new basic concepts that are derived from this image, seeking to locate these concepts within the larger and more familiar context of theoretical sociology. It is also demonstrated in this study that White’s particular image of modern social contexts leads him to pose new questions and to develop new modes of analysis to answer them. White’s view of modem societies radically alters the very nature and state of the question of social order as well as the premises of its answer. As White dismisses the conventional formulations of the problem of social order, he considers the issue to be a question of identifying the small enclaves of regularity within the social landscape that is dynamic, indeterminate and shifting. In more concrete terms, it becomes a question of identifying the limited, local and stable patterns or configurations of relationships that prove sustainable and thus observable, despite all the dynamics of embeddedness and connectivity. Finally, the basic theoretical features of White’s model of production markets are presented and discussed. Production markets is a topic to which White has devoted a great deal of interest. Ever since the mid-1970s he has produced a long series of work with the ambition of developing a sociological account of these markets. This account represents the most extensive application of White’s general sociology, where he fleshes out his abstract ideas and arguments and where one finds a concrete case of his account of the emergence of social structures and local orders out of network ties and flows. The main conclusion of this study is that, despite all its shortcomings, the general sociological perspective that White has developed is an important contribution. It provides sociology with a new foundation and shows the direction towards which the discipline should be moving.Diss. Stockholm : Stockholms universitet, 2003digitalisering@um

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