Georges Gurvitch's sociology of the total social phenomena
Bosserman, Charles Phillip
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Problem of the Dissertation The dissertation's central purpose is to present the sociology of Georges Gurvitch. The approach is two-fold: first, to give to American sociology a study of current French sociology and second, to explain Gurvitch's theoretical system showing how his theory provides a conceptual scheme for looking at social reality as a totality. A central focus of the dissertation is on one phase of Gurvitch's general theory, his treatment of groups. In general, the task of this dissertation is to work through the hypotheses Gurvitch has devised for empirical research, to discover the directions which they take and to examine them critically in the light of American sociology. This whole study was made in close contact with Professor Gurvitch. The Approach The background and life of Gurvitch are considered in Chapter Two. This focuses especially on his philosophical heritage and his early social law theory. It was from this study of social law that Gurvitch first developed his thesis that there are levels to social reality: underneath the organized superstructure exists the spontaneous infrastructure from whence is derived the dynamic, the effervescent factors which bring on social change and cause society to be enacted. From this early concept Gurvitch began to formulate a sociology of law which eventually led him to the study of general sociology. Chapter Three explains Gurvitch's views on the present sociological situation. This is concluded with a brief description of the actual task of modern sociology. Chapter Four examines the method which Gurvitch employs. He wrestles with the basic problem of the subject-object relationship in the social sciences. He maintains that a tension exists between the method and the object of study which must be dealt with concretely. He contends that social reality is dialectical and hence, the method must also reflect this dialectic. The dialectical nature of society is seen in conflicts and tensions that exist among the several depth levels which make up the superstructure and the infrastructure. The fundamental stratum is the collective mind. This is the primordial depth level which explains the existence of real groups. Gurvitch follows the tradition of Durkheim in espousing the notion of the collective mind as the source of group life. Chapter Five follows with the horizontal view of social reality. Gurvitch's notions of microsociology and macrosociology remain within the tradition of Tonnies' Gemeinschaft and Jesellschaft and Durkheim's organic and mechanical solidarity. In this chapter Gurvitch's typology of social groupings and social classes is detailed. Chapter Six concludes the discussion of macrosociology by describing Gurvitch's typology of global societies. Closely related is his definition of social structure. The definition counters functional and structural-functional sociologies. The dialectical method is scrutinized in Chapter Seven. Gurvitch contends that this method is the only one which can describe at once the individual parts of social reality while maintaining a view of the whole . Some research projects using this method conclude the chapter. Conclusions Chapter Eight concludes by examining critically Gurvitch's theory. Gurvitch presents a challenging position to contemporary sociology. There are important ideas and emphases but he fails to contribute new or useful categories for real theoretical growth. His method is too complicated. He overemphasizes the spontaneous which vitiates scientific endeavor. His theory suffers from a lack of systematic construction, clarity and preciseness. As social philosophy his thought contributes certain provocative ideas and makes some essential emphases.