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Formal and methodological aspects

The tradition and its sources

Some modern contributions

The future of typological research


Taxonomy occupies a vital place in the corpus of any empirical science. Since science is grounded on the assumptions of the orderliness of natural phenomena and the rational apprehension of this order by man, the systematic classificatory grouping of phenomena and the explication of the rationale for the classification are indeed tantamount to the codification of the existing state of knowledge in a discipline. Typological classification, as a subdivision of taxonomy, has characterized a considerable part of the culture of the social sciences; paradoxically, the notion of types and this method of classification have also been the object of severe methodological and ideological opposition. ’Few subjects in taxonomy are understood in more different ways or are more misunderstood than the nature and use of types …” (Simpson 1945, p. 28).

Formal and methodological aspects

A type, as its etymology suggests (from the Greek typos, an impression, a cast, a model) has recurrent, general, distinctive features which are not properties of the individual as such. Those essential features which stamp an aggregate with a certain cachet or physiognomy constitute a type. Since various arrangements of forms may be discerned in any given population, there are no inherent limitations to the number of types which may be used to describe or characterize it.

As a formalization of the study of types, typology is thus closely related to morphology, the study of forms. However, the concept of type is more indefinite in some ways. It connotes something broader than the idea of a mold or abstract category which underlies the notion of “form.” The notion of type also suggests an entity as a visible manifestation, an external appearance or embodiment which points to an inner or latent state of being; a type has frequently been treated as a symbol whose referent forms part of a more complex, covert reality. A type is analogous to a photographic negative, from which a great number of identical positives can be developed.

A typological classification is one in which the fundamental categories of ordering, the types, are inductively arrived at rather than formally deduced a priori; they are taken as “natural” groupings, finite and discrete. The type is the categorical unit which is the focal point of the classification, though considerable attention may be given to categories within the type, which are called subtypes. This implies that in such a classificatory system, more concern will be given to differences between units on the same plane than to similarities found across levels (e.g., there will be greater attention to describing differences between types A, B, and C than to the common denominators they possess which permit them to be subsumed under family 1). These aspects of typologies notwith standing, typological classifications may be viewed methodologically as any classificatory system used in qualitative analysis.

As a specific instance of the general logic of classification, the typological procedure requires that (a) each and every member of the population studied may be classified in one and only one of the major types delineated, which is equivalent to requiring that the typological classification must be comprehensive and its terms mutually exclusive; (b) the dimension(s) which is (are) differentiated into types must be explicitly stated; (c) this dimension must be of central importance for the purpose of the research. Additional methodological criteria for a “good” typological classification would include the criterion of fruitfulness (the typology may have heuristic significance in facilitating the discovery of new empirical entities) and the criterion of parsimony (the fewest meaningful or significant major types possible to cover the largest number of observations). However, categorizing a given population into a few types or subtypes may reduce validity if the variance within single categories or types is thereby unduly increased. Parsimony, therefore, is not always a virtue.

The methodological functions and significance of typological classification are basically twofold: codification and prediction. A typology goes beyond sheer description by simplifying the ordering of the elements of a population, and the known relevant traits of that population, into distinct groupings; in this capacity a typological classification creates order out of the potential chaos of discrete, discontinuous, or heterogeneous observations. But in so codifying phenomena, it also permits the observer to seek and predict relationships between phenomena that do not seem to be connected in any obvious way. This is because a good typology is not a collection of undifferentiated entities but is composed of a cluster of traits which do in reality “hang together.” Thus there is much affinity between the notion of “type” and the psychological notion of “gestalt,” since both derive from a study of apparently natural “wholes” as primary units of observation.

Let us assume, therefore, that we have a typological classification of a given population (e.g., chemical elements, plants, political parties) such that three main types—A, B, and C—have been isolated. We have found that with A are associated traits a1, a, a1, a2, a3, an, that with B are associated traits b1, b2, b3,...bn, and correspondingly with C. Now suppose we come across an element of the population, X, and recognize X to be a representative of type A. We would then be able to predict with some degree of confidence that we would find in X a significantly higher incidence of traits, a1, a2, a3, an, than of either of the other two sets. Of course, it would be most gratifying if a concrete X manifested all the traits associated with A; in that case X would be a “pure” specimen and would coincide with the type. Such pure types can only be exceedingly infrequent in a population; indeed, much of the methodological usefulness of typologies lies in their being synthetic constructions from the data so that no specific actual instance or element would be taken for the type itself.

It might be further suggested that the more explicitly stated the typology, including the relationships between types, the more the typology functions as a theoretical model. A theoretical model, of which Weber’s notion of the “ideal type” is a special case, is useful in its explanation of the virtual tendencies of a system, in light of which actual discrepancies may be investigated. Of course, the construction of a typology (as that of any other theoretical model), including its dimensions, is not dictated by logical considerations but entails, to an important extent, an initial creative act on the part of the researcher. It should be kept firmly in mind that, from a strict scientific point of view, there is no classification of entities by types which is more or less “natural” than any other; nevertheless, the reification of typologies (the feeling that types are not arbitrary but are actually to be found “there") is a frequent temptation and pitfall in the use of such classifications. A set of categories that is, from a scientific viewpoint, essentially arbitrary, may thus come to be confused with something intrinsically real.

Once the typology is constructed, more formal rules of procedure are warranted. Thus, each type should be related logically and meaningfully to every other type of the same dimension in the classification. To take a negative example, a typology of men’s attitudes toward women which has as female types (1) blonde, (2) faithful, (3) intellectual, (4) plump, has no methodological merit, because the types are not mutually exclusive. Also, the traits associated with each type should have a logical and meaningful coherence with each other.

Following these and other rules of procedure of this sort, it is rather easy to construct a typological classification for any order of phenomena—as may be attested by the plethora of ad hoc typologies to be found in the research literature. Yet this very ease of construction may also lead to one of the major shortcomings of typological classification. Classification in general, by structuring the manifold dimensions of concrete experience, also distorts it, i.e., it emphasizes discontinuities where subjective experience finds process and continuities. In fact, there are a number of ways in which typological classification may lead to a certain sterility in dealing with concrete phenomena. First, a given member of a population may manifest traits belonging to different sets, so that classifying this member as an instance of only one type (and therefore as being identical to all other such instances) takes on an arbitrary aspect. Ironically, this goes counter to the very spirit of typologizing, which aims at the setting up of “natural” and readily identifiable categories. In other words, though the typological approach is most useful to differentiate meaningfully the aggregates of a population, it lacks the flexibility to deal with individuals on their own merits. Second, typological classification is rarely contextual; the determination of types tends to exclude temporal and spatial considerations.

Moreover, the very success and acceptance of a typological classification may, paradoxically, have a stultifying effect on the development of a scientific discipline, if the typological classification “freezes” the level of explanation. Since typologies have much more of a de facto explanatory status in the social sciences (especially sociology and psychology) than in the physical sciences, typological classification must share some of the responsibility for the retardation of more powerful theoretical explanations.

In some unguarded moments, researchers may give the impression that typological classification is tantamount to causal explanation. Thus, in describing the state of an individual’s behavior, premature reduction of explanation may take the form of the statement “X is a heavy smoker and drinker because he is essentially of the oral–erotic type,” or “Y votes Democratic, since he belongs to the working class.” To give typological classification this methodological status of being a first cause is to introduce stereotyping as a mode of scientific explanation. It should be seen that to assign an element of a population to a given type is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for explaining the particular attribute(s) and behavior of the individual. To explain away something by assigning it to a type is to short–circuit the explanation of that entity’s properties and actions in areas or dimensions different from those covered by the typology but equally significant in other respects. Typological explanation may be of some importance in accounting for nonhuman biological behavior (where there may be discernible species–specific instinctive reactions), but the greater differentiation of humans that results from the interaction of a complex genetic pool, learning ability, and conscious choice, as well as the historicity of human lives, makes any fixed types of doubtful value in explaining individual human behavior. The capacity of individuals, no less than human groupings, to change significantly (e.g., “conversion” experiences or social revolutions) must be kept firmly in mind by anyone who works with typologies. In brief, even the most elegant and sophisticated typology cannot be taken as an end in itself, but must always be seen as a link in the long chain of scientific understanding.

The tradition and its sources

In this section will be discussed some of the various intellectual sources which form a background for the typological tradition in the social sciences. We shall point out that there exist ever–recurrent ideological controversies which, going beyond sheer methodological objections, have left their mark on the typological approach as it appears in a wide variety of contexts.

One of the oldest genealogical branches of the typological tradition is the anatomical-physiological approach that is identified with Hippocrates, the father of medicine: since health is a normal state of affairs, medicine begins where the state of the body deviates from its healthy course. Hippocrates developed a classification consisting of two major types, one characterized by a long and thin body (the phthisic habitus), the other by a short, thick physique (the apoplectic habitus). Recognizing the physical type was of heuristic significance for the physician, since each type (as the name suggests) pointed to a constitutional predisposition to a deviant state of health. By drawing extreme physical types and correlating them with observable behavior (or, rather, with inner constitutional predispositions which, if not guarded against, would become manifest in pathological body states), Hippocrates quite early elaborated the rationale of a typological classification and its major characteristic: an external sign or physical condition pointing to an inner condition.

This branch of the tradition, then, was a forerunner of all those constructed on the basis of human constitutional differentiation. Specific classifications have included the differentiation of the human physique into types of temperaments (sanguine, phlegmatic, etc.) related to the basic elements of earth, air, fire, and water, with all this culminating in the notions of the zodiac, which is a complex typology of temperaments based on cosmic forces; racial types; geographical types (these and racial types being combined loosely, as in the types of Alpine, Nordic, Mediterranean, etc.); blood types; and so forth. These typologies have in common the feature of seeking to determine the propensities for behavior on the basis of physical structure. This constitutional school of psychology has had such adherents in modern times as Cesare Lombroso, Ernst Kretschmer, and, more recently, the American psychologist and medical researcher W. H. Sheldon (1940; 1942). It is worth noting that, since Hippocrates, such a typological approach tends to stress pathological deviations from a golden mean of normality: certain extreme physical conditions are regularly taken to correlate with types of inner mental conditions, which then become manifest in behavior of an undesirable sort (e.g., criminality, juvenile delinquency).

A related historical tradition also going back to classical antiquity is the field of characterology and personality studies. In this context, Plato’s Republic contains a systematic typological classification which may well be taken as a model for contemporary research in the field of “personality and social structure.” Plato constructed an ideal society, the republic, whose political organization is marked by optimal structural differentiation and functional interdependence of social aggregates, with each social stratum contributing to the welfare of the republic according to its abilities. The type of individual whose personality integration matches this harmonious ideal is the philosopher–king. Plato also created other types of societies, and their corresponding types of individuals, along a line of diminishing rationality of social organization and a corresponding decreasing order of happiness (the latter being the criterion to evaluate social being). Thus, Plato emerged with a typology of personality and social structure consisting of five major types, four of which are deviations from an ideal type of society. Not only are all the essential features of the methodology of typological classification contained in this seminal work, but it also provides a theoretical model of social change by specifying conditions under which change from one type of polity to another occurs. This feature of Plato’s thought is worth keeping in mind, since it suggests that a typological classification need not be concerned solely with the “static” analysis of social structure, nor need it neglect social processes.

Aristotle (who may be called the grandfather of taxonomy) devised, in his theory of social action, a sophisticated typology of social character (see, in particular, Ethics, books 3–5). Different types of motivation are distinguished by using the doctrine of the golden mean as a reference point; polar extremes are constructed so that for each basic type of motivation three social character types are isolated. Thus, the giving of wealth characterizes the Liberal Man; polar extremes of this motivation typify the Prodigal Man and the Stingy Man. For another grouping of individuals, it is the pursuit of honor which has motivational primacy; the person who seeks it in just proportion is the Brave Man, and polar deviations on either side characterize, as types, the Rash Man and the Coward. This typology of Aristotle’s (which is just one of his many attempts at the systematic classification of phenomena) may be taken as the prototype of all studies of human values that distinguish various types of personalities in terms of their basic motivational dispositions. In modern times, an important philosopher in this tradition is Wilhelm Dilthey, with his investigations of types of basic attitudes toward life (the study of Weltan–schauungen). Dilthey in turn greatly influenced Karl Mannheim, who dealt with fundamental types of political thought and motivation (e.g., “Utopian” and “ideological” attitudes). Mention should also be made of Eduard Spranger’s major work (1914), which differentiates six basic types of attitudes or values as characterizing the mental life of individuals. Spranger’s research has been followed up by the well–known Allport–Vernon test of personal values, which is an empirical instrument that facilitates the typological study of character. All this thought and research may justly be called Aristotelian.

Another early source in the history of typological classification is that of theology. Indeed, typology as a specific discipline first emerged in the theological study of symbols relating the Old Testament to the New Testament. Theologians found in the Old Testament not just historical accounts or religious admonitions but also symbolic prefigurations (or prototypes) of Christian revelation in the New Testament; for example, Jonah spending three days in the whale as a prefiguration of Christ’s descent into hell and resurrection on the third day. This theological aspect of typology deserves more than passing mention because, among the classic typological studies in sociology, those having an important religious dimension are perhaps the best known. Thus, if the “ideal type” methodology in sociology received its most sophisticated treatment in the research of Max Weber, it should be remembered that it was above all in the field of religious organizations and religious authority that Weber developed this approach. The sociology of religion can also claim the important typological studies of Ernst Troeltsch, Joachim Wach, and Howard Becker.

Moreover, typological classification in sociology has another root in religious studies: the social dualism of Augustine, which made him see all history in terms of two types of social organization— the city of God and the city of man (De civitate dei, books 15–18; see the discussion in Dawson [1930] 1960, pp. 57–61, 66–73). This dualism is the principal intellectual ancestor of so much that is central to religious thought and behavior in western Europe that it is not fanciful to compare St. Augustine’s “two cities” with the sacred–secular distinction as developed by such theorists of social organization as Ferdinand Tönnies, Èmile Durkheim, Robert Redfield, and Howard Becker. Finally, like Augustine, the sociologists and anthropologists who have made use of this polarity have done it primarily as a heuristic device, as a crucial standpoint from which to interpret historical processes of social change unfolding before the observer.

In the natural sciences, the major intellectual influence in the development of typological classification is Georges Cuvier, whose career spanned the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and who made the systematic classification of animals into an accepted scientific discipline. At the same time that Immanuel Kant was trying to rescue knowledge from the skepticism of Hume by introducing the notion of judgments that were both synthetic and a priori, Cuvier sought to rescue zoology from the skepticism of Buffon, who had placed stress on the infinite multiplicity of individual organisms. Cuvier’s equivalent of the Kantian synthetic a priori was a concept of classification based on the morphological stability of species (Coleman 1964, p. 74). In Cuvier’s system, the prime unit of classification is the type (or species); it is assumed that the organism has a natural “wholeness”—or, in other words, that there is a distinctly functional significance both in the continuing relationship between the parts of an organism and in the persistence of its morphological form. It is no accident, therefore, that Cuvier, one of the founders of comparative anatomy, has also been called “the high priest of typology” indeed, he may be seen as standing in the line of direct descent from Aristotelian teleology. More germane to our purpose, Cuvier’s methodology contains all the major premises and the approach of structural–functional analysis in modern sociological theory. Structural–functional analysis, which has been purged of its teleological aspect in the works of Talcott Parsons, Robert K. Merton, Kingsley Davis, and others (while the teleological element was very much present in its formulation by Bronislaw Malinowski and A. R. Radcliffe–Brown), has its source in biological explanation; and this in turn can be traced back to Cuvier’s typological approach in comparative anatomy.

In all these various traditions (philosophical, biological, theological) typologies have been subjected to important recurrent controversies of an ideological nature which go beyond the methodological criticisms of typological classification noted in the previous section.

In philosophy, typological classification and its significance are involved in one of the oldest of all philosophical controversies: nominalism versus realism. The question as to whether essences, “forms,” or ideas exist ontologically, as the Platonic realist tradition holds, or whether the form is no more than an abstraction given in nomenclature, as the nominalist position would argue, has embroiled the notion of type in the same dispute. Are types just constructs, or are they necessarily dictated to observation by a natural arrangement of phenomena into organic wholes?

In theology, the controversy involving typology has been no less acute. One focus here has involved the question of treating objects taken from one context as prefigurative symbols heralding later events—that is, the question of whether there is an organic relation between the Old Testament and the New Testament (as the typologist school held) or whether they are essentially discrete. Another theological controversy was that in Byzantium between the iconoclasts and iconodules: here the problem was essentially whether an image (icon) of Christ had efficacious power deriving from its symbolic referent, and hence merited being worshiped, or whether it was just a concrete representation not related to anything covertly existent. This type of controversy concerning the nature of ultimate reality may seem both abstruse and idly speculative; however, typologies have often been involved in ideological controversies which are only lower–level instances of broad metaphysical problems, and these controversies cannot be ignored by social scientists.

At heart, the upholding of typologies and a typological classification is a conservative position, while an antitypological perspective is associated with a liberal ideology (Marxist thought is no exception to this since, although seemingly in favor of change, it has shown itself conservative in maintaining, for instance, that bourgeois and proletarian are fixed types). This may seem a rather unexpected statement; but when controversies involving typologies in various disciplines and at various times are examined, the conclusion is inescapable. The ideological criticism leveled at typologies based upon morphological structures is fundamentally that they are “undemocratic,” inasmuch as they assign individuals to fixed groups; moreover, those who have been the most ardent proponents of typological classifications have also had a perspective of the world that stresses traditional religion, the “fixity” of the creation, and the hierarchical arrangement of nature into well–defined strata. In fact, almost regardless of the discipline, typological classifications tend to have an evaluational component which goes against the grain of an individualistic–egalitarian outlook. Thus, the famous classification of Linnaeus (Linnè 1758) not only has a hierarchical arrangement of the plant and animal kingdoms, but within the latter the species of mankind are evaluated into higher and lower positions. The linguistic typology of Friedrich von Schlegel (1808) evaluated inflectional languages (Indo–European) as having a certain vitality not shared by affix languages; and even such a recent study as that by T. W. Adorno and others, The Authoritarian Personality (1950), which focuses on two distinct personality types, carries an evaluational bias in favor of the one “good” type. Hence, the use of typologies has not been “affectively neutral” rather, it has been attended by an unwitting moral evaluation of hierarchically drawn types—even if the types were originally taken to be on the same plane.

It may be pointed out that, in our own times, typological methods and approaches are in disrepute. The causes of this can be traced to the individualistic and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, on the one hand, and the impact of evolutionary doctrine, on the other. The ideology of the revolution constituted an attack against all static and hierarchical categorizations of human beings, because it attacked the idea of allotting any individual to a predetermined social status. The theory of evolution, with its stress on the adaptation of an animal population over time through variation, is opposed to the Linnaean doctrine of the eternal fixity of species (species tot sunt, quot formae ab initio creatae sunt).

In any case, there is a deep cleavage between the traditional typological and the modern anti–typological outlooks. The “new” perspective on typologies and taxonomy (Simpson 1961) is in terms of a nominalist position; types are used for nomenclature only. Even so, the classification of specimens in a field seemingly so remote from current events as paleontology (Washburn 1963) is still very much affected by ideological controversies.

In relation to its general task of taxonomy, the traditional typological outlook was never able to eliminate the problem of how to account for observable species variations and gradations. The evolutionary taxonomist of today is faced with the converse problem: how to account for the continuity and uniformity that can be observed in all species. Both approaches have their dangers; for instance, if the typologist is so concerned with the central tendency of a population that he may disregard dispersion (in space and time), so also may the antitypologist run the risk of being so concerned with individual deviations that he may lose sight of the central tendency that gives the group its mean or aggregate characteristic. As limiting cases, the pure case for typology would be established if, for given behavioral items, human groups had for each group one and only one score or response; the strict case against typologies would require, correspondingly, that there be as many different responses as there are individuals measured. It should be clear to all but extreme dogmatists that the question of whether types are “real” is a metaphysical one and should be left to philosophers. What may be asserted here is that for purposes of scientific research, types treated as central tendencies are no less necessary than variations from the type. Sophisticated users of typologies have fully realized that quantitative differences between individuals assigned to the same category may be, for another part of the investigation, as significant as qualitative differences between the categories themselves. In other words, differences in degree are as essential to a good typology as differences in kind. If this caveat is observed, and if one also remembers that, in our everyday life, we experience nature as a continuum (Natura non facit saltus), the social scientist may put typological classification to fruitful use and bypass the ideological issues.

Some modern contributions

Although typological classification has been the source of much controversy, the development of the social sciences during this century has involved typological research to a considerable extent. For instance, the “ideal type” is of pivotal importance in Max Weber’s theoretical and comparative analyses of social structures and social change. The “theory of action” developed by Talcott Parsons and associates not only owes much to Weber for its inspiration, but may be seen, in terms of the present context, as an elaborate typological classification of interrelated systems of action. Georg Simmel, a contemporary of Weber’s in Germany (a country which, for reasons still unclear to this writer, has been the radiating center for typological investigations of all sorts), independently developed an approach to sociological theory that is fundamentally morphological and typological. Unlike Weber, his interests in social types and forms of interaction led him to a mainly descriptive rather than an interpretive use of types. Simmel’s studies of types greatly influenced Robert E. Park and such associates of his in the Chicago school as Louis–Wirth. A recent contribution to this tradition is Orrin E. Klapp’s study (1962) of American national character as revealed by the high or low esteem in which various social types are held. At the level of general sociological theory, the use of typology in the work of Georges Gurvitch is as important as it is in the work of Parsons. Gurvitch stated ([1950] 1963, p. 478) that the method of sociology is typological, and he has given much attention to the typology of social structures and social groupings, particularly to types of global societies (1958, pp. 216–233).

Since Weber’s death, the use of his ideal type analysis has been extended, notably by Howard Becker and John C. McKinney (1966) in their elaboration of the methodology of “constructive typology.” At a different level, Paul F. Lazarsfeld (1937) developed the logic of “qualitative analysis,” which is related to the “latent structure” analysis that he later developed for use in the measurement of attitudes. It should be noted that this approach explicitly rests on the assumption of stable types of attitudes; it therefore constitutes a refined, formalized, and quantifiable elaboration of typological procedures.

Studies of attitudes in social psychology by means of scales and other measurements are in spirit typological, since they presuppose the existence of underlying attitude types. Indeed, it may be suggested that Guttman scales conform to Simpson’s description (1945, p. 3) of “archetypal” classifications found in the Linnaean system [see Scaling.]

German–speaking scholars have been among the most important figures in the development of social psychology. Here, again, the influence of Dilthey has been immense. In the field of personality studies, the outstanding example of the typological approach is undoubtedly Jung’s Psychological Types (1921), which owes part of its inspiration to Dilthey. The cornerstone of Jung’s “analytic psychology” is the comprehensive relation of four basic types of activity (thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition) to the libidinal flow of intentionality (subject versus object orientation, or introversion–extra version). At the level of personality, this conjunction yields two major types, each having four distinct varieties.

In extending his studies historically and cross–culturally, Jung further developed the notion of archetypes as primitive molds or images of the psyche that structure our psychological apprehension of the world. Although the heat of controversy involving this concept still obscures its heuristic merit, archetypes may be thought of as having the function, at the psychic level, that the Kantian categories fulfill at the conscious level.

Most clinical psychology is heavily indebted to the notion of “personality type” indeed, clinical studies implicitly look for deviations from an imagined “normal” person. Thus the delineation of clinical syndromes is, in effect, a constructive typology at the personality level, though wide variations exist between researchers as to what sorts of traits are seen as clustering. In fact, many of the problems of therapy stem from the difficulty of applying the existing diagnostic categories to cases that were never envisaged when these categories were first devised.

Jung’s treatment of personality types owes some of its inspiration to Nietzsche, who formulated, as two dialectically related types of cultural personality, the affective Dionysian and the rational Apollonian. This conceptual dichotomy has been almost as influential in the intellectual history of the social sciences as Tönnies’ division of types of social structure into Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Nietzsche’s influence has loomed particularly large in the attempt to characterize types of sociocultural systems which has been one focus of attention in cultural anthropology. The distinction between Apollonian and Dionysian is reflected in Oswald Spengler’s notions of Classical and Faustian civilizations; it also reappears in Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture (1934). In this context might be mentioned the research of Pitirim Sorokin into fundamental types of sociocultural systems, and the more recent work of Florence Kluckhohn. Ruth Benedict’s work stimulated new research in national character, a field that presupposes the existence of natural “types” of personality. The most widely read of recent studies in this genre is probably The Lonely Crowd (1950), by David Riesman and his associates.

The future of typological research

In an essay first published in 1903, Emile Durk–heim, in collaboration with Marcel Mauss, called for the development of a branch of sociology, to be known as “social morphology,” whose primary task would be to develop the systematic classification of social types or species in relation to social structure. Recent events have underscored the need for a precise typology of societies so as to avoid an oversimplified view of social and economic change. Much of the literature on economic development has suffered from problems involved in the simplistic dichotomy of “developed” and “underdeveloped” countries. If heed were paid to Durkheim, more attention would be placed on codifying the empirical materials by means of an elaborate and rigorous typology of societies. But there is another vast area involving typologies which is just now beginning to be investigated, although it was outlined long ago by Durkheim and Mauss. Its general content can be outlined as follows.

If, in spite of acute controversies and criticisms, the construction of types (as we have seen) remains an ever–present feature of empirical investigations, it may well be that typologizing, in the sense of structuring the world or perceiving it by means of categorial types, is a basic orientation of human agents to their situation. Further, it can be seen as a fundamental perceptual activity which may well be subject to sociocultural conditioning in the socialization process. The grouping and classification of objects into distinct types is, in this sense, a basic human activity presupposed in more complex behavior patterns.

Durkheim and Mauss (1903) insisted that types are not just logical categories, but also affective collective symbols of classification. Implicit in their discussion is the notion that sociology and social anthropology should also concern themselves with the “natural typologies” found in various societies; that is, the symbolic classification of entities into types should be treated as primary ethnological data. They call attention to the theoretical significance of “folk classifications”—which might be termed “existential typologies,” since they reflect conditions of existence of human subjects themselves.

In recent years, considerable attention has been given to the methodology of constructed typologies; but what has been overlooked, for the most part, is that these may be thought of as special instances of human typologizing. However, the significance of classifications, and the symbolic aspects of groupings and categories, have aroused fresh interest in modern structural anthropology, notably in the writings of E. R. Leach and Rodney Needham in England, Thomas Beidelman in the United States, and, perhaps best known, Claude Lévi–Strauss in France (1962; 1964). These authors have concentrated their attention on the cognitive structures implicit in certain “folk classifications" of such things as plants, animals, colors, and kinship terminology. Finally, we may note an important convergence between sociology and anthropology in this context. The phenomenological approach in sociology, which owes much of its inspiration to both Max Weber and Edmund Husserl, has placed great emphasis upon the everyday typifications which structure the life–world (Lebenswelt) of actors. Attention to such typologizing of social reality as a primary datum of sociological analysis has been given in the writings of Alfred Schutz (1962) and his followers, such as Maurice Natanson and Harold Garfinkel.

It is an extension of this path of research which seems particularly promising, since a phenomenology of typologies opens up a host of meaningful interdisciplinary research problems. What cultural variations are significant in differentiating folk typologies? What are the major dimensions of these existential typologies? How do individual actors and collectivities integrate multiple typologies? Under what conditions do actors “test” their typologies and adopt new ones? Which typological classifications are more impervious to social change? What sort of correspondence is there between scientific or constructive typologies and existential ones? These and many related questions are suggestive of the important research problems which typological classification still offers to sociology, psychology, and anthropology, both separately and in collaboration.

Edward A. Tiryakian

[Directly related are the entrieshistory, article on The philosophy of history; Knowledge, Sociology Of; Linguistics; Multivariate analysis, article onclassification and discrimination; sociology, article onthe development of sociological thought. Other relevant material may be found incontent analysis,– phenomenology; social structure; and in the biographies ofaristotle; augustine; becker; benedict; dilthey; durkheim; jung; kant; kretschmer; lombroso; malinowski; mannheim; mauss; park; plato; radcliffe– brown; redfield; schutz; simmel; sorokin; spencer; spengler; tonnies; troeltsch; weber, max; Wirth.]


Adorno, Theodor W. et al. 1950 The Authoritarian Personality. The American Jewish Committee, Social Studies Series, No. 3. New York: Harper. → See especially Chapter 19.

Barton, Allen H.; and Lazarsfeld, Paul F. (1955) 1961 Some Functions of Qualitative Analysis in Social Research. Pages 95–122 in Seymour M. Lipset and Neil J. Smelser (editors), Sociology: The Progress of a Decade. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice–Hall.

Becker, Howard 1950 Through Values to Social Interpretation: Essays on Social Contexts, Actions, Types and Prospects. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press. → See especially Chapters 2 and 5.

Benedict, Ruth (1934) 1959 Patterns of Culture. 2d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → A paperback edition was published in 1961.

Boer, Julius de (1939) 1963 A System of Character–ology: Polar Synergy of Feeling, Willing, and Thinking as the Dynamic Principle for the Classification of Characters. Assen (Netherlands): Van Gorcum. –* First published as Polaire affectieve functies.

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A typology is a multidimensional classification. The study of typological procedures is impeded by the use of a plethora of terms, some of which are used interchangeably. "Classification" can be defined as the grouping of entities on the basis of similarity. For example, humans can be classified into female and male. A related term is "taxonomy." According to Simpson (1961, p. 11), taxonomy "is the theoretical study of classification, including its bases, principles, procedures, and rules." Interestingly, the term "classification" has two meanings: One can speak of both the process of classification and its end product, a classification. The terms "classification," "typology," and "taxonomy" are all used widely and somewhat interchangeably in sociology.

Any classification must be mutually exclusive and exhaustive. This requires that there be only one cell for each case. For example, if humans are being classified by sex, this requires that every case be placed in a cell (either male or female) but that no case be placed in more than one cell (no intermediate cases are allowed). It is assumed that the bases or dimensions for classification (such as sex) are clear and important (see Tiryakian 1968).

A type is one cell in a full typology. In sociology, emphasis often has been placed on one or a few types rather than on the full typology. The study of types developed largely as a verbal tradition in sociology and lately has been merged with a more recently developed quantitative approach.

In the verbal tradition, types were often defined as mental constructs or concepts, in contrast to empirically derived entities. Stinchcombe (1968, p. 43, original emphasis) says that "a type concept in scientific discourse is a concept which is constructed out of a combination of the values of several variables." Lazarsfeld (1937, p. 120) says that "one is safe in saying that the concept of type is always used in referring to special compounds of attributes." The variables that combine to form a type must be correlated or "connected to each other" (Stinchcombe 1968, pp. 44–45).

An important function of a type is to serve as a criterion point (for comparative purposes) for the study of other types or empirical phenomena. In this case, only a single type is formulated. The most famous single-type formulation is Weber's ideal type:

An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view. . . In its conceptual purity, this mental construct [Gedankenbild] cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality. It is a utopia. Historical research faces the task of determining in each individual case the extent to which this ideal-construct approximates to or diverges from reality, to what extent for example, the economic structure of a certain city is to be classified as a "city economy." (1947, p. 90, original emphasis)

This strategy has been criticized. Martindale is startled by the suggestion that "we compare actual individuals with the (admittedly imaginary) ideal typical individuals to see how much they deviate from them. This is nothing but a form of intellectual acrobatics, for actual individuals ought to deviate from the ideal type just as much as one made them deviate in the first place" (1960, p. 382).

Seizing on Weber's statement that the pure ideal type "cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality," critics view the ideal type as hypothetical and thus without a fixed position, rendering it useless as a criterion point. A more realistic interpretation is that the ideal type represents a type that could be found empirically; it is simply that the purest case is the one most useful as a criterion, and this case is unlikely to be found empirically. As an example, a proof specimen of a coin is the best criterion for classifying or grading other coins, but it is not found empirically in the sense of being in circulation. If it were circulated, its features soon would be worn to the extent that its value for comparison with other coins would be greatly diminished.

The strategy of the ideal type is a sound one. Its logic is simple, and the confusion surrounding it is unfortunate, perhaps being due in part to the translation of Weber's work. The genius of the ideal type lies in its parsimony. Instead of using a large full typology (say, of 144 cells, many of which may turn out to be empirically null or empty), a researcher can utilize a single ideal type. Then, instead of dealing needlessly with many null cells, the researcher need only fill in cells for which there are actual empirical cases and only as those cases are encountered. The ideal type is an accentuated or magnified version (or purest form) of the type. Although rarely found empirically in this pure form, the ideal type serves as a good comparison point. It usually represents the highest value on each of the intercorrelated variables or the end point of the continuum. While one could use the middle of the continuum as a referent (just as one uses the mean or median), it is convenient and perhaps clearer to use the end point (just as one measures from the end of a ruler rather than from its middle or another intermediate point).

Another single type that is used as a criterion is the constructed type. McKinney (1966, p. 3, original emphasis) defines the constructed type as "a purposive, planned selection, abstraction, combination, and (sometimes) accentuation of a set of criteria with empirical referents that serves as a basis for comparison of empirical cases." The constructed type is a more general form of the ideal type.

In addition to formulations that use a single type, there are formulations that use two or more types. One strategy involves the use of two "polar" types (as in the North and South poles). These types serve as two bracketing criteria for the comparison of cases. A famous set of types is Tönnies's (1957) Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft ("community" and "society"). Another is introvert and extrovert. Still others are primary and secondary groups and localistic and cosmopolitan communities (see McKinney 1966, p. 101, for these and other examples).


One problem with the common practice of using only a single type or a few types is that the underlying correlated dimensions on which they are based may not be clear. In some cases, it is possible to make these dimensions clear and extend them all to form a property space or attribute space; a set of axes representing the full range of values on each dimension. Then the existence of other potential related types that were not originally formulated, can be discerned. This process of extending the full property space and the resulting full typology from a single type or a few types is called substruction and was developed by Lazarsfeld (1937; Barton 1955). As an example, Barton (1955, pp. 51–52) performed a substruction in which the attributes underlying the four types of folkways, mores, law, and custom were extended to form a full property space. Barton found three underlying dimensions of the four types ("how originated," "how enforced," and "strength of group feeling") and combined them to form the property space.


The opposite of substruction is reduction. Reduction is used when one has a full typology that is unmanageable because of its size. The three basic forms of reduction presented by Lazarsfeld (1937, p. 127) are functional, arbitrary numerical, and pragmatic. Lazarsfeld's functional reduction consists of discarding from the typology all empirically null and thus unnecessary cells.

The second form of reduction is arbitrary numerical. Lazarsfeld (1937, p. 128) provides an example: In constructing an index of housing conditions, one might weight plumbing without central heat or a refrigerator as being equal to the other two without plumbing. Coding the existence of an attribute by 1 and the lack of it by 0 and taking variables in this order (plumbing, central heat, refrigerator), Lazarsfeld is saying that (1, 0, 0) = (0, 1, 1). Thus, two previously different three-dimensional cells are equated and reduced to one.

Lazarsfeld's third form of reduction is pragmatic reduction. It consists of collapsing contiguous cells together to make one larger (but generally more heterogeneous) cell. As Lazarsfeld (1937, p. 128) says, "in the case of pragmatic reduction, certain groups of combinations are contracted to one class in view of the research purpose." For examples of these three forms of reduction, see Bailey (1973).

With Lazarsfeld's rigorous work as a notable exception, it can be said that most work in the typological tradition has been qualitative. Blalock, commenting on McKinney's (1966) constructive typology, says:

He [McKinney] also claims that there is nothing inherently anti-quantitative in the use of typologies. He notes that historically, however, researchers skilled in the use of typologies have not been statistically or mathematically inclined, and vice-versa. This may be one of the reasons for the existing gap between sociological theory and research. (1969, p. 33)

A persistent problem in the qualitative typological tradition has been the confusion over the status of the type as a heuristic device, a mental construct, or an empirical entity. Winch (1947) distinguished between heuristic and empirical types. He said that heuristic types are conceptually derived and may not have empirical examples. Empirical types, in contrast, result solely from data analysis, without prior conceptualization. A persistent problem with the conceptual types, such as the ideal type, has been the problem of inappropriate reification. If a type is a construct, concept, or model, it may not be found empirically but is designed only to be heuristically used in developing theory. However, there is often a tendency over time to reify the type or act as though it were actually found empirically. Figure 1 shows that the qualitative tradition has both heuristic and empirical types, while the quantitative tradition (discussed below) has primarily empirical types, as its types are derived from data analysis.

In other cases in the qualitative typological tradition, types are meant as empirical phenomena rather than heuristic devices. This is particularly true in the area of social ethnography or field research, where researchers eschew statistical analysis but analyze data resulting from field studies by developing typologies based on observations recorded in their field notes (see Spradley and McCurdy 1972). Typologies in this case take the form of tables with names or labels in the cells rather than frequencies of occurrence as in statistical tables. Here the labels or types are generally inductively or empirically derived through intensive study of groups in the field. However, even here there may be a distinction between the types derived by the researcher and the types actually used by the people being studied. For example, the types that tramps identify among themselves (mission stiff, bindle stiff) may be different from the types identified by researchers or the lay public (bums, winos, homeless persons). For a discussion of taxonomies in ethnographic research and a number of examples of actual taxonomies (inducting the tramp example), see Spradley and McCurdy (1972).


Computerization has brought on a new era of quantitative typology construction, which now coexists with the older qualitative tradition. This new approach often is called numerical taxonomy, cluster analysis, or pattern recognition (see Sneath and Sokal 1973; Bailey 1974). In contrast to the earlier verbal approach, which largely dealt with concepts and mental constructs, the newer quantitative approach is largely empirical and inductive. It begins with a data set and derives empirical types from the data through a variety of quantitative procedures, many of them computerized.

This newer statistical approach to classification can be elucidated through the monotheticpolythetic distinction. A typology is monothetic if the possession of a unique set of features is both necessary and sufficient for identifying a specimen as belonging to a particular cell in the typology. That is, each feature is necessary and the set is sufficient. Thus, no specimen can be assigned to a particular type unless it possesses all the features (and no others) required of that type. This means that all the specimens in a given type are identical in every way (at least in all the features specified).

In contrast, a polythetic typology is constructed by grouping together the individuals within a sample that have the greatest number of shared features. No single feature is either necessary or sufficient (Sokal and Sneath 1963, p. 14). The objects or specimens are grouped to maximize overall similarity within each group. In a polythetic type, each individual possesses a large number of the classifying properties and each property is possessed by a large number of individuals. In the case where no single property is possessed by every individual in the group, the type is said to be fully polythetic.

While a verbal type (such as the ideal type) may be purely homogeneous (i.e., monothetic), it is unlikely that an empirically constructed type will be monothetic (except for some divisively derived types), especially if it contains a large number of cases grouped on a large number of variables. Thus, most empirically constructed types are polythetic, and some may be fully polythetic, without even a single feature being common to all the members of the group.

A basic distinction for all empirical classification techniques is whether one groups objects or variables. The former is known as Q-analysis, and the latter as R-analysis (Sokal and Sneath 1963, p. 124). In R-analysis, one computes coefficients (either similarity or distance coefficients) down the columns of the basic score matrix, which includes objects and variables (see Table 1 in Bailey 1972). In Q-analysis, one correlates rows. The interior data cells are the same in any case, and one form is the simple matrix transposition of the other. The difference is that Q-analysis correlates the objects (e.g., persons), while R-analysis correlates the variables (e.g., age). While Q-analysis is the most common form in biology (see Sneath and Sokal 1973), it rarely is used in sociology (for an example, see Butler and Adams 1966). One problem is that Q-analysis requires a small sample of cases measured on a large number of variables, while R-analysis requires a large sample of cases with a smaller number of variables. Biology has the former sort of data; sociology, the latter.

Most sociologists have had little experience with Q-analysis. Most statistical analysis in sociology is concerned with relationships between two or more variables, with few studies making inferences concerning individuals rather than variables. Thus, the very notion of correlating individuals is alien to many sociologists.

Once the researcher has decided whether to pursue Q-analysis or R-analysis, the next step is to decide which measure of similarity to use. A researcher can measure similarity either directly, with a correlation coefficient, or indirectly, with a distance coefficient. While similarity coefficients show how close together two objects or variables are in the property space, distance coefficients show how far apart they are in that space. For a discussion of these measures, see Bailey (1974).

The next task of empirical typology construction is to parsimoniously group the cases into homogeneous types. There are two chief ways to proceed. One can envision all N cases as forming a single type. This is maximally parsimonious but maximizes within-group or internal variance. Grouping proceeds "from above" by dividing the cases into smaller groups that are more homogeneous. This is called the divisive strategy. Divisive classification generally proceeds by dividing the group on the basis of similarity on one or more variables, either simultaneously or sequentially. According to Sokal and Sneath (1963, p. 16), divisive classification is "inevitably largely monothetic."

The alternative strategy (the agglomerative strategy) is to envision the N cases as forming N separate groups of one case each. Then each group is homogeneous (including only a single case), but parsimony is minimal. The strategy here is "classification from below" by agglomerating or grouping the most similar cases together, yielding some loss of internal homogeneity but gaining parsimony (as N groups are generally too unwieldy). Unlike divisively formed types, agglomeratively formed types are generally polythetic and often fully polythetic.

The basic typological strategy is very straightforward and logically simple for divisive methods. All one must do is partition the set of cases in all possible ways and choose the grouping that maximizes internal homogeneity in a sufficiently small number of clusters. The problem is that the computation is prohibitive even for a modest number of cases measured on a modest number of variables.

A basic problem with empirically derived typologies is that they are generally static because the measures of similarity or distance that are used are synchronic rather than diachronic. While this is a problem, it is not a problem unique to classification but is shared by almost all forms of sociological analysis. Further, it is possible to deal with this issue by using diachronic data such as change coefficients or time series data.

Despite procedural differences, there are clear congruences between the qualitative and quantitative typological approaches. The ideal type is essentially monothetic, as are some types produced by quantitative divisive procedures. Quantitative procedures produce types that are polythetic, even fully polythetic. The results of quantitative procedures are generally not full typologies but reduced form that include fewer than the potential maximum number of types. Such polythetic types can be seen as analogous to the result of subjecting full monothetic typologies to reduction (either pragmatic or arbitrary numerical). Thus, contemporary typologists meet the need for reduction by using quantitative methods. Any correlational method of typology construction is by definition a method of functional reduction.

Further, the method usually will perform pragmatic reduction along with the functional reduction. Remember that pragmatic reduction collapses monothetic cells. The correlation coefficients utilized in typological methods are never perfect. The lower the correlations are, the more diverse the individuals in a group are. Placing diverse individuals in one group is tantamount to collapsing monothetic cells by means of pragmatic reduction. Thus, there are two basic avenues for constructing reduced types: Begin with monothetic types (such as ideal types) and subject them to the various forms of reduction to yield polythetic types or construct polythetic types directly by using quantitative methods. Thus, the qualitative and quantitative procedures can produce similar results.

Given the breadth and diversity of sociological typologies (for example, from quantitative to qualitative procedures and from heuristic to empirical types), it is not surprising that there have been a number of criticisms of typologies. Some alleged problems are that typologies are not mutually exclusive and exhaustive, are treated as ends in themselves rather than as means to an end, are not parsimonious, are based on arbitrary and ad hoc criteria, are essentially static, rely on dichotomized rather than internally measured variables, yield types that are subject to reification, and are basically descriptive rather than explanatory or predictive. All these factors can be problems but are relatively easy for a knowledgeable typologist to avoid. The ones that cannot be easily avoided (such as the problem of cross-sectional data) often are seen as general problems for sociology as a whole and are not specific to typology construction.


Even if pitfalls remain, the merits of carefully constructed typologies make them well worth the effort. One of the chief merits of a typology is parsimony. A researcher who is overwhelmed by thousands or even millions of individual cases can work comfortably with those cases when they are grouped into a few main types. A related merit is the emphasis on bringing simplicity and order out of complexity and chaos. A focus on the relative homogeneity of types provides an emphasis on order in contrast to the emphasis on diversity and complexity that is paramount in untyped phenomena. A third merit of a full typology is its comprehensiveness. There is no other tool available that can show not only all relevant dimensions but also the relationships between them and the categories created by the intersections. Such a typology shows the entire range of every variable and all their confluences. A fourth merit (as was noted above) is a typology's use of a type or types for comparative purposes. A fifth merit is a typology's use as a heuristic tool to highlight the relevant theoretical dimensions of a type. A sixth is a typology's ability to show which cells have empirical examples and which are empirically null. This can aid in hypothesis testing, especially when a large number of variables have a small number of values that actually occur (Stinchcombe 1968, p. 47). A seventh merit is a typology's ability to combine two or more variables in such a way that interaction effects can be analyzed (Stinchcombe 1968, pp. 46–47).


A clear but sometimes unstated goal of scientific development is to move past simple, nominal-variable analysis to the use of complex continuous-data models by employing ratio or interval variables. This has clearly been the case in sociology, which now depends on sophisticated regression models that work best with ratio (or at least interval) variables. Thus, some might argue that as science moves away from types toward the use of variables, typology construction becomes secondary.

Although the logic of moving from a reliance on types to a reliance on interval and ratio variables may seem irrefutable, this transition is not as smooth as some might wish. In fact, a number of obstacles to the transition from types to variables have arisen. Some researchers feel that once they have adopted sophisticated statistical techniques that use ratio variables, typologies are no longer needed. The reasoning here is that typologies are chiefly descriptive, arise at an early level of scientific analysis, and are essentially crude or unsophisticated formulations. In contrast, later models focus on explanation and prediction rather than description.

This notion belies the fact that science must constantly develop new ideas and theories to regenerate itself. As it does so, it must repeat the process of providing sound typologies that facilitate research by aiding in concept development and clarification and provide a comprehensive overview. Thus, it is a dangerous myth to think that sociology has "outgrown" the need for typologies. In fact, new ideas, theories, and sociological areas of research continually require new typologies. Even researchers in older, more mature sociological areas that have based their theory and research on inadequate typologies may find that the foundations of their field are crumbling, requiring new attempts to provide sound typological reinforcements.

In addition to the constant need for typological renewal and rejuvenation, some sociologists find that attempts to move past types to sophisticated statistical analyses of ratio variables are confronted with a bewildering array of obstacles. Contemporary sociological statisticians who wish to rely on ratio variables are faced with a classic paradox. On the one hand, their regression models assume (or even demand) at least interval, or ideally ratio, variables. On the other hand, sociological theory is dependent on empirically important concepts, many of which are found to be essentially nominal or ordinal in their measurement levels. These include central ascribed or achieved statuses such as gender, race, religion, geographic region, nationality, occupation, and political affiliation.

Other important variables, such as income, education, and age, are more suitable for sophisticated statistical models. However, even these variables often are utilized theoretically in a limited ordinal form (young–old, high income–low income, etc.). Thus, there may be an empirical disjuncture between the type of variable needed for regression analysis (or other modern statistical techniques) and the type required by empirical sociological theory. Theory needs concepts such as race, gender, and religion, and these concepts are more suited for typological analysis than for regression analysis.

This suggests two areas of future research. One is to modify regression models to accommodate categorical variables, and this has been done (Aldrich and Nelson 1984). However, such accommodation may be costly, as it is unclear whether modified models operate efficiently or significantly underestimate the degree of explained variance. The second avenue is to rely more heavily on typological analysis. Although this may not seem as "sophisticated," it may prove more compatible with theory and thus facilitate theoretical development more than statistical models do.


If one has to choose between a sophisticated statistical analysis with variables that are not central to sociological theory and a typological analysis that accommodates theoretically important variables, it is foolish to rule out the latter in the name of scientific progress. Such progress would be false if the use of sophisticated techniques proved theoretically vacuous. This would be a classic case of the statistical tale wagging the theoretical dog. A wiser course is to recognize the complementarity between typologies and statistics. Statistics need not be viewed as necessarily or inevitably supplanting typologies; instead, each can be used when it proves valuable.

The conclusion to this point is that sociological progress has not rendered typological analysis obsolete by emphasizing statistical techniques such as multiple regression analysis. Thus, it may prove useful to look further at the epistemological foundations of contemporary sociology to see what the role of typologies is in an era when statistical analysis dominates. Consider the gap between the language of theory construction and the language of statistical data analysis. Imagine that a sociologist is interested in the type concept of "underachiever" and defines it as a person who has the ability to achieve at a higher level than is actualized.

When one substructs this type, it is clear that it is formed from two dimensions: (1) individual ability and (2) individual achievement. The sociologist can then theorize that an affluent childhood results in a particular type of personality. Individuals with that personality feel no pressing psychological need to achieve at a high level, since their needs continue to be met. This is an intriguing and ideographically rich sociological hypothesis. It involves images of a living person who has a particular type of childhood that leads to a particular type of adulthood. Thus, an earlier type concept ("the rich kid") evolves into a later type concept ("the underachiever"). Conversely, one could hypothesize that the type concept of "impoverished youth" leads to the subsequent adult concept of "overachiever."

The most direct way to test the hypothesis that the rich kid evolves into the adult underachiever is to identify a group of rich kids, follow them until adulthood, and then measure their subsequent achievement rates over a period of time. However, this is both tedious and time-consuming and is not the typical approach in social science. The most common approach is to gather cross-sectional survey data and then conduct a statistical analysis on the data. It is simple to select the two salient variables of parental wealth and adult achievement. Suppose one finds a negative correlation between parental wealth and adult achievement. Since a negative correlation of achievement with wealth is not synonymous with the type concept of underachievement, the data analysis is not adequate to test the hypothesis.

Even if the statistical analysis were sufficient to test the hypothesis, a mere correlation value (e.g., r = .43) is very sterile and is isolated from both sociological reality and the richness of sociological theory. It fails to convey the richness of the type-concept description. While the type referent for the type concept of "underachiever" is the holistic, living human individual, the referents for the statistical analysis are the variables of wealth and achievement, which seem artificially separated from the sociological reality the theory refers to and the type concept manages to capture.

The unfortunate aspect of this for sociological development is that it leaves theory construction and statistical analysis as two juxtaposed but separate entities with a clear disjuncture between them. This disjuncture results from the fact that theorizing is largely a conceptual undertaking. It involves both deductive and inductive reasoning, and its language is the holistic language of the individual actor. The prime theoretical referent is the object, not the variable. This object is usually the human individual but can be an alternative object, such as a group, city, or country. In any event, the primary focus is on the object, with variables receiving a secondary focus. However, even if variables have the primary focus, the focus remains on both object and the variables.

In statistics using R-analysis such as multiple regression, the epistemological focus is quite different. Here objects such as persons enter the analysis only as data carriers in the sample. As soon as the R-matrix of correlations among variables is established, it suffices for the remainder of the analysis. The result is that the individuals virtually disappear from the picture except in those rare instances in sociology where Q-correlations are used.

Thus, theory and statistical analysis remain two separate paradigms within sociology rather than two aspects of the same research process. This obviously hinders scientific progress sociology and stands in stark contrast to the physical sciences, where theory and method are not separated processes but are well integrated, enabling much swifter progress.


One way to bridge the dichotomy between theory and statistical method is to link qualitative type concepts with the empirical clusters derived quantitatively through methods of numerical taxonomy. Following the lead of Bailey (1994), these are called taxa. As was noted above, types are generally conceptual, monothetic, and based on underlying R-dimensions (although the cell entries are empirical objects). In contrast, taxa tend to be empirical, polythetic, and Q-analytic (based on individuals). While the differences may seem to mimic the differences between theory and statistics discussed above, both types and taxa can be seen primarily as mirror images of each other and thus as having structural similarities that allow a bridge to be built from one to the other.

Since much theorizing is done in terms of types, a needed first step is to move from the realm of type concepts to the realm of empirical data analysis. While this traditionally is accomplished by turning from theory to statistical analysis, an alternative is to link conceptually formed types with statistically derived taxa.

The first task is to move from the conceptual to the empirical. As outlined in Bailey (1994, p. 66), this is rather straightforward and merely involves the identification of empirical cases for each conceptual cell. An example would be to locate an actual ethnographic type such as "bindle stiff" (Spradley and McCurdy, 1972). The empirical cases found for each cell in a typology (such as Figure 1) are equivalent to the taxa formed through cluster analysis. The second task in bridging the gap between types and taxa is converting from monothetic to polythetic As was discussed above, this can be achieved in various ways, such as Lazarfeld's (1937) process of pragmatic reduction. The third task is to connect the R-analysis of types with the Q-analysis of taxa. The easiest way to accomplish this is to use R-analysis for clustering.

In the other direction—from taxa to types—all the tasks are reversed and involve going from empirical to conceptual, from poythetic to monothetic, and from Q-analysis to R-analysis. Going from empirical to conceptual entails finding a concept to represent the statistically constructed group. For example, if the cluster analysis yields an empirical cluster composed primarily of people who scored very high on an exam, one could formulate the type concept of "high achievers" to represent it.

The second task involves going from polythetic to monothetic. Technically speaking, this entails changing a heterogeneous empirical grouping to a homogeneous grouping and cannot be accomplished empirically except somewhat artificially. For example, Lockhart and Hartman (1963) constructed monothetic clusters by discarding all the characters that varied within the group. This is compensated for by the prior step, in which the conceptual type concept monothetically represents the empirical polythetic taxa. The third task is to achieve R-analytic clustering by using R-correlations rather than Q-correlations in the cluster analysis.


A well-constructed typology can bring order out of chaos. It can transform the overwhelming complexity of an apparently eclectic congeries of numerous apparently diverse cases into a well-ordered set of a few homogeneous types clearly situated in a property space of a few important dimensions. A sound typology forms a firm foundation and provides direction for both theorizing and empirical research. No other tool has as much power to simplify life for a sociologist.

The task for the future is the further elaboration of this crucial nexus between the qualitative and statistical approaches. This requires effort from sociologists with both theoretical and statistical talents. McKinney (1966, p. 49) recognizes the "complementary relationship of quantitative and typological procedures" and advocates "the emergence of a number of social scientists who are procedurally competent in both typology and statistical techniques." Costner (1972, p. xi) also recognizes the basic unity of the qualitative and quantitative approaches to typology construction.

For further information on typologies, see Capecchi (1966), Sokal and Sneath, (1963), Sneath and Sokal (1973), Bailey (1973, 1974, 1983, 1989, 1993, 1994), Hudson et al. (1982), Aldenderfer and Blashfield (1984), and Kreps (1989).

(see also: Levels of Analysis; Tabular Analysis)


Aldenderfer, Mark S., and Roger K. Blashfield 1984 Cluster Analysis. Thousandd Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Aldrich, John H., and Forrest D. Nelson 1984 Cluster Analysis. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Bailey, Kenneth D. 1972 "Polythetic Reduction of Monothetic Property Space." In Herbert L. Costner, ed., Sociological Methodology 1972. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

—— 1973 "Monothetic and Polythetic Typologies and Their Relationship to Conceptualization, Measurement, and Scaling." American Sociological Review 38:18–33.

—— 1974 "Cluster Analysis." In David R. Heise, ed., Sociological Methodology 1975. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

—— 1983 "Sociological Classification and Cluster Analysis." Quality and Quantity 17:251–268.

—— 1989 "Taxonomy and Disaster: Prospects and Problems." International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 7:419–431.

—— 1993 "Strategies of Nucleus Formation in Agglomerative Clustering Techniques." Bulletin De Methodologie Sociologique 38:38–51.

—— 1994 Typologies and Taxonomies: An Introduction to Classification Techniques. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Barton, Allen H. 1955 "The Concept of Property Space in Social Research." In Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Morris Rosenberg, eds., The Language of Social Research. New York: Free Press.

Blalock, Herbert M. 1969 Theory Construction: From Verbal to Mathematical Formulations. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Butler, Edgar W., and Stuart N. Adams 1966 "Typologies of Delinquent Girls: Some Alternative Approaches." Social Forces 44:401–407.

Capecchi, Vittorio 1966 "Typologies in Relation to Mathematical Models." Ikon Suppl. No. 58:1–62.

Costner, Herbert L. 1972 "Prologue." In Herbert L. Costner, ed., Sociological Methodology 1972. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hudson, Herschel C., and associates (eds.) 1982 Classifying Social Data. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kreps, Gary A. (ed.) 1989 "The Boundaries of Disaster Research: Taxonomy and Comparative Research" (Special Issue). International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 7:213–431.

Lazarsfeld, Paul F. 1937 "Some Remarks on the Typological Procedures in Social Research." Zeitschrift fūr Sozialforschung 6:119–139.

Lockhart, W. R., and P. A. Hartman 1963 "Formation of Monothetic Groups in Quantitative Bacterial Taxonomy." Journal of Bacteriology 85:68–77.

Martindale, Don 1960 The Nature and Types of Sociological Theory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

McKinney, John C. 1966 Constructive Typology and Social Theory. New York: Appleton, Century, Crofts.

Simpson, George G. 1961 Principles of Animal Taxonomy. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sneath, Peter H. A., and Robert R. Sokal 1973 Numerical Taxonomy: The Principles and Practice of Numerical Classification. San Francisco: Freeman.

Sokal, Robert R., and Peter H. A. Sneath 1963 Principles of Numerical Taxonomy. San Francisco: Freeman.

Spradley, James P., and David W. McCurdy 1972 The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society. Chicago: Science Research Associates.

Stinchcombe, Arthur L. 1968 Constructing Social Theories. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World.

Tiryakian, Edward A. 1968 "Typologies." In David L. Sills, ed., International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan and Free Press.

Tönnies, Ferdinand 1957 Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, trans. and ed. C. P. Loomis. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Weber, Max 1947 Theory of Social and Economic Organization. A. R. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, trans., and Talcott Parsons, ed. New York: Free Press.

Winch, Robert F. 1947 "Heuristic and Empirical Typologies: A Job for Factor Analysis." American Sociological Review 12:68–75.

Kenneth D. Bailey


views updated May 29 2018


views updated Jun 11 2018

Typology (Gk., typos, ‘example, figure’). A method of exegesis which takes a text as having a symbolic or anticipatory reference in addition to its apparent historical sense. It is characteristic of traditional Christian readings of the Old Testament.


views updated Jun 11 2018

typology System of groupings that aids understanding of the things being studied by distinguishing certain attributes or qualities among them that serve to link them together into a closed set of items.


views updated May 21 2018

typology. Study of symbolic representation or of types.


views updated May 17 2018

typology See TAXONOMY.