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humanistic sociology

humanistic sociology Those sociologies which are opposed to (as they see it) mechanistic, overly technical, abstracted, and career-seeking approaches, and which attempt instead to provide a social analysis ‘in the service of humanity’, acting as ‘critics, demystifiers, reporters and clarifiers’ (see Alfred McClung Lee , Sociology for Whom?, 1978
). C. Wright Mills is often cited as a major example, and since the 1970s there has been an Association for Humanist Sociology based in the United States, with its own journal Humanity and Society. Ken Plummer, in his introduction to the problems and literature of a humanistic method (Documents of Life, 1983), outlines four criteria for humanistic sociology: it pays ‘tribute to human subjectivity and creativity showing how individuals respond to social constraints and actively assemble social worlds’; deals with ‘concrete human experiences—talk, feelings, actions—through their social, and especially economic, organization’; shows a ‘naturalistic “intimate familiarity” with such experiences’; and a ‘self awareness by the sociologist of the ultimate moral and political role in moving towards a social structure in which there is less exploitation, oppression and injustice’.

The work of the American sociologist Robert A. Nisbet exemplifies humanistic sociology. (Nisbet was Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at Columbia University until his retirement in 1978.) His books include The Quest for Community (1953), The Sociological Tradition (1966), The Twilight of Authority (1975), History of the Idea of Progress (1980), and The Present Age (1988). The characteristic feature of all his work is the interweaving of sociology with philosophy and history, disciplines which he believed must never be separated. He has been labelled a neo-conservative and is certainly a moralist. Many of his books are explorations of the moral crisis of modernity, the centralization of power in the bureaucratic state, and the ambiguous legacy of liberalism. See also HUMANISM.

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