A beginner's guide to social theory by Shaun Best

By Shaun Best

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Parsons, T. (1951) The Social System. Routledge & Kegan Paul: London.

That society can exist without individuals, an obvious absurdity we might have been spared having attributed to us. But we did mean: 1. that the group formed by associated individuals has a reality of a different sort from each individual considered singly; 2. that collective states 23 A Beginner's Guide to Social Theory exist in the group from whose nature they spring, before they affect the individual as such and establish in him a new form a purely inner existence. (Durkheim, 1952: 320) This theme is perhaps more clearly stated in Moral Education, where Durkheim states that: because men live together rather than separately, individual minds act upon one another; and as a result of the relationship thus established, there appear ideas and feelings that never characterized these minds in isolation.

For Luhmann, psychic systems and social systems have a co-evolution. In many respects Luhmann takes his starting point from the `General Statement' in Parsons and Shils's Towards a General Theory of Action (1951). There is a double contingency inherent in interaction. Person A's (Ego) grati®cations are contingent on their selection from the available alternatives. In turn Person B's (Alter) reaction will be contingent on Person A's selection ± and is itself based upon a `complementary selection'.

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