If we take a look backwards at the last fourty years of sociological theory, we may have mixed feelings. On the one hand, macro-sociological constructions ( in other words, « grand theory » ) seem to belong to a kind of metaphysical age of social sciences : it would be difficult to define oneself as a new Emile Durkheim or Talcott Parsons. A complete system of society would be hard to find today. On the other hand, there is a growing interest in social theory as such, Jeffrey Alexander being the best example of the revival of general theory.

As socio-anthropologists devoted to empirical research, we certainly do not dismiss the importance of theorizing in our disciplines: but, as Anselm Strauss said, it is possible to consider that the best theories are « grounded » in field research. Theories are means and not ends: they help us describe precisely the social worlds that we choose to study, and to develop general statements about them. We need theory to prevent us from over-interpretation, ethnocentrism and hasty generalizations, but we must be careful about pure theorizing.

The aim of this course is to propose a kind of « reconstructionist » approach to social theory, after decades of deconstruction. Of course, we have to take into account and to make use of deconstructionist approaches and of the various « turns » undertaken by sociology (linguistic, pragmatic, hermeneutic, historical and so on and so forth) : but we must propose new frames for comparison and generalization of statements and observations. Those frames must be reflexive and non-« essentialists », according to the status of our objects (phenomenological and reflexive social worlds) ; they must contribute to the unended but unescapable discussion about the nature of the laws that we are able to determine in the social sciences. 

A special attention will be given to theories that take into account their « grounded » dimension. After having defined conceptually the theorizing process, the seminar will draw attention on two types of theorization:

-the first may be called endogenous, is produced by sociologists who have to cope with the peculiarities of their field : Erving Goffman, Anselm Strauss, James Coleman, Andrew Abbott, Harrison White, Randall Collins, Pierre Bourdieu, Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot, Margaret Somers.

-the second, I call it exogenous, is not produced by empirical sociologists, but by philosophers or other theoreticians who are interested in historical or sociological processes : Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth, Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour.

Based on intensive reading of texts and confronting them with various sociological fields, this course aims at providing an original framework: a post interactionist and processual approach to social theory based on a critical study of the logical processes that lead us to make general or universal statements about society.