The Role of Complexity in an Integrated Science of Sociology


Wallace H. Provost Jr.


The success of Thomas Kuhn's paradigmatic explanation of scientific change has prompted scholars in other fields to adapt his ideas to their own discipline. George Ritzer is one of those who has applied a Khunian approach to sociology. However, his "Multiple Paradigms" are not paradigms in a Kuhnian sense, they are simply useful but arbitrary categories of sociological theorists. By the same token, his four levels of sociological thought do not, as he has described them, emerge into an integrated science of sociology. They also are merely useful arbitrary classifications of social theorists.

Paradigmatic structure, which for Kuhn was the major cause of the success of science, would in fact be detrimental to the uses for which social theory is put. The level of complexity of social interactions is so much greater than that of the physical sciences that the kind of universally held concepts that pervade the physical sciences is simply not available. Furthermore, it is the nature of complexity that if and when they they do become available they may simply prove to be irrelevant.

Whatever success sociologists have had in finding answers to social problems has been due to the development of a large variety of often eclectic theories of the "middle range" whose validity lies only in their relevance to the problems they were developed to solve. The underlying mechanisms which make this possible are best described through an approach to complexity pioneered by Robert Rosen, that is the development of relative descriptions whose errors are trivial when applied to specific and particular problems.