Chapter 2: The Foundations of Sociology

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Discussion Questions

  1. Sociology arose during a period of significant social change. Describe some of the changes which Marx, Durkheim, and Weber were trying to understand.
  • How relevant are Marx’s ideas about capitalism today? What aspects of his thought do you agree or disagree with?
  • Durkheim argued that societies depend on mechanisms of social cohesion. How do you think modern societies create cohesion? Do we have sufficient cohesion?
  • Weber argued that modern societies would become “iron cages of rationality.” What did he mean by this, and do you think his prediction was accurate?
  • Marx and Weber had different views about the emergence of capitalism. Where do they disagree, and who do you think offers the better explanation?
  • What are the major changes impacting contemporary societies? Do you think they challenge the relevance of the ‘big three’ theorists?


  • Capitalism: an economic system in which the means of production are held privately, and operated for profit. Common features of capitalist systems include private property, wage labour, competitive markets, and voluntary exchange.
  • Bourgeoisie: In Marxism, the class which owns and control the means of production within the capitalist system.
  • Proletariat:  In Marxism, the class which does not own and control the means of production within the capitalist system. To subsist, members of the proletariat must sell their labour power to the bourgeoisie for a wage. 
  • Feudalism: An economic and social system, characteristic of Medieval Europe, in which those who owned land (known as lords) granted control of it to others (known as vassals) in exchange for service and labour. 
  • Class Consciousness: In Marxism, one’s self awareness of one’s class, its interests, and its relationship to the means of production.
  • Revolution: A forcible overthrow of an existing government or social organization. In Marxism, revolution specifically refers to the overthrow of a ruling class by a ruled class.  
  • Alienation: In Marxism, the process by which workers are separated or estranged from the products of their labour. Marx holds that in the capitalist system of production workers lose control over their labour and its products; as a result their labour becomes something foreign to them.   
  • Realm of Necessity: A situation in which individuals are constrained by the need to satisfy their material needs.
  • Realm of Freedom:  A situation in which individuals are free to act as they please, unconstrained by material necessities.
  • Material (Marxism): All that is independent from thought and ideas.
  • Protestant Ethic: A belief in hard work, thrift, and personal discipline, common to the values of Protestant faith.
  • Elective Affinity: A relationship between cultural elements, in which each reinforces, supports, or affirms the other.  
  • Sect: A sub-group (typically religious) which has branched off or broken away from a main group.
  • Culture: A set of practices and norms widely shared by members of a group. 
  • Rational Action (Weber): A type of social action, guided by conscious ideas and decisions. Can be opposed to traditional action, action guided by habit, or affective action, action guided by emotion.
  • Bureaucracy (Weber): A form of administrative organization, characterised by hierarchy, chain of command, division of labour, formal procedures, and impersonal interaction.
  • Charismatic Leadership: In Weber, a form of leadership is which authority depends on the personal charisma of the leader. Charismatic leaders are typically thought to possess exceptional abilities or qualities, setting them apart from other individuals.
  • Iron Cage of Rationality: A situation in which individuals are increased compelled to act in accordance with dictates of efficiency, calculation, and rationality.
  • Division of Labour: the separation of tasks in a productive system. Generally divided into two forms: the division of labour in manufacture, referring to specialization within organizations or manufactories, and the division of labour in society, referring to an increase in occupational distinctions.
  • Mechanical Solidarity: The integration of a group by way of shared values, norms, ideas, and behaviours.
  • Organic Solidarity: The integration of a group by way of mutual interdependence.
  • Social Order: A situation of social stability, in which the norms or structures of a society are generally supported and maintained by its members. Typically contrasted with a state of disorder or chaos
  • Fatalism: In Durkheim, a social state characterised by excessively strong norms, or ‘over-regulation,’ in which freedom of behaviour is heavily constrained. Feelings of fatalism are associated with a sense of oppression and hopelessness, and may cause fatalistic suicide.
  • Anomie: In Durkheim,a social state characterised by dramatic shifts in individual status, typically as the result of rapid, unregulated economic change. Feelings of anomie are associated with frustration, uncertainty, and unhappiness, and may cause  anomic suicide.  
  • Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft: Typically translated as community and society. Gemeinschaft refers to social ties based on personal interaction, such as those of family and friendship. Gesellschaft refers to social ties based on impersonal interaction, such as those of commerce
  • Social Statics: analyses concerned with the present structure of societies, or with understanding the stability of current social orders. Contrasted with social dynamics.
  • Social Dynamics: analyses concerned with patterns and processes of social change. Contrasted with social statics.
  • Morphostasis: In Archer, the process by which present social structures are stabilized, maintained, or otherwise preserved.
  • Morphogenesis: In Archer, the process by which social or cultural structures undergo change. 



  • Marx, K 1963, The Eighteenth Brumaire Of Louis Bonaparte, International Publishers, New York City.
  • Marx, K, 1964, Selected Writings in Sociology and Political Philosophy, McGraw Hill, New York.
  • Marx, K, 1970, The German Ideology, Lawrence & Wishart, London.
  • Marx, K 1973, The Grundrisse, Penguin Harmondswortn, London,
  • Marx, K & Engels, F 1983, The Communist Manifesto, Penguin, London.



  • Weber, M 1946, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Oxford University Press, New York.
  • Weber, M 1958, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.
  • Weber, M 1958, The City, Free Press, New York.


  • Durkheim, E 1915, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, George Allen & Unwin, London.
  • Durkheim, E 1933, The Division of Labour in Society, Free Press, New York.  
  • Durkheim, E 1951, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, Free Press, New York.
  • Durkheim, Emile, 1964, The Rules of Sociological Method, Free Press, New York.


  • Tönnies, F 1955 Community and Association (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft), Routledge & Kegan Paul: London.
  • Simmel, G 1950, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, in The Sociological of Georg Simmel, Free Press, New York, pp. 409-424.
  • Mills, CW 1959, The Sociological Imagination, Oxford University Press, London.
  • Sorokin, P 1937-1941, Social and Cultural Dynamics, 4 vols., American Book Company, Cincinnati.
  • Archer, M 1995, Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach, University of Cambridge Press: Cambridge.
  • Morrison, K 2006, Marx, Weber, Durkheim: Formations of Modern Social Thought, 2nd edn. London: Sage.
  • Hughes, JA, Sharrock, WW, & Martin, PJ 2003, Understanding Classic Sociology: Marx, Weber, Durkheim, 2nd edn., Sage, London.

Contemporary Articles

  • Kulick, H 2006, ‘“Humanity in the chrysalis stage”: Indigenous Australians in the anthropological imagination, 1899-1926’, British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 535-568.

Gives a very comprehensive historical overview of anthropological studies of Indigenous Australians. Although focused on anthropology, it discusses issues that are equally relevant to the sociology of the time. There is some discussion of Durkheim.

  • Bhambra, GK 2007, ‘Sociology and postcolonialism: another “missing” revolution?’, Sociology, vol. 41, no. 5, pp. 871-884.  

Discusses the foundation of sociology in the era of European colonialism and provides a postcolonial critique of dominant sociological accounts.

  • Kushner HI & Sterk, CE 2005, ‘The Limits of Social Capital: Durkheim, Suicide, and Social Cohesion’, American Journal of Public Health, vol.  95, no. 7, pp. 1139-1143.

Easy to read and understand, shows that modern scholars are still reading Durkheim for hypotheses and ideas. 

  • Inglis, D & Robertson, R 2008, ‘The Elementary Forms of Globality: Durkheim and the Emergence and Nature of Global Life’, Journal of Classical Sociology, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 5-25.

Discusses ideas of globalization in Durkheim’s work.

  • Santore D 2008, ‘Romantic Relationships, Individualism and the Possibility of Togetherness: Seeing Durkheim in Theories of Contemporary Intimacy’. Sociology, vol. 42, no. 6, pp. 1200-1217. 

Useful to explain Durkheim’s ideas, and to show their relevance in contemporary scholarly discussions.

  • Burkhardt, BC & Connor, BT 2016, ‘Durkheim, Punishment, and Prison Privatization’, Social Currents, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 84-99.

Connects Durkheim to a relevant contemporary issue; discusses solidarity, collective consciousness, functionalism, other such topics.

  • McKinnon, AM 2010, ‘Elective Affinities of the Protestant Ethic: Weber and the Chemistry of Capitalism’, Sociological Theory, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 108-126. 

Theoretical piece, helps describe and explain the concept of elective affinities.

  • Foster, JB & Holleman, H 2012 ‘Weber and the Environment: Classical Foundations for a Postexemptionalist Sociology,’ American Journal of Sociology, vol. 117, no. 6, pp. 1625-1673.

Useful links between Weber’s work and contemporary issues.

  • Forte, JM 2008, ‘Religion and capitalism: Weber, Marx and the materialist controversy’ Philosophy & Social Criticism, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 427-448.

Philosophical discussion of the relationship between Weber and Marx.

  • Schroeder, R & Ling, R 2014, ‘Durkheim and Weber on the social implications of new information and communication technologies’, New Media & Society, vol. 16, no. 5, pp. 789-805.  

Uses Durkheimian and Weberian conceptual tools to analyse ICT. Explicit mention of mechanical solidarity and the iron cage.

  • Kreiss, D, Finn, M & Turner, F 2011, ‘The limits of peer production: Some reminders from Max Weber for the network society’, New Media & Society, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 243-259.

Useful links to later topics ion the book, such as digital technologies and the network society.

  • Mocombe, PC 2017, ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism; and the Vodou Ethic and the Spirit of Communism’ Sociology, vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 76-90.

Interesting article, combining elements of Weberian and Marxist analysis.

  • Archibald, WP 2009, ‘Marx, Globalization and Alienation: Received and Underappreciated Wisdoms’, Critical Sociology, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 151-174.

Contemporary attempt to apply Marxist ideas and concepts.

  • Brook, P 2009, ‘The Alienated Heart: Hochschild’s ‘emotional labour’ thesis and the anticapitalist politics of alienation’, Capital & Class, vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 7-31.

Discussion of the relevance of Marx’s ideas in relation to Hochschild’s work.

  • Watson, TJ 2009, ‘Work and the Sociological Imagination: The Need for Continuity and Change in the Study of Continuity and Change’, Sociology, vol. 43, no. 5, pp. 861-877. 

Hits on many of this themes of the chapter: continuity and change, Marx and Weber, and the sociological imagination.

Kemple, T. 2020. A Century After Weber and Simmel. Theory, Culture & Society. Online Early, 1–10.