Adam Smith as a Classic in Sociology
Ragnvald Kalleberg har publisert en artikkel om sosiologiens historie i In Modernity - unity in diversity? Essays in honour of Helge Høibraaten. Han dokumenterer og drøfter Adam Smith (1723-1790) som en klassiker i sosiologiens historie.
Before World War II it was common for sociologists to read Adam Smith, particularly An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) (WN). Robert MacIver wrote one of the most widely used introductory textbooks in sociology during the interwar period. He had key positions in the discipline; a professorship at Columbia University; and was in 1940 president of the American Sociological Association. When discussing modes of cooperation, division of labour, and functional differentiation, he gave this advice: “The classical statement, which every student of sociology should read, is to be found in The Wealth of Nations, book I” (MacIver 1937, 50).
After WWII, however, it was far less common to refer to Smith as relevant for sociologists. Contemporary sociologists do not include him in the discipline’s history, except – perhaps – as the early originator of rational-choice theory. This is mistaken and unfortunate. Smith’s major works should be read and discussed as sociological classics. They are a vital part of the discipline’s history and are still relevant for posing and answering challenging sociological questions today.
In the first section, I take a look at Smith in the history of sociology, especially his indirect influence through the canonized founding fathers (Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Mead). In the second section, I focus on Smith’s analysis of social interaction in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) (TMS). Here TMS is discussed as a classic in the sense of being an interesting contemporary contribution