Addressing Parsons in Sociological Textbooks:
Past Conflicts, Contemporary Readers and Their Future Gains
Dr. Sci. (Sociol.), Ass. Prof. of the Institute of Sociology, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria Bettina.Mahlert@uibk.ac.at
The paper provides insights on the contemporary relevance of Talcott Parsons’s writings by analyzing 20 textbooks from Austria, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, published in 1999–2019. Whether having knowledge of Parsons is helpful to today’s students and other interested readers, and what knowledge, deserves consideration. Therefore, the paper asks: Which future gains of readers did textbook authors envision when they chose, in their own present, to discuss (or not) sociological writings from long ago? In order to understand what future opportunities authors wanted to create for readers, as well as how they chose to discuss Parsons to this end, the paper draws on Niklas Luhmann’s notion of memory. The analysis reveals several key competencies that student and other interested readers might acquire through having knowledge of Parsons’ writings and its critiques. These potentials would have gone unnoticed if authors had assessed Parsons’s relevance only according to whether he adequately considered conflict or not, as has been done in many debates about his work until today. Moreover, through analyzing how authors remembered Parsons, I distilled two key selective criteria: First, what must be remembered in order to enable readers to acquire those competencies? Second, which memories would be impeding for readers and thus be better left out? These criteria are relevant for research, as well. Looking at the future, it would be desirable that sociologists let Parsons assist them in their research in many different ways, if possible. As a result, we might see a revival of Parsons that enables genuine advancement.
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