The study of many problems on which the attention of theorists is focused, can be considered an internal affair of science itself – theorists may be quite indifferent to the historical contexts and all sorts of social ideas and movements. However, there are also problems, the study of which is involuntarily influenced by the social context. Cultural norms and social values of theorists’ time, public sentiments, and state of minds influence a choice of certain topics for research. Social and cultural influence is found in the manifestation or lack of interest in some aspects of human existence, in those biases or prejudices that explicitly or implicitly determine the positions and views of theorists.
The key function of each and every theory lies precisely in expressing the diversity of its interactions and connections with the daily practice of society. It addresses the need of society for a specific cognitive or transformative action the given theory proposes. Thus, the purpose of social theories refers to the necessary means for the functioning and development of the social sphere of society and human life. Theorists who study social life, solve scientific problems associated with the formation of knowledge about social reality. To these problems belong the description, explanation and understanding of the processes of social development, as well as the contexts of different social situations.
Theoretical and applied approach differ in the goal that they set for themselves; however, not in the object and method of research. Applied approach sets itself the task to find ways and means of solving specific problems, using the laws and patterns in the development of society learned by theoretical approach. Within applied approach, theorists contribute to the transformation of their current social system in a positive direction. Their main goal is to quickly study the problem and develop recommendations for reforming the current situation, based on the social and historical contexts. In applied research, the efficiency of such implementation plays an important role, since in real life, even one day can lead to irreversible consequences. Therefore, the concept of “social context” is key for theorists, as it shapes their whole experience.
The social context here is a set of certain properties and features of social relations, integrated by individuals or communities in the process of joint activity in specific conditions. It manifests in their relationship to each other, to their position in society, and to the phenomena and processes of social life. Sandu and Nistor (2020) add that “social conventions, norms and values determine behaviors even in the absence of people who observe these behaviors and sanction them based on a continuous process of social control” (p. 44). Any system of social relations – economic, political, cultural, and spiritual – concerns the attitude of people to each other and to society, and therefore has its own social aspect.
Theoretical approach allows one to understand these sub-meanings and study the issues the theorist finds the most pressing more closely. For example, Gates Jr. wrote an essay on the use of the term “race” as a trope to explain certain features of human beings. According to Gates Jr. (1986), the word “race” and the sense of difference applied to it establishes certain differences: in language, belief system, gene pool, specific character traits, and other. He states the context behind the word is distorted, turning it into a derivative rather than a simple definition.
Now, his thoughts reflect the social contexts of late 80s’; however, it is clear that nowadays, the issue with the word “race” and all that grows from it, is still standing. Spivak (1999) provides another approach, stating that “the necessary stratification of colonial subject-constitution in the first phase of capitalist imperialism makes “color” useless as an emancipatory signifier” (p. 270). Both theorists are right; however, the social and cultural contexts of their views are quite different, which affects deeply their statements. Du Bois (1989) gives a third point of view, claiming that Black people see themselves through the veil of double-consciousness, as the American world gives them no sense of true self-consciousness. All three of the statements regard race in some aspect or the other; nevertheless, they all focus on different sides of the issue, perhaps, missing other ones in some way. Still, each of their input is valuable to the problem of segregation and racial discrimination.
The theoretical lenses are, in fact, subjective, and may not represent the objective reality, instead building more on theorist’s views, as well as on social and historical contexts they are existing in. Misinterpretations and misunderstandings arise as a result of the fact that people occupy different places and experience different situations in specific social structures. This, in turn, manifests in very different attitudes towards the phenomena and processes of social life from different theorists.
Theoretical approach is faced with the task of creating a scientific framework for an issue in the socially stable, essential and at the same time constantly changing environment. This is usually done through the analysis of the ratio of constant and variable in a specific state of a social object. A social object, in turn, is a single socially significant event, typical for a given sphere of public life. The theoretical and empirical analysis of this event is the expression of the main function of any theory. With theoretical framework, it is easier to recognize the specific features of the social life, as well as understand their importance. Moreover, through it, the knowledge about the nature of a specific state of a social phenomenon, its transformation and the real result of the development of this phenomenon, can be accumulated.
However, theoretical lenses should study not only the object, but also the process that is required to transform it – that is, try to predict and anticipate this process. For example, to know not only how much people in a given group or team are united, but also what needs to be done to make them even more united, that is. To solve this problem, theorists, as a rule, rely on related sciences such as economics, demographics, psychology, which makes the theories more applicable and reliable.
The historical development of society is associated with both changes in social practice, as well as human-specific forms of perception. Through living and acting, solving emerging problems in the process of life, a person perceives the environment. The perception of objects of social reality is a necessary prerequisite to a meaningful human action such as building a theory about an issue. Becoming more and more conscious and generalized, the perception of a person acquires more and more freedom in relation to objective reality. A theorists develops their theory, actively stretching out its limitations, and reforming it in the process. The social situation, as well as the contexts behind it are reflected in the theory’s framework to provide a better outlook. Therefore, each theorist will have a variety of different contexts that influence their approach. This will undoubtedly affect the effectiveness of their theory, as well as its applicability on a situation that differs from their initial one.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1989). Double-consciousness and the veil. In The souls of Black Folk. essay, New York, Bantam.
Gates Jr, H. L. (1986). ‘Race’ as the trope of the world. In “Race,” writing, and difference. essay, University of Chicago Press.
Sandu, A., & Nistor, P. (2021). Individual versus social in psycho-sociology. The social construction of reality. Moldavian Journal for Education and Social Psychology, 4(2), 44–49. Web.
Spivak, G. C. (1999). A critique of postcolonial reason: Toward a history of the vanishing past. 269-271. Harvard University Press.