1st Edition

Talcott Parsons Despair and Modernity

By Shaun Best Copyright 2016

    This is not a conventional biography but an attempt to explore the motives and intentions that underpin Talcott Parsons’ published work by exploring the reasoning Parsons shares with his readers in the pages of his many published works and the possible links between Parsons’ academic outputs and the social, economic and political situations in which Parsons found himself during the course of his life. Shaun Best brings together biography and the sociology of knowledge to demonstrate that there are links between the phases of Parsons theorizing the political, economic and social problems facing the United States; the circumstances in which he found himself and the intellectual decisions he made about what to publish. The assumption which underpins Parsons’ work is that knowledge is produced by people in particular historical conditions, grounded in sensory experience, exercising choice, judgment and reflection on those experiences. Thus, this book explores and evaluates Parsons’ ideas and arguments in relation to developments in social theory since the 1970s.

    Introduction: text and context; The Structure of Social Action: can modernity survive?; McCarthyism and the end of ideology; Agency and structure; Parsons contra sociology; Conclusion: what was the Parsons project about?; Methodological appendix: the lives of others: biography as a form of data collection


    Shaun Best, University of Winchester, UK.

    ’At long last! Shaun Best sets the record straight in reference to Talcott Parsons, the man and his work. This volume renders a multi-dimensional depiction of Parsons’ complex analysis of liberal modernity - one that situates his theoretical ideas in the context of mid-twentieth-century America. Highly recommended for anyone seeking a balanced and penetrating assessment of Parsons and his critics.’ A. Javier Treviño, Wheaton College, USA ’By placing Talcott Parsons in the cultural politics of his times and through a close reading of his writings, Best definitively discredits the usual textbook view of Parsons as a conservative, abstract, arid theorist. Instead, Parsons emerges as an empirically-grounded, historically-minded, imaginative thinker and a brave defender of liberal causes in the face of anti-democratic, conservative forces. An original and important contribution that should do much to rescue and elevate Parsons' standing in sociology.’ Ali Rattansi, City University London, UK