SOCIOLOGY AS AN ART FORM by Robert Nisbet

SOCIOLOGY AS AN ART FORM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This is a brilliant but vexing essay. It offers a fresh and compelling perspective on the works of the great 19th-century social theorists--Tocqueville, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simmel, and other lesser lights. Nisbet unequivocally fixes the Janus-like quality of their writings: both science and art. His delineation of the ways in which these thinkers shared common themes, styles, and preoccupations with the novelists, poets, and painters of their times is masterful. The treatment of such a topic as ""sociological portraits,"" the role-types that Marx and Weber both excelled in creating--the bourgeois, the worker, the bureaucrat, the intellectual--effortlessly displays their analogues in the literature and art of the period. But to get to these later (and self-sufficient) sections one must contend with a more abstract and sweeping version of the thesis proclaimed in the title. It is here that the vexation occurs. In railing against scientism and its attendant evils in contemporary sociology (quantification, fragmentation), Nisbet constructs an image of the relationship between art and science that blurs the boundaries between the two. In the heroic age of social theory the elements of art and science were inextricably mixed. But the body of ideas resulting from such periods inevitably delimits and channels all future inquiry. How inquiry is pursued thereafter differentiates science from art. By generalizing from the exceptional case which a heroic age provides, Nisbet weakens his challenge to the practices of the present, but his portrayal of the founding fathers resonates.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press