The Study of Man: On Talcott Parsons
TALCOTT PARSONS IS, among other things, one of those sociologists who write very badly-I would be tempted to say barbarously if the word were not already so overworked with reference to sociologists. Having made this dutiful observation, let me at once make clear that I do not consider the opaqueness of Parsons’ language sufficient reason for dismissing him as an obscurantist or as otherwise not worth the attention of serious students of society. Intellectual history is full of large figures who said important, influential, and sometimes memorable things in a prose, like Parsons’, so cumbersome, ponderous, and involuted as to discourage all but the most dedicated readers-and even some of them. Few readers, I suspect, actually sit down expecting to enjoy Hegel or Heidegger or even John Dewey as they might sit down to enjoy the articles in Encounter or COMMENTARY or any general magazine of high intellectual quality. Reading Parsons is a burden, a duty, probably limited largely to two groups: to graduate students in the social sciences (especially sociology) who will be examined by their professors on Parsons, and to practicing social scientists who impose on themselves the responsibility of knowing what is going on “in theory.” Others who come across his work probably do so as a result of hearing (perhaps through more readable sociologists) of Parsons’ almost mythical dimensions as the Grand Theorist of social systems.
About the Author