What is “Positive” Sociology?

What is “Positive” Sociology? November 1, 2012

Last week, Margarita has a very interesting post about positive psychology and it’s implications for sociology.

For some time now, I’ve been wondering about what it would look like to focus on the positive in social life and how to attain it. In other words, is there a sociological corollary to positive psychology?

Let’s start with something simple, what would such a study be called? It might be awkward to call it positive sociology because that’s awfully close to positivism. Furthermore, sociology covers so much ground that it’s unclear how we translate it into a single, positively focused endeavor for some of us who are looking for something other than social problems.

Maybe the sociology of well-being? Of a good life? Of highly-functioning groups and organizations? Maybe the sociology of the-opposite-of-social-problems?

Any thoughts?

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  • Ted Seeber

    How about “Civilization”?

  • George Yancey

    I have thought about this as well. I mean we have a course called social problems so we definately focus on what is wrong in society. Furthermore, I think we are better at recognizing problems than finding good solutions. So rather than cast a wonderful vision I think social scientists focus on our dysfunctional present since we are better at doing the latter rather than the former.
    I guess some sort of sociology of “positive outcomes” would focus on where they are successful examples and why they are sucessful. For example, I have done a lot of research on interracial families and multiracial churches. Among other reasons why I have done so is because in such familes and churches individuals are not free to play the racial games that perpetuate our racial problems. Racial issues have to be renegotiated so that it words for whites and non-whites. I think there are lessons to be learned from these diverse institutions and have written about them. I see this as a possible model for doing sociology of finding positive solutions to complement the normal sociology of documenting social problems.
    Anyway I would be interested in learning if others have thought about sociology in such terms. I am also curious to see if other scholars have thought about how we can find answers in the positive outcomes in society. Thanks for opening up this topic Brad.

  • Dr. V

    Positive deviance literature is similar to what you are talking about (read DM Heckert 1989)

    Dr. V

  • Great question Brad! I share your concern that “positive” sociology sounds like positivism, which is not what we mean. It’s hard to find a nice catchy title, but I’ll keep working on that. And I’m currently working on what the content or focus of such a movement would be, but certainly bringing sociology to bear on resilience and the human good would be a place to start.

  • Paul

    Hi Brad, along with positive psychology, I would like to throw into the mix the turn towards “the positive in social life and how to attain it” in neo-classical and behavioral economics (e.g. Dan Ariely, ‘The Upside of Irrationality”; “Predictably Irrational”; Daniel Kahneman, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”), and especially in the development of happiness economics (e.g. Bruno Frey). Maybe ‘happiness sociology’ would be a good name for the field!

    • HI Paul, I think those are great ideas… I will look into the behavioral economics authors you mention. However, Martin Seligman of Penn states that he was mistaken to think positive psychology should be about “happiness”–which is an emotion or a mood. That is important, but many other things are part of human flourishing, such as meaning, engagement, relationships and accomplishment.


  • matt

    Hi all,

    Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a big literature on the sociology of positive outcomes, flourishing, or resilience. Here are two peer-reviewed sociological articles I was able to find:

    “When Does Disadvantage Not Accumulate? Toward a Sociological Conceptualization of Resilience.”

    “The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life”

  • Howard Kaylan

    Functionalism/Structural functionalism is the perspective that different social institution are like different bodily organs – everything has a purpose and works together for stability and solidarity