The controversy surrounding the Davis-Moore explanation of stratification.

Peer reviewed: 
No, item is not peer reviewed.
Date created: 

We attempt to apply Mannheim's discussion of the sociology of knowledge to the controversy surrounding the Davis-Moore argument. Mannheim distinguishes between the immanent and extrinsic interpretation of a body of intellectual knowledge, that is, between,on the one hand,interpretation in terms of the premises prescribed by an intellectual work, and on the other, while holding the basic premises in abeyance, in terms of its relationship to the wider existential situation. Extrinsic explanations seek to relate the thinker's political "perspective" to his position in the wide^ social system, mainly in terms of the "class" or social group, to which he belongs. For example, Mannheim interprets nineteenth century German conservative thought as a response, generated by the needs of the class to which its creators belonged, (the "declining bourgeois class") to the challenge to its position by another class ("the ascendant group.") We claim that, to a large degree, the controversy is explicable in terms of the conflict of political perspectives on the problem of social inequality, with the qualification that one area of the exchange is basically a conflict of methodological axioms which does not rmnlfest an underlying clash of political opinions. Perspectives are identified by the exaggeration of some facts about human societies, as generally conceived, to the exclusion of others; and, by the failure of proponents and critics alike to consider relevant empirical evidence and theoretical arguments presented by other thinkers. We claim that proponents adopt a conservative, their critics a liberal view of stratified inequalities. Further, when the perspectives of different contributors are viewed as representative of wider trends of the political thought of American intellectuals throughout the twentieth century, a new dimension of meaning is afforded the controversy. Thus, the implicitly conservative argument presented by Davis and Moore is viewed as part of the post-war conservative reaction to the radicalism of American liberal intellectuals during the early thirtie.s and to their committment after 1936, to N=w Deal measures to reduce the scale of prevailing social and economic inequalities. Criticisms of their argument are viewed as a liberal counter-attack, prompted by the intellectual articulation of conservative thought in the early fifties, and which reflect, in their essentially limited and defensive approach, the climate of opinion of American liberal intellectuals in the post-war period. Whilst many of Mannheim's statements are supported by our discussion, especially those concerning the development of conservative thought as a "counter-ideology," to meet the challenge of another alien and hostile ideology, his statement that the perspective of an intellectual work is determined by the needs and aspirations of the class or group to which its creator belongs, rraast be modified on the basis of our examination of major trends of intellectual thought in American society; The major developments in American political theory were not generated by the needs or aspirations of well-defined social groups, but by such variables as the changing conditions of the American economy, for example, the Great Depression, the New Deal reforms and the later recovery of the capitalist economy both at home and abroad during the post-war period; the prevailing mood of the American public as expressed in post-war conservatism; and, America's relationship to the rest of the world, particularly, the emergence of a polar confrontation between America and Russia.


Thesis (M.A.) - Dept. of Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology- Simon Fraser University

Document type: 
Copyright remains with the author
Subject headings: 
Social classes.
Knowledge, Sociology of.
Senior supervisor: 
David C. Bettison
Arts and Social Sciences: Department of Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.