Richard Swedberg , Ph.D.

Professor of Sociology

Cornell University

Born in 1948 in Stockholm
Studied Law at Stockholm University and Sociology at Boston College


Theorizing in Social Theory: What It Is and How to Do It

My book The Art of Social Theory (Princeton 2014) is the first part of a larger project that I will continue to develop during my year at the Wissenschaftskolleg. In this work, I attempted to further develop social theory by focusing primarily on theorizing or the process that precedes the final formulation of a theory. In doing so, I am especially interested in understanding what happens in the so-called context of discovery, and how this can be used to improve today's social theory. My primary reasons for working on this topic are two, namely (1) to advance social theory by learning more about the practices that are needed to produce a theory (and how to handle theory in empirical research) and (2) to devise new ways of teaching theory to students (beyond the quantitative and qualitative methods with which they are currently being taught, namely with exercises and "hands-on" examples). Besides social theory, my work draws on cognitive science and the philosophy of science, including the important work of Charles Sanders Peirce.
In my book from 2014, I merely skimmed the surface of many difficult topics in theorizing that I now would like to further study and develop in more detail. These include the nature and practical use of concepts, as well as metaphors, analogies, and definitions. Other topics include forms of reasoning such as induction, deduction, and abduction. If I have time, I would also like to take a close look at the nature of abstractions and generalizations; different types of explanations, including social mechanisms; and how to advance theory through visualization. For all of these topics, I am also interested in working out exercises, since I see teaching students as an integral part of the project of theorizing. Finally, I have by now taught theorizing for several years using a number of different exercises, and I feel that it is time for me to try to summarize which of these exercises work and which need to be replaced by new ones.

Recommended Reading

Swedberg, Richard. "Theorizing in Sociological Research." Annual Review of Sociology 43 (2017): 189-206.
-. "Can You Visualize Theory?" Sociological Theory. 34, 3 (2016): 250-275.
-. The Art of Social Theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Publications from the Fellows' Library

Swedberg, Richard ( Princeton [u.a.], 2014)
The art of social theory

Swedberg, Richard ( 2013)
The financial crisis in the US 2008–2009 : losing and restoring confidence

Swedberg, Richard ( 2012)
Theorizing in sociology and social science : turning to the context of discovery