SOCIOLOGY IN AN ERA OF FRAGMENTATION:From the Sociology of Knowledge to the Philosophy of Science, and Back Again


George Steinmetz, University of Michigan, Department of Sociology, 3508 LS&A Bulding, 500 South State St., Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109; e-mail:


In this article we revisit Alvin Gouldner's The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (1970). In part, this article is an attempt to apply Gouldner's own lessons about the sociology of knowledge to his own work, situating it with respect to the dominant epistemological unconscious of late 1960s American sociology as well as the broader historical context of a still-vibrant Fordist mode of societalization. Gouldner's critique of positivism was limited because he was still partially caught up within the dominant epistemological framework in American sociology at that time, a formation we call methodological positivism. With thirty years of hindsight, it is not surprising that contemporary readers interested in following up Gouldner's call for a reflexive sociology of knowledge will find certain aspects of his own program unsatisfactory. We propose an alternative sociology of knowledge based on a more explicit philosophy of scientific understanding, namely, contemporary critical realism. We also trace the vicissitudes of the trope of a “crisis in sociology” which Gouldner unleashed into the world and unpack the tensions between the “western” sociology referred to in the book's title and Gouldner's actual focus on the United States.