Anna Kosloski Talcott Parsons

Anna Kosloski
Psychology and Sociology
Talcott Parsons
Talcot Parsons tries to examine “some problems between the relation of psychology and
sociology” while acknowledging that this critical examination comes from the viewpoint of a
sociologist, specifically “the point of view of one kind of sociological theory” (68). Thus his
central question becomes, why do both sociological and psychological theories exist in
understanding human action? In addition he is asking at what point do they converge, diverge
and how can they build from each other? This question is ultimately stated when he says “what
are the conditions of an optimum “fit” between two theoretical schemes which can make he one
as fruitful as possible for the other” (67).
Central Concepts:
 The commonality between the two disciplines is behavior which Parsons references as
“action” which becomes the focus of this paper (69).
 The conflicting view point between the disciplines has been to set the individual against
society and try to understand the social interaction in terms of either the individual level or in
terms of a larger system to which Parsons suggest “both are right” but “neither has president
over the other” (69-70).
 The importance of action stems from the symbolic meaning that exists behind the action to
the individual actor.
o When the symbolic meanings are shared he refers to this as a “common culture” (72).
 Actions are culturally organized where personality is institutionalized within the a social
system (71).
 Emphasis on the role(s) individuals have within a society. These roles do not always need to
be activated as Parsons refers to latency as times when the individual is not actively
participating yet is still part of a group or system.
 Parsons associates roles with personality, which is culturally organized.
 Personality is created and maintained through socialization (mother-child example) and
through social control (therapist- patient example).
Key definitions:
o Sociology: concerned with the observation and analysis of human social behavior,
specifically the interactions, relationships and changes that take place within them (68)
o Psychology: concerned with the behavior of the individual, specifically their relations
with other individuals (68)
o Social system: the system constituted by the interaction of a plurality of human beings,
directly or indirectly, with each other (69)
o Action: a mode of relation between an “actor” and a living organism/situation that may
be conceived as a system of objects, most important are the social objects or other actors
o Society: a social system and a complex network of interlocking and interdependent
subsystems (70)
o Latency: periods of time when the individual is not activating their distinct role within a
system but is still part of the system itself (72)
A visual representation of action (using the therapist-patient example):