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What is sociological theory? On the one hand, sociology is the science of social conditions and effects of human action, on the other hand it is the science of structures, processes and developments of social formation. Different sociological schools of thouht deal with and gives answers to the question of the relation between these sides - human action and social structures. Theoretical approaches that rather put emphasis on freedom and the importance of individual action are subsumed under theories of action. They make an attempt to explain the development of social intsitutions from direct and indirect consequences of coinciding actions of social actors. Whereas structure theory and systems theory go the other way in explaining social development from its own rules. Human actions and dispositions are explained from social constraints and structural conditions of society. Most of contemporary approaches assume that social reality emerges from interdependencies of structure and action. Sociological research asks how attitudes and dispositions of actors - culture - emerge in dependence from changing institutions and structural processes of society such as rationalisation, differentiation or acceleration. Further, social research asks how institutions and structures get influenced by protagonists' action.

Against this general research background it is possible to distinguish between three main topics, which also determine sociology in Jena.

General and theoretical sociology asks for basic conditions of social action and development. The initial question of all sociological theory is: How is social order possible? This issue was not present before the rise of modernity with its basic principle of the challenging of formerly pre-given orders. This is why sociological theory in the narrower sense of the word develops along with the unfolding of modernity in the 19th century. Thus, sociological theory reacts to the experience of modernization that unveils the prioriry, autonomy and resistance of social strutures to individual and political willing. On the one hand,  teaching sociological theory first of all must introduce 'classic' theories of society by authors such as Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber and Georg Simmel. On the other hand, the study of theories by contemporary authors such as Jürgen Habermas, Niklas Luhmann or Michel Foucault is necessary to gain further understanding of the field. The interpretatoin of latest developments in society and changes in the diagnosis of times and the critical identification of undesireable developmets in the sense of 'social pathologies' are tasks of sociological theory.