Field theory offers a view of social life concerned with how a set of actors orienting their actions to one another do so within a meso-level social order. Fields, once formed, are the arenas where the sociological game of jockeying for position constantly plays out. Our purpose is to review contemporary field theory as articulated in three major theoretical statements in sociology. We first discuss field theory's intellectual roots, paying particular attention to the influences of Max Weber and Kurt Lewin, but also phenomenology and symbolic interaction. We next provide an overview of three of the most developed elaborations of field theory from the last half-century – Pierre Bourdieu's theory of fields (1992), the neo-institutional approach to organizational fields (DiMaggio and Powell 1983), and the theory of strategic action fields recently proposed by Fligstein and McAdam 2012. We follow these overviews with more a detailed examination of how each of these theories addresses two of the most fundamental problems in sociological theory: (1) how to conceive of agency and actors in fields, and (2) how social fields emerge, reproduce, and change. We spend the bulk of our essay discussing key differences between the three approaches on these issues. We end by suggesting the next steps forward in elaborating field theory.
Kluttz, D. N. , Fligstein, N. (2016)., Varieties of sociological field theory, in S. Abrutyn (ed.), Handbook of contemporary sociological theory, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 185-204.
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