Development and Developmental Sociology

BY | 01-17-2018

Social Sciences in China Review

No.4, 2017


Development and Developmental Sociology (Abstract)


Xie Lizhong, Wen Jun and Tian Yipeng


Editor’s Note: On July 16, 2017, Social Sciences in China Review held a special forum on “Disciplinary Crisis and Paradigm Shift in Developmental Sociology” in Shanghai. Invited scholars included Xie Lizhong, professor of sociology and Changjiang scholar of Peking University, Wen Jun, professor at the China Modern City Research Center and School of Social Development of East China Normal University, and Tian Yipeng, professor at the School of Philosophy and Social Sciences and Changjiang scholar at Jilin University. The forum was hosted by Tian Yipeng.


With regard to the predicament of developmental sociology today, scholars discussed the true meaning of development, modes of development, social transformation and developmental sociology and made an effort to provide good solutions for the future of developmental sociology. These discussions ultimately resulted in three papers. They are featured here for the reader under the title “Development and Developmental Sociology”: “Meaning of ‘Development’: Contradiction between Theory and Practice and Its Causes (Xie Lizhong), “Social Transition and Transitional Society: A Chinese Perspective on Developmental Sociology and Some Reflections” (Wen Jun), “Transformation of ‘Model Study’ and Disciplinary Updates in Developmental Sociology” (Tian Yipeng).


Starting with the concept of “development,” which is the core and most basic concept in all development studies, including developmental sociology, Xie Lizhong argues that although great changes have taken place in people’s understanding of “development,” in practice the model “development equals economic or even GDP growth” remains unchanged in all countries around the world. There seems to be a puzzling contradiction between the renewed idea of “development” and its stereotyped practice. Four reasons contribute to this contradiction: first, the internal mechanism of the capitalist economic system and the external pressure on the socialist economic system; second, compared with GDP and the like, other indexes for the evaluating overall development have their limitations that are difficult to overcome in a short term; third, the development model of “development equals economic or even GDP growth” is not without its own merits; fourth, the implementation of new strategy like “meeting basic needs,” etc., is not easy at the operational level.


Wen Jun discusses developmental sociology from the perspective of transitional society. In his opinion, although facing crisis since the late of the 20th century, the discipline has get dynamics from the rise of China and other transitional countries and the initial formation of transitional societies in terms of theory construction and practical experience. With the construction and improvement of transitional sociology, which focuses on the research of transitional society, development research will enter a new stage. In the future, regardless of whether transitional sociology is internal to or independent of developmental sociology, the latter should pay full attention to all kinds of development phenomena in social transition and transitional societies and be able to provide convincible explanations about different types of social development.


Tian Yipeng provided an analysis from the perspective of development models. He contends that as a core theme of developmental sociology, the research on development models has supported the discipline as early as in the initial period of the discipline. However, limitations, including biases in theoretical preconditions, one-sidedness in theme selection, and the vastness of research units, have led to a serious crisis in its research. On the premise of deep reflection on the limitations of existing research on development models, we should not only focus on the general law governing the operation of models but also examine the hierarchy of it, which is composed of individual actors at the micro level, local societies at the medium level, and the state level. Such examination allows us to focus on the complex relationship between models and the local societies. On this basis, the limitations of research on models is hoped to be overcome and the construction of developmental sociology based on local model be realized. Starting from such a point, research on new development models will no longer be fixed or monotonic, but rather be multi-facet with an outstanding hierarchical feature.