Theoretical Perspectives Essay

Theoretical Perspectives Essay

 

The text discusses “Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology” in chapter 2. As a student, you sociologically view the world in a particular way. Do you see the world as a place where things simply “work out” (structural functionalism), or is it constantly in conflict (conflict theory)? Perhaps you see the world primarily as a place that is about relationships between people (symbolic interactionism).

Write an essay (750-1,000 words) that addresses the following:

1. Define and explain the three ways to view the world “sociologically.”

2. Identify which sociological perspective (structural functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic interactionism) most closely represents your view of the world. Describe the factors that have caused you to view the world through that perspective, such as personal experience in our society, popular culture, media, etc. In addition, use an example from world events that demonstrates evidence of your theory. Briefly explain why you did not choose each of the other two perspectives being careful to demonstrate that you understand the other perspectives.

 

Top of Form

Theoretical Perspectives Essay

  1 Unsatisfactory 0.00% 2 Less than Satisfactory 65.00% 3 Satisfactory 75.00% 4 Good 85.00% 5 Excellent 100.00%
70.0 %Content  
10.0 % Define and explain the three ways to view the world sociologically. Paper fails to or incorrectly defines and explains the three ways to view the world sociologically. Paper inadequately defines and explains the three ways to view the world sociologically. Explanation is weak and missing evidence to support claims. Paper adequately defines and explains the three ways to view the world sociologically. Explanation is limited and lacks some evidence to support claims. Paper clearly defines and explains the three ways to view the world sociologically. Explanation is strong with sound analysis and appropriate evidence to support claims. Paper thoroughly defines and explains the three ways to view the world sociologically, with quality details and well-researched evidence. Explanation is comprehensive and insightful with relevant evidence to support claims.  
30.0 % Identify which sociological perspective (structural functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic interactionism) most closely represents your view of the world. Describe the factors that have caused you to view the world through that perspective, such as personal experience in our society, popular culture, media, etc. Paper fails to identify which sociological perspective most closely represents the student?s view of the world. Paper inadequately identifies which sociological perspective most closely represents the student?s view of the world. Description of the factors that caused the student to view the world through this perspective is weak and missing logical connections. Paper adequately identifies which sociological perspective most closely represents the student?s view of the world. Description of the factors that caused the student to view the world through this perspective is somewhat limited and lacks some clarity. Paper clearly identifies which sociological perspective most closely represents the student?s view of the world. Description of the factors that caused the student to view the world through this perspective is strong and sound. Paper thoroughly identifies which sociological perspective most closely represents the student?s view of the world. Description of the factors that caused the student to view the world through this perspective is comprehensive and insightful.  
30.0 % Use an example from world events that demonstrates evidence of your theory. Briefly explain why you did not choose each of the other two perspectives being careful to demonstrate that you understand the other perspectives. Paper fails to use an example from world events that demonstrates evidence of the theory the student chose. No explanation why student did not chose each of the other two perspectives. Paper inadequately uses an example from world events that demonstrates evidence of the theory the student chose. Explanation of why student did not chose each of the other two perspectives is weak and missing logical connections. Paper adequately uses an example from world events that demonstrates evidence of the theory the student chose. Explanation of why student did not chose each of the other two perspectives is somewhat limited and lacks some clarity. Paper clearly uses an example from world events that demonstrates evidence of the theory the student chose. Explanation of why student did not chose each of the other two perspectives is strong and sound. Paper thoroughly uses an example from world events that demonstrates evidence of the theory the student chose. Explanation of why student did not chose each of the other two perspectives is comprehensive and insightful.  
20.0 %Organization and Effectiveness  
10.0 % Thesis Development and Purpose Paragraphs and transitions consistently lack unity and coherence. No apparent connections between paragraphs are established. Transitions are inappropriate to purpose and scope. Organization is disjointed. Some paragraphs and transitions may lack logical progression of ideas, unity, coherence, and/or cohesiveness. Some degree of organization is evident. Paragraphs are generally competent, but ideas may show some inconsistency in organization and/or in their relationships to each other. A logical progression of ideas between paragraphs is apparent. Paragraphs exhibit a unity, coherence, and cohesiveness. Topic sentences and concluding remarks are appropriate to purpose. There is a skillful construction of paragraphs and transitions. Ideas progress and relate to each other. Paragraph and transition construction guide the reader. Paragraph structure is seamless.  
20.0 %Organization and Effectiveness  
5.0 % Paragraph Development and Transitions Paragraphs and transitions consistently lack unity and coherence. No apparent connections between paragraphs are established. Transitions are inappropriate to purpose and scope. Organization is disjointed. Some paragraphs and transitions may lack logical progression of ideas, unity, coherence, and/or cohesiveness. Some degree of organization is evident. Paragraphs are generally competent, but ideas may show some inconsistency in organization and/or in their relationships to each other. A logical progression of ideas between paragraphs is apparent. Paragraphs exhibit a unity, coherence, and cohesiveness. Topic sentences and concluding remarks are appropriate to purpose. There is a skillful construction of paragraphs and transitions. Ideas progress and relate to each other. Paragraph and transition construction guide the reader. Paragraph structure is seamless.  
20.0 %Organization and Effectiveness  
5.0 % Mechanics of Writing (includes spelling, punctuation, grammar, language use) Surface errors are pervasive enough that they impede communication of meaning. Inappropriate word choice and/or sentence construction are used. Frequent and repetitive mechanical errors distract the reader. Inconsistencies in language choice (register) and/or word choice are present. Sentence structure is correct but not varied. Some mechanical errors or typos are present, but are not overly distracting to the reader. Correct and varied sentence structure and audience-appropriate language are employed. Prose is largely free of mechanical errors, although a few may be present. The writer uses a variety of effective sentence structures and figures of speech. Writer is clearly in command of standard, written, academic English.  
10.0 %Format  
5.0 % Paper Format (Use of appropriate style for the major and assignment) Appropriate template is not used or documentation format is rarely followed correctly. Appropriate template is used, but some elements are missing or mistaken; lack of control with formatting is apparent. Appropriate template is used, and formatting is correct, although some minor errors may be present. Appropriate template is fully used; There are virtually no errors in formatting style. All format elements are correct.  
5.0 % Research Citations (In-text citations for paraphrasing and direct quotes, and reference page listing and formatting, as appropriate to assignment) No reference page is included. No citations are used. Reference page is present. Citations are inconsistently used. Reference page is included and lists sources used in the paper. Sources are appropriately documented, although some errors may be present. Reference page is present and fully inclusive of all cited sources. Documentation is appropriate and style is usually correct. In-text citations and a reference page are complete. The documentation of cited sources is free of error.  
100 % Total Weightage    

 

Bottom of Form

 
     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theoretical Perspectives of SociologyBy David Claerbaut, Ph.D.

Chapter 2

 

Topics

· Introduction

· Theory

· Comparing the Three Theories

· Worldviews

· Conclusion

· Chapter Review

· References

Introduction

Sociology is the science of human group behavior. This group orientation is sometimes called the sociological perspective. This perspective exists because, according to scientific study, humans conduct themselves differently in groups than they do as individuals. Moreover, because humans are social beings who live in groups—ranging from families to nations—common traits and characteristics typify groups just as they can for individuals. For example, the United States is a nation group. As a nation, the United States has some common characteristics in the form of values, attitudes, and beliefs that shape its citizens. Sociologists focus on the social rather than individual contexts in which people live, emphasizing how group experiences shape the behavior of its members, and particularly how people are influenced by the larger society in which they live. In short, sociology always links personal experience to the larger society of which it is a part (Robertson, 1987; Schaefer, 1989; Stark, 1989).

Sociology is a science because it is based on a rational body of knowledge, much of which can be tested objectively. Although sociologists are engaged in truly scientific study, there are also theories in the study of sociology. It is important to understand that there is no single grand theory or paradigm in sociology that functions like the elemental chart in chemistry or the multiplication tables in mathematics; rather, there are a number of theories in the discipline. This is largely because of the extreme complexity and ever-changing nature of human behavior. This chapter looks at the role of theories in general and how they relate to scientific research in the field of sociology. This chapter also discusses the three major theories in sociology—structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism— and compares each theory as it provides a lens through which people view social reality (Coser, 1977; Henslin 1998, 2014).

Theory

A theory is a set of ideas that attempts to explain the known facts of a subject in a way that makes sense. A theory can be tested by determining whether it accounts for and explains all the known facts in a sensible way. Detectives use theories to solve crimes. They look at the facts of the crime and the scientific evidence, such as fingerprints and DNA, and construct a theory of how the crime was done and who committed it. If the facts and scientific evidence in any way contradict the theory, the theory is rejected.

The science of sociology uses the same method. In fact, for a field of study to be a science, its theories must be both based on scientific evidence and tested by research. In sociology, there are a number of social facts—social realities that influence human behavior. For example, it is a fact that humans live in large and small groups, or societies, that have defined patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting, or culture. These groups interact and they affect and influence one another. Out of these group experiences, humans develop an understanding of the world and their place in that world. For example, a Christian woman who has lived her entire life in Chicago, Illinois, may look at the world through the eyes of a Christian worldview. She would also view social realty as a female in terms of gender. In addition, her experience would be shaped by living in a highly urbanized (rather than rural) area of the Midwest. There are many social environments that form a perspective on how she would see the world.

Sociological theories, then, are efforts to explain human group behavior in a comprehensive fashion. Some questions that sociological theories attempt to answer include:

· How are the various human organizations constructed so that they fit together to form a functioning unit? For example, how does the United States, as a nation, fit together and function in a stabilized way?

· How do various groups within a larger society interact? For example, how do the rich and poor interact within a nation, and does this interaction affect the overall functioning of a nation?

· How do humans communicate and make sense of their relationships?

· How do humans attach meaning to events and relationships?

Theories are not developed in a vacuum. Sociologists are always engaged in research that tests their theories. Moreover, this research may result in the discovery of new social realities that, in turn, will be integrated into theories. For example, in the early days of sociology, scholars believed that deviant behavior was based on biology because the brains of deviants were different from those of society’s mainstream members (Douglas & Waskler, 1982). Subsequent research, however, quickly determined that much deviance is learned in groups. Hence, the theories of deviance were revised to account for this (Douglas & Waskler, 1982). Sociology is based on an ever-changing and developing field of knowledge with theories that are continuously refined as the result of careful research.

There are three major theoretical perspectives in sociology. These theories provide three distinct ways of viewing human group behavior. These macro-level and micro-level theories, though different, do not necessarily conflict with one another.

Structural Functionalism

Structural functionalism is a macro-level theory that views a society as a complete unit, in much the same way one might look at a human body as a complete organism that is made up of vital parts and systems. This theory sees society as consisting of many parts called structures (Dobriner, 1969).

Figure 2.1. Major Structures and Functions in Society

Major Structures and Functions in Society
Structures Functions
Politics Social order and control
Religion Meaning of life and universe
Education Socialization and progress for society
Family Unit of reproduction and early socialization
Economics Distribution of goods and services
   

Within these structures are roles that are performed by people who occupy them. For example, in the structure of religion, the role of pastor exists, which is occupied by an individual. These structures work together to accomplish purposes or functions. For example, a nation’s political structure, which exists to protect its citizens and advance their welfare, interacts with the nation’s education structure, which exists to prepare its citizens to advance the culture. Because it is believed that an educated nation is a stronger one, the political structure funds public education. This simple example illustrates how two structures interact and influence one another.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), one of the founding fathers of sociology, was a structural functionalist. According to Durkheim, earlier, less developed, rural societies were characterized by commonly held religious and social beliefs, and that these common beliefs were what unified and held together such societies (Coser, 1977). Moreover, the economic system was simple and independent, with agriculture being the dominant means making a living. He called these mechanical societies. As life became more complex and urban, societies contained a more diverse population, one that did not necessarily share common social or religious beliefs. How are these societies held together amid all the differences among their inhabitants?

Durkheim suggested interdependence was what held together these modern societies. People were bound together by their need for one another in order to survive. The farmer may not know the grocer, but he needs to sell his produce to him. The grocer may not know his customer, but the grocer needs the customer’s money and the customer needs the food. People do different jobs creating a division of labor all webbed together for a common survival. To Durkheim, such a society was held together by organic solidarity, made up of interconnected and interdependent components. It was this diversity of functions, rather than similarity of beliefs and values, that unified these societies (Durkheim, 1893/1933, 1895/1964, 1897/1966).

There are a few key points involved in structural functionalism. First, is that the society is viewed as a whole. The parts are studied only in terms of how they function and contribute to the well-being of the whole society. Hence, education is studied in terms of how it serves the interests of the entire society.

It is also important to realize that for structural functionalists, society rests largely on consensus. There needs to be a general agreement on the norms, values, and beliefs of the larger society. Its members need to internalize and accept the validity of these norms for the system to operate (Sumner, 1906).

When the structures and their functions are in harmony, there is stability and societal health. Nonetheless, just as there are functions, there are also dysfunctions. The latter refers to negative effects on the stability of the larger system. For example, a major recession in the economic structure of a society will have a negative impact on the overall stability and well-being of a society. The effects of the recession will ripple through the other structures, and accommodations and adjustments will need to be made in many, if not all, of the structures to regain stability.

Societies survive because there are always far more functional than dysfunctional effects and they possess the capacity to adjust and readjust to changes without losing stability. However, if there were a massive breakdown in a major structure, such as politics, in which the government collapses, the entire system would be riddled with dysfunction, putting its survival in jeopardy.

Because all the parts or structures are interconnected in structural functionalism, these parts are constantly readjusting to accommodate changes and attempt to remain stable. When major change occurs, all the major parts adjust to maintain the equilibrium of the society. When the Civil Rights Movement addressed segregation in the United States, massive changes occurred throughout the nation. Schools were desegregated, job opportunities were broadened for racial minorities, and voting rights were extended to all citizens. In short, the educational, economic, and political institutions had to change to accommodate this major social movement.

Conflict Theory

Conflict theory is a macro-level theory that offers a very different perspective from Structural Functionalism. Whereas the latter focuses on the entire society as a series of interactive and cooperative units, conflict theory sees society as composed of a number of groups in constant battle over power, prestige, and economic resources.

Karl Marx (1818-1883), who witnessed the Industrial Revolution in Europe, is the father of conflict theory. Marx focused on class conflict. He saw a small group of elites, called capitalists or the bourgeoisie, in control of the wealth and power in European society while the masses, the proletariat, labored in the factories for meager wages (Marx & Engles, 1848/1967). In Marx’s time, capitalism was in its infancy, and there were no legal protections for employees. There were no unions, no minimum wage, no benefits, nor any laws to spare the workers from exploitation. Marx’s view was widely adopted, and since that era, conflict theory has held sway as a major sociological perspective.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

 

Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a philosopher, economist, sociologist, and political revolutionary. Born in Germany and Jewish by birth, Marx was exposed to Christianity when his father converted to Lutheranism in 1816. Early in life, Marx was a radical dissident, with incidents of drunkenness and rebellion. His brilliance allowed him to earn his doctorate from the University of Jenna at the age of 23. His radical politics, however, soon had him moving to Paris, France and then to England. Married and the father of seven children, only three of whom lived to adulthood, Marx was an avowed communist during the Industrial Revolution. He believed European society consisted of two classes: those who owned the factories (forces of production) and those who labored under their oppressive control. His most famous work, The Communist Manifesto (1848), written with his colleague Friedrich Engels, advocated a “classless society.” It viewed history as a series of class struggles in which capitalism ultimately would be replaced with communism. Marx’s class-struggle worldview has made him the ultimate conflict theorist.

Looking at a society through the lens of competition and discord is the key to understanding conflict theory. The specific groups may change, but the larger process remains the same—society is composed of opposing groups locked in competition for power and control. The process is never ending, because, according to conflict theory, once the social order is changed and a new group gains power, that group begins battling with the others to maintain its control (Manza & McCarthy, 2011).

Hence, there is no societal stability in conflict theory. On the contrary, society is in constant turmoil, gurgling openly or under the surface with groups in competition, with the society at large continuously taking new shape as it accommodates the outcome of new battles. There is constant change. Whereas structure functionalism focuses on societal stability and equilibrium, conflict theory is concerned with inequality, exploitation, and competition.

In the United States and elsewhere, conflict theorists see the various social classes in constant competition for the nation’s wealth, power, and prestige. Racism and sexism are viewed through the conflict perspective, with the notion that the group in power attempts to maintain its power at the expense of the minority, even to the extent of defining and degrading the minority by labeling it as inferior. The history of white dominance is testimony to a difference in power, with one racial group affecting laws that subjugate other groups, along with stereotypes and unflattering attributes ascribed to other groups. For Marx, economics was the basis of all exploitation. Hence, racism, sexism, and class conflict were all viewed in how they affected the economic well-being of disadvantaged groups (Lengermann & Niebrugge, 2007; Mills, 1959).

Women were long regarded as second-class citizens and denied the right to vote in America before 1920. In the conflict theorist’s view, from that point to the present day, women have been battling for an equal share of social power. In fact, many scholars today believe that the elevated divorce rate in the United States is a result of a continuing battle of the sexes over power, as previously accepted gender roles that affirmed male dominance have given way to equal status.

During Marx’s days as a student in Berlin, he became acquainted with the work of German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and it influenced his own thought. Hegel believed that in the world of ideas, a basic idea, or thesis, eventually will be challenged with a competing idea, or antithesis, out of which emerges a new system of thinking, or a synthesis. More important, this thesis-antithesis-synthesis is a never-ending process. The dialectic figure below illustrates this process. Applied to conflict theory, the dialectic would suggest that any system inevitably will be challenged by a competing one, and this in turn will create a new system (Marx & Engels, 1848/1967).

Figure 2.2. Hegelian Dialectic (as applied to Conflict Theory)

Hegelian Dialectic (as applied to Conflict Theory)
THESIS   ANTITHESIS   SYNTHESIS
Original theory

or system

è Competing or conflicting theory

or system

è New theory

or system

 

A key to conflict theory is the belief that there is a limited amount of power, prestige, and economic resources. One group’s dominance is always at the expense of others. Hence, inequality is built into the social system. In conflict thinking, genders, races, and social classes are viewed in terms of competition with one another. Sociologists in the conflict theory tradition look at a society through the lens of power, wealth, and prestige, determining what group holds control and how it attempts to maintain that control, as well as what groups are systematically deprived by the group in control.

Symbolic Interactionism

Unlike structural functionalism and conflict theory, which look at a society in its totality, symbolic interactionism views society as a collection of relationships among people, relationships that are filled with common meaning and significance. In short, symbolic interactionism looks at society as emerging from social interaction at the micro level (Whorf, 1956).

The key to understanding symbolic interactionism lies in the word symbol. The most important use of symbols in human life occurs in language. Perhaps 99% of all human communication is in the form of language—speaking or writing. Language is composed of words, which are conveyed through sounds when spoken and marks on paper, a screen, or some other surface when written. Words are symbols that carry meaning. The sounds and marks represent things and ideas in the real world. For example, when the word house is used, a physical building does not appear; rather, the user, audience, or reader gets a mental picture of a physical building. People can talk for hours, or send messages back and forth through various electronic devices using the word house and understand fully what they mean.

The use of symbolic communication is one of the points of separation between humans and animals. Humans, unlike animals, can live in an abstract world. Hence, the word marriage has meaning. That meaning may differ from one society to another, but in each, the term has meaning. Love is another example. No one sees or touches love, yet it is perhaps the most powerful element of human existence. It may carry different meanings depending on one’s family, community, or religious background, but it has a powerful meaning. This very book is an example of humans’ ability to live in an abstract world. Readers look at the marks here and decipher their meaning, and, from that process, they learn new things. This ability to communicate in an abstract form opens up a new world for humans. While animals live only in the present, humans can discuss, appreciate, and understand the past as well as the future. It means humans can learn from past mistakes and plan for the future.

In symbolic interaction, people are thinking beings, not merely unthinking occupants of structures or conditioned members of competing groups. They create their own realities through interaction with others (Cooley, 1902). Moreover, life is always in the present. Although individuals have a past and can draw thoughts and experiences from it, what is important is one’s thinking and interaction in the present situation.

A key term in symbolic interaction is definition of the situation. The meaning of any situation is defined by the individuals involved. For example, a deeply religious person may consider the idea of dying a blessed opportunity to enter a glorious afterlife, while other members of the person’s family may view it as a tragic loss of a loved one. Or if Team A defeats Team B, the members of Team A may define that situation as a glorious victory, while those on Team B may define the situation as a bitter defeat. Any situation, then, is given meaning by the individuals involved, and when two people interact and share a common definition of a situation, their communication is enhanced.

Roles

Many symbolic interactionists view social life in terms of a stage with roles—sets of expected behaviors in a social situation. Thinking people create roles in the drama of human life. These roles go beyond conventional ones, such as teacher, physician, or pastor, to more personal ones, such as empathizer, dependent, or contrarian. For example, a family member may adopt a rather dependent role in life, seeking and gaining attention and aid from other family members at every turn. Soon, the other members of the family act toward this person in that role. However, if that same person were suddenly to gain a sense of potency and become truly independent, it would disrupt the family system because the meaning of the person’s role would have changed.

The metaphor of drama and scripts is a part of symbolic interactionism. Sociologist Erving Goffman, for example, saw social life played out on a stage on which people chose behaviors based on gaining acceptance (Goffman, 1959). In symbolic interactionism, people relate to others on the basis of perceived roles. Based on the definition of situation, people imagine how a person perceived to have a particular role would think, and they try to relate to the other person on the basis of that perception. If they are correct, their interaction will go smoothly. For example, consider the role of medical expert. A medical expert in a health facility usually is regarded with great significance. Often there are perks and other benefits associated with the role. The person usually is addressed as “Doctor” rather than “Ralph.” The patient who sees the medical expert and defines him as such will often accord that expert great respect, while the expert will treat the patient from a position of authority.

In a sense, the medical expert and the patient each have scripts that play out the human drama on the stage of medicine. The stage becomes important because the two actors here have a common definition of the meaning and the role of a health facility. Sociologists in the symbolic interactionism tradition are always looking at the stage of interaction, determining the roles, scripts, and interactions of the characters.

Self

Because of the advanced development of the human brain, not only can people communicate in symbols, they each have an identity, which symbolic interactionists call self. The self is developed through the process of interaction with others. Individuals understand the meaning of the symbols in their social groups and are shaped by their application of those symbols. That process is called socialization—the shaping of the individual to function in the society. For example, as children learn language, their parents communicate norms and values to them in a way that influences their thoughts and actions. People learn other norms and values in school and in their communities, including gender roles. The totality of this experience shapes who they are. It socializes them.

It is through this socialization that people develop a self. George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), a founding father of symbolic interactionism, developed the concept of the self. Mead believed that each person had an and a Me. The Me, also referred to as generalized other, is the collective set of values and attitudes learned from others. This generalized other is the social self. The is how the individual person responds to this collective set of values and attitudes (Mead, 1934).

In grammatical terms, the is the subject form, the part of an individual that makes the person unique. The Me is the object. For example, if one were to say, “I think there should be no laws against speeding,” this person is distinguishing individual values and attitudes—the I—from the collective values and attitudes of the society.

This relationship of the to the Me goes on constantly in the human brain. In fact, symbolic interactionists would say that this internal interaction—this speaking to oneself—is the essence of thinking. Many people think best by talking to themselves aloud. Whether silent or aloud, this conversation with one’s own brain is the basis of thinking.

This sense of self goes one more step. While animal behavior is largely programmed biologically, human behavior is a matter of choice. A human has a variety of options on how to act in any situation. For example, at a gathering, an individual can speak, remain quiet, or leave. Those choices are examples of conducting oneself. For example, placing certain foods before an animal will guarantee the animal will eat. A human, however, might eat all the food, part of the food, or none of it. Again, people do not react, they conduct themselves.

Figure 2.3. Summary of the Three Major Theories

Summary of the Three Major Theories
STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM CONFLICT THEORY SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM
Basic Points Basic Points Basic Points
Societies are systems with parts Societies are based on competition among groups for power, wealth, and prestige Society is the product of individual and group interaction
There is consensus and balance; major conflict is destructive Societies continue to generate competition and conflict; conflict may be positive Society is a drama, based on roles and how people play them
Major change creates instability Change is constant Change occurs when people change their “scripts”
Focus is on how parts operate together for the whole society Focus is on competing groups and how they gain and maintain power Focus is on understanding the roles and interactions in the social drama
Key Issues Key Issues Key Issues
The role each part plays in contributing to the larger social system Who has the power to create change for their benefit How actors in the social drama learn to understand meaning
Limitation of Theory Limitation of Theory Limitation of Theory
Explanation of power and

social change

Explanation of cohesion and stability Explanation of how small interactions create a larger social system
 

Comparing the Three Theories

When comparing the theories, the major similarity between structural functionalism and conflict theory is that they are both macro theories. Although they can be applied to groups as small as the family, they provide overall views of how a society functions. A major difference between these two is in the area of consensus. Whereas structural functionalists see society bound together on a very practical and interdependent level, the conflict theorists see competition and discord at the foundation of society. Structural functionalism is about consensus, stability, and even harmony. Conflict theory is about divisions, competition, and separation.

The two theories also differ in the area of change. Major change is viewed as disruptive and even threatening to the structural functionalism system. A change in one part will require adjustments and accommodation in the related structures in order to maintain overall equilibrium in the society. In conflict theory, change is the norm. Groups are forever in competition over the unequal distribution of power, prestige, and wealth, resulting in never-ending conflict. Groups in power maintain that power at the expense of others who aim to gain control of that power. Whenever a subordinate group gains power in the system, the social order is changed, but the competition continues.

Hence, while structural functionalism provides an excellent model for how a society holds together, similar to the human body and its parts, it does not deal as well with major, and especially sudden, social change. Conflict theory is the opposite; it is based on social change and upheaval but is not well-focused on how societies maintain stability and cohesion.

Symbolic interactionism is a micro theory, and, as such, offers a sharp departure from structural functionalism and conflict theory. The unit of analysis in symbolic interactionism is not the society as a whole but, rather, the myriad interactions among members of society and the shared meanings they attach to those interactions. Human social life is viewed in the context of common understandings of symbols and roles as they are communicated and created in interaction. As such, symbolic interactionism is a bit more abstract and difficult to describe in simple terms. For example, it does not look at social life in terms of defined structures or groups but in terms of roles and common understanding of a given social situation. These roles and definitions are created by actors in the drama of human life.

Its emphasis on shared meaning enables symbolic interaction to account for social harmony. For example, if citizens think individuals wearing police badges are valid authority figures, they will likely comply with orders from such individuals. Such common definitions of situations and the roles within it is what society is constructed on, according to symbolic interaction. Conflict, then, would be attributed to a lack of shared definitions of a situation.

In any case, symbolic interaction does not offer a clear link connecting these personal interactions to comprehensive understanding of the workings of a society at large.

Figure 2.4. Basic Elements and Comparison of the Three Major Theories

Basic Elements and Comparison of the Three Major Theories
PERSPECTIVE ANALYSIS FOCUS SOCIETY QUESTIONS
Structural Functionalism Macro Social order, consensus Interrelated parts that contribute or societal stability What are the major parts and what are their functions?
Conflict Theory Macro Competition, conflict, change Competing groups, tension, inequality, change How is inequality built in to the society? Who benefits? Who is deprived?
Symbolic Interactionism Micro Symbolic communication among actors Dynamic, ongoing system of interactions How do people interpret symbols? How does this influence behavior?
         

Worldviews

No theory is altogether objective. It is based on worldview. Marx, for example, had a clear, anticapitalist worldview through which he viewed all of social reality. Structural functionalists see the world from a perspective of stability and necessary interdependence within and among nation-states. Symbolic interactionists view social reality through the myriad interactions among people. These worldviews influence all aspects of the theorist’s thinking. In that respect, sociology is not a pure science. Though it is devoted to objective study and research, there are theories that shape understanding.

Worldviews generate other perspectives in the discipline. For example, there are a variety of perspectives in sociology that attempt to view the world through the lens of a particular group’s experience. The African-American and gender-studies departments in universities provide examples of this inclusion of interest-based perspectives or worldviews.

Christian Worldview

The Christian worldview, in which there is the acceptance of a transcendent God who interacts with His creation, uses Scripture as the lens through which reality is viewed. The Christian worldview begins in the biblical book of Genesis (ESV), which opens with, “In the beginning, God…” Just as works of art are created by the artist and books originate with their authors, a Christian worldview of education begins with God, the Creator of the universe. A Christian worldview then, starts with God in every academic discipline (Claerbaut, 2004). Proverbs 1:7 states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

In The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, historian George Marsden (1997) asks: How differently would an academic subject look if a student believed in God and inserted Him into his or her thinking? What effect would it have? For example, one might look at the physical sciences differently if one saw the complexity of the universe as the creation of an almighty God. Art and literature might be seen differently if one’s worldview includes God and His grace for all people. Philosophy might be studied differently if the student believed that ultimate truth exists in God. One might take a different approach to psychology if one sees humans as moral agents who are always dealing with the tension between right and wrong. In sociology, one might look at the different theories in terms of how they fit a Christian belief about God and human nature.

In other words, a Christian worldview injects a God-consciousness into education. Instead of “checking their faith at the door,” students with a Christian worldview put on a set of Christian lenses and look at their subjects through the perspective of their faith, just as Marx used his worldview of oppression and the dialectic in his studies.

Conclusion

Sociology is the science of human group behavior. It operates with three major theories: structure functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism. These theories, along with others, constitute worldviews that shape how people look at human group reality.

Study Guide Review Questions

1. How do theory and science fit together in sociology?

2. How would structural functionalism and conflict theory differ in discussing social change?

3. What is meant by macro-level and micro-level theories?

4. How do the theories differ in the cause and effect of social change?

5. How does the concept of worldview affect the development of theories?

Chapter Review

· Sociology is a science in that uses scientific methods to discover facts pertaining to social reality.

· Unlike mathematics and the physical sciences, sociology does not have one overall paradigm.

· Sociology is guided by three major theories: structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.

· Each theory has strengths and weaknesses, but they all provide a lens through which sociologists view social reality.

· These major theories, along with others, function as worldviews that shape the sociologist’s perspective of reality.

Key Terms

· Antithesis: A position in opposition to a theory; a counter-theory.

· Bourgeoisie: Karl Marx’s term used to describe those who owned “the means of production,” such as a land, factories, investment capital, etc.

· Capitalism: An economic system in which goods and services are owned and controlled by private individuals rather than the state.

· Conflict Theory: A major sociological perspective that sees society as a set of groups in constant competition over wealth, power, and prestige.

· Definition of the Situation: A term used in symbolic interactionism to refer to the perceived meaning of a given circumstance by an individual.

· Dialectic: An ongoing debate or discussion, with theories and counter-theories.

· Dysfunction: A force that disrupts or impairs a social system.

· Generalized Other: An individual’s internalization of the norms and expectations of the individual’s society.

· I: Similar to Freud’s ego, this is the source of the individual’s social conduct.

· Macro-level Theory: A theory in which the unit of analysis is the overall society.

· Me: Similar to the generalized other, it is the individual’s understanding of the society’s norms and expectations, against which one assesses one’s own behavior.

· Mechanical Solidarity: A way in which a society is held together by common beliefs and values.

· Micro-level Theory: A theory in which the unit of analysis is the interaction of individuals within a society.

· Norms: The basic rules of societies.

· Organic Solidarity: A way in which a society is held together by interdependence.

· Proletariat: A term Karl Marx used to refer to the working class of the society.

· Role: A set of expected behaviors in a social situation.

· Science: A rational body of knowledge, much of which can be tested objectively.

· Self: Mead’s idea of one’s personal identity; the self is a product of social interaction.

· Social Facts: The social or collective realities that influence individual behavior.

· Socialization: The means by which people learn how to fit in and function in a society through association with others.

· Structural Functionalism: A major sociological perspective that views society as an interdependent system of parts (structures) and purposes (functions) that work together to make a society operate.

· Symbolic Interactionism: A major sociological perspective based on human communication within groups. It holds that humans live in a world of symbols (e.g., language) that have meaning, and that society is held together through shared meaning.

· Synthesis: A combination of ideas or a new theory emerging from a thesis and antithesis.

· Theory: A system of ideas that account for known facts.

· Thesis: In a dialectic, the initial theory or system that generates a counterforce.

Key People

· Emile Durkheim (1858-1917): A founding father of sociology who contributed to the theory of structural functionalism.

· Karl Marx (1818-1883): Originator of conflict theory, who based his thinking on the capitalistic economic structure of Europe during the Industrial Revolution.

· George Herbert Mead (1863-1931): Famous social psychologist whose focus was on the development of the self.

References

Claerbaut, D. (2004). Faith and learning on the edge: A bold new look at religion in higher education. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Cooley, C. H. (1902). Human nature and the social order. New York, NY: Scribner.

Coser, L. A. (1977). Masters of sociological thought: Ideas in historical and social context (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Dobriner, W. M. (1969). Social structures and systems. Pacific Palisades, CA: Goodyear.

Douglas, J. D. & Waksler, F. C. (1982). The sociology of deviance: An introduction. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Durkheim, E. (1933). The division of labor in society (G. Simpson, Trans.). New York, NY: Free Press. (Original work published 1893)

Durkheim, E. (1964). The rules of sociological method (S. A. Solovay & J. H. Mueller, Trans.). New York, NY: Free Press. (Original work published 1895)

Durkheim, E. (1966). Suicide: A study in sociology (J. A. Spaulding & G. Simpson, Trans.). New York, NY: Free Press. (Original work published 1897)

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York, NY: Peter Smith.

Henslin, J. (1998). Sociology: A down-to-earth approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Henslin, J. (2014). Essentials of sociology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Lengermann, P. M., & Niebrugge, G. (2007). The women founders: Sociology and social theory, 1830–1930. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Manza, J., & McCarthy, M. A. (2011). The neo-Marxist legacy in American sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 37, 155-183.

Marsden, G. (1997). The outrageous idea of Christian scholarship. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1967). The communist manifesto. New York, NY: Pantheon. (Original work published in 1848)

Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Mills, C. W. (1959). The sociological imagination. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Robertson, I. (1987). Sociology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Worth.

Schaefer, R. T. (1989). Sociology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Stark, R. (1989). Sociology (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Sumner, W. G. (1906). Folkways: A study in the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals. New York, NY: Ginn.

Whorf, B. (1956). Language, thought, and reality: Selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (J. B. Carroll, Ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

"Is this question part of your assignment? We can help"

ORDER NOW