Interactions, patterns, and social events are studied by Sociologists. Developing theories to explain why certain things work the way they do, socially. Theories do have different types of levels regarding how big the issue is and what type the sociologists wants to study, for instance: Macro-level theories, which are large-scale problems that involve a numerous amount of people, while Micro-level theories seek the understanding of unique relationships between small groups or individuals. Then, there are Grad theories that attempt to explain and understand the large-scale relationships and provide an answer to questions and concerns regarding to why society forms and why it changes. Sociological theory constantly evolves and develops and is never truly complete. Theories provide perspectives that helps and explains different aspects of social life that are called Paradigms. Structural Functionalism, Conflict Theory, and Symbolic Interactionism are all paradigms. These three paradigms are philosophical and theoretical frameworks used to regulate theories, generalizations, and experiments that are performed to support them. The three paradigms have and will be the dominate sociological mindset because they can provide and give useful explanations.
Keywords: Social Institutions, Theory, Dynamic Equilibrium, Function, Latent Functions, Constructivism.
Sociology Perspectives: Functionalism, Conflict Theory, & Symbolic Interactionalist Theory
In sociology, theories are the ways of explaining different views and aspects of our daily lives, the way we socialize, the way we interact with others, and why certain things work the way they do, which is what Sociologists study. There are three broad perspectives that help give an explanation to numerous aspects of social life, which are called Paradigms. A paradigm is a framework that outlines and guides the way to view the perspective in order to formulate theories, experiments, and generalizations to support them. Structural functionalism, Conflict theory, and Symbolic interactionalism are all paradigms.
Functionalism, also known as structural-functional theory is a theory that sees all aspects of a society that serves a function and is necessary in order to keep the society going. Herbert Spencer, an English Philosopher, as well as a biologist that noticed similarities among the human body and society. His argument; the way our organs work together and function to keep our bodies going is the same way as various parts in society that functions together. Parts of the society includes beliefs, behaviors and focused needs, such as government, family, education, economy, healthcare, and religion. Emile Durkheim had applied Spencer’s theory to his own and explained that societies constantly change and eventually survives over time. He believed that society is, in fact very complex and the system (society) has interrelated and interdependent parts that work together as one, in order to maintain stability. Society is intact and exists because together society has shared values, languages and symbols. He also expressed that in studying society, a sociologist has to look deeper and into the bigger picture and look beyond, morals, laws, values, religious beliefs, customs, fashion, rituals and everything that serves a governed social life. Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, had defined the function of reoccurring activity as a part played in social life as one, and making the contribution a social stability. Later, Parsons (a later Sociologist) contested Alfred’s definition calling it a dynamic equilibrium, stating, among a healthy society, everything works as one, in order to keep leverage and stability within the society. Another functionalist, Robert Merton has discussed that social processes that are expected or sought are called Manifest functions. For example, gaining knowledge through a ‘manifest function’ of college education, or trying to start a career, or finding a job that requires education. While on the other hand, latent functions are unsought consequences of a social process. For example, social processes tend to have unwanted outcomes or consequences that are referred to as dysfunctions. Examples of dysfunctions: bad grades, truancy, not graduating, dropping out, and no suitable employment. Today, some sociologists believe functionalism is no longer useful as a macro-level theory because of flaws, yet it still serves somewhat of a purpose in a mid-level analysis.
Karl Marx, a German philosopher and Sociologist had identified conflict theory as a macro-level approach. Marx claims conflict theory in our society is in a state of a never-ending conflict with the competition of limited resources. He also explains social status is the determination of domination and power rather than rules, laws, and agreement. Marx, saw society as different social classes, in which each individual has to compete for social status, and resources such as material, food, housing, employment, and education. Social institutions play a role in the competition within individuals who inherit inequalities and also play a role in maintaining the unequal and unfair social status. High status individuals or organizations are able to gain and inherit more resources than others, in which they use their resources and power to have influence, as well as keep the social institutions (government, religion, education) steady. Ludwig Gumplowicz, a Polan-Austrian sociologist had looked beyond Marx’s theory arguing that owning territory and the issue of war was a cultural and ethnic conflict that identified and defined the more dominant and powerful group over another society. With society always changing and theories always changing or being challenged, many sociologists will disagree and agree with these theories and may come up with improved and challenged theories with the original sociological perspective. Max Weber, agreeing with Marx’s original claim had noted with economic inequalities, inequalities of political power, and social status will cause conflict. Each social status is affected differently based on social institutions. On the other hand, Georg Simmel, a German sociologist believed conflict within social status and social institutions gives a good ratio of resolving conflicts between social status, reducing tension and hostility which can, play a part in agreement.
Symbolic Interactionism is a micro-level theory that focuses on relationships between relationships between individuals in a society. It is believed that communication-the exchange and symbols- is the way people understand their social worlds. A perspective that sees people being active in the social world, rather than being acted upon was noted by theorists Herman and Reynolds. George Herbert Mead was considered a founder of symbolic interactionism. Never publishing his work Mead would teach his students. One student, Herbert Blumer had defined the term (symbolic interactionism) as the way humans interacted with things that have meaning to them. An example, a symbolic interactionist might propose that you learned that books are good or important in an interaction you had, personally; Possibly your family had a special ritual, such as often activities that dealt with books making books a symbolic and special remembrance to you. Symbolic interactionist look for patterns of interaction between individuals- one on one.