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Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology. Theory is a general statement about how some parts of the world fit together and how they work; it is an explanation of how two or more facts are related to one another.

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theoretical perspectives in sociology
Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology

Theory is a general statement about how some parts of the world fit together and how they work; it is an explanation of how two or more facts are related to one another.

Sociologists use three different theoretical perspectives to understand social behavior.

Each perspective provides a different and often sharply contrasting picture of the world. However, sociologists often use all three perspectives because no one theory or level of analysis encompasses all of reality.

symbolic interactionism
Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic Interactionism views symbols, things to which we attach meaning, as the basis of social life.

Through the use of symbols, people are able to define relationships to others; to coordinate actions with others, thereby making social life possible; and to develop a sense of themselves.

applying symbolic interactionism examples
Applying Symbolic Interactionism - Examples
  • The Meaning of Marriage
  • The Meaning of Divorce
  • The Meaning of Parenthood
  • The Meaning of Love
    • A symbolic interactionist studying divorce would focus on how the changing meanings of marriage, family, and divorce have all contributed to the increase in the rate of divorce in U.S. society.
functional analysis
Functional Analysis
  • Society is a Whole Unit Made Up of Interrelated Parts that Work Together
  • Functionalism, Structural Functionalism
  • Robert Merton and Functionalism
    • Functions
      • Manifest
      • Latent
functional analysis1
Functional Analysis
  • Robert Merton used the term function to refer to the beneficial consequences of people’s actions to keep society stable, and dysfunction to refer to consequences that undermine stability.
  • Functions can be either manifest (actions that are intended) or latent (unintended consequences).
functional analysis2
Functional Analysis

Applying Functional Analysis

  • Economic Teams
  • Education of Children
  • Teaching of Religion
  • Care of the Sick and Elderly
  • A Glimpse of the Past - 1800s
  • Changes in the Functions of…
    • Family
    • Friends
functional analysis3
Functional Analysis
  • In trying to explain divorce, a functionalist would look at how industrialization and urbanization both contributed to the changing function of marriage and the family.
conflict theory
Conflict Theory
  • Karl Marx and Conflict Theory
  • Conflict Theory Today
  • Feminists and Conflict Theory
  • Applying Conflict Theory
  • Functionalists and Conflict Theorists - Macro Level
  • Symbolic Interactionists - Micro Level
conflict theory1
Conflict Theory
  • Society is viewed as composed of
  • groups competing for scarce resources.
  • Karl Marx focused on struggles between the bourgeoisie (the small group of capitalists who own the means of production) and the proletariat (the masses of workers exploited by the capitalists).
conflict theory2
Conflict Theory

Conflict theorists have expanded

this perspective to include conflict in all relations of power and authority.

Just as Marx stressed conflict between capitalists and workers, many feminists stress a similar conflict between men and women.

conflict theory3
Conflict Theory
  • Divorce is seen as the outcome of the shifting balance of power within a family; as women have gained power and try to address inequalities in their relationships, men resist.
The perspectives differ in their level of analysis. Functionalists and conflict theorists provide macro-level analysis because they examine the large-scale patterns of society.

Symbolic interactionists carry out micro-level analysis because they focus on the small-scale patterns of social life.


Sociology's Three Main Schools of Thought 7:46

Marx's Social Theory on Class Structure 5:15