Sociological theory explaining and theorising
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Sociological Theory: Explaining and Theorising. Chapter 1. Main points. Sociology is a scientific approach to understanding people in society. Social structures can often exert more influence over our behaviour than we would expect.

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Main points

  • Sociology is a scientific approach to understanding people in society.

  • Social structures can often exert more influence over our behaviour than we would expect.

  • Sociological perspectives on health emphasise that it is vital to understand the social in order to fully understand health and illness.

  • The sociological imagination invites us to think beyond our own subjective perceptions.

  • Sociological theories are a useful in moving away from commonsense understandings of society.

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What is sociology?

  • Sociology is the study of interaction between groups and individuals in human society. The term ‘society’ refers to a range of external factors that influence our beliefs and behaviours.

  • Bruce (1999) states that sociology offers a scientific approach to understanding society.

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Structure and agency

  • Structure refers to factors that help determine our experiences through the establishment of expected ways of behaving.

  • In contrast, the concept of ‘agency’ reminds us that individuals do not simply act out predetermined roles but ‘interpret’ those roles in a way unique to them.

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The sociological imagination

  • Sociological imagination is a specific way of thinking about the world, characterized by a willingness to think beyond our own experiences and to challenge commonsense or obvious explanations of human society and human behaviour (C.W. Mills 1970)

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  • Functionalist theory holds that society is like a biological organism.

  • Like parts and organs of the body we all have a role and function to perform.

  • Society is seen as consensual, with everyone ‘doing their bit’ to keep society running.

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Symbolic interactionism

  • This explains social phenomena from the perspective of its participants.

  • An essential element of this theoretical perspective is the unique nature of the social world as made up of the actions of participants motivated by human consciousness.

  • The meaning of human action cannot, therefore, be observed or assumed, but must be ‘interpreted’ by studying the meanings that people attach to their behaviour.

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Functionalism & health

Parsons’ Sick Role Theory explores the rights and responsibilities of being sick so as to ensure the functioning of society.

  • Rights

  • Time off to get better

  • Excused responsibility for being sick

  • Responsibilities

  • Must comply with doctor

  • Must do as much as possible to return to health

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  • Feminism is a broad approach that explains social structures as being fundamentally based on inequalities between women and men.

  • Men are seen to have greater power in both the public and the private spheres.

  • Traditional sociology is criticised for being gender blind.

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  • Marxism focuses on class inequalities as being fundamental to understanding society.

  • Capitalism as a social system depends on inequalities and exploitation.

  • Health services exist to maintain the health of people to work.