The Three Major Sociological Theories

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Last updated: June 2, 2019

THE THREE MAJOR SOCIOLOGICAL THEORIES As a science that is concerned with the systematic study of human society, sociology has three major theories for its backbone: structural-functional, social-conflict and symbolic-interaction. THE STRUCTURAL-FUNCTIONAL APPROACH Is a framework for building theory that sees societies as a complex social organism. August Comte who is considered the father of sociology held the view that society’s social structure help to promote solidarity and stability.

Functional theorists are concerned with how patterns of behavior helpSocieties function. It was also Comte’s idea that sociological investigations should be carried out scientifically – an approach known as positivism. Emile Durkheim work advanced the structural-functional theory by viewing society as built on social facts, or patterned ways of acting and thinking. According to Robert Merton, some of these social patterns have intended consequencies – manifest function; while the purpose of other behaviors are not obvious – latent functions THE SOCIAL-CONFLICT APPROACHConflict theorists view human society as an arena of inequalities that breed conflicts and changes. They are concerned about how social class, race, gender and sexual orientation affect society’s distribution of wealth, power and prestige. While structural-functional approach is concerned with how a social structure promotes stability within a society, the social-conflict approach focuses on the social struggle between the dominant and the disadvantaged groups within a society – an analysis that Herbert Spencer eferred to as Social Darwinism. He likened the society to the human body with different organs necessary for survival.

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For conflict theorists like Carl Max, the twentieth was a very important century, in terms of sociological events. His socio – economic ideas were adopted by the Bolsheviks who won the class struggle of the Russian society. On the US home front, race and gender conflict analysis required new approaches.

THE GENDER-CONFLICT APPROACH The gender-conflict perspective focuses on gender inequality, and is inked to feminism which advocates equality between men and women.The approach acknowledges the contributions to sociology by women such as Jane Adams, Susan . B. Anthony and Harriet Martineau who was considered the first woman sociologist. Jane Adams campaigned for the underclass and women’s social equality, and was credited with founding the Hull House Settlement for poor immigrant families. THE RACE-CONFLICT APPROACH The race-conflict approach focuses on social inequality and conflict between roups of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and advocates social equality for ethnic minorities who endure social and economic disadvantages.

The approach also highlights the contributions by minorities such as Ida . W. Barnet and W . E. Du Bois to the development of sociology. THE SYMBOLIC-INTERACTION APPROACH The symbolic approach is a framework for advancing sociological theory based on close-up analysis of interactions between individuals in specific settings, a process known as micro-level orientation.The name most associated with symbolic approach is Max Weber who emphasized the need to understand a society from the point of view of individuals who live in it.

In the symbolic approach view of society, the reality people experience is variable and changing, depending on the symbolic meaning they attach to it. In conclusion, each approach helps to analyze human societies, but a fuller understanding can only be attained by applying all three approaches. REFERENCE Macionis, John J.

, Sociology, 11th Edition, New Jersey, Pearson, 2007.


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