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Even before there were modern nation-states, political conflicts arose among competing societies or factions of people. Vikings attacked continental European tribes in search of loot, and, later, European explorers landed on foreign shores to claim the resources of indigenous groups. Conflicts also arose among competing groups within individual sovereignties, as evidenced by the bloody French Revolution. Nearly all conflicts in the past and present, however, are spurred by basic desires: the drive to protect or gain territory and wealth, and the need to preserve liberty and autonomy.

According to sociologist and philosopher Karl Marx, such conflicts are necessary, although ugly, steps toward a more egalitarian society. Marx saw a historical pattern in which revolutionaries toppled elite power structures, after which wealth and authority became more evenly dispersed among the population, and the overall social order advanced. In this pattern of change through conflict, people tend to gain greater personal freedom and economic stability (1848).

Modern-day conflicts are still driven by the desire to gain or protect power and wealth, whether in the form of land and resources or in the form of liberty and autonomy. Internally, groups within the U.S. struggle within the system, by trying to achieve the outcomes they prefer. Political differences over budget issues, for example, led to the recent shutdown of the federal government, and alternative political groups, such as the Tea Party, are gaining a significant following.

The Arab Spring exemplifies oppressed groups acting collectively to change their governmental systems, seeking both greater liberty and greater economic equity. Some nations, such as Tunisia, have successfully transitioned to governmental change; others, like Egypt, have not yet reached consensus on a new government.

Unfortunately, the change process in some countries reached the point of active combat between the established government and the portion of the population seeking change, often called revolutionaries or rebels. Libya and Syria are two such countries; the multifaceted nature of the conflict, with several groups competing for their own desired ends, makes creation of a peaceful resolution more challenging.

Popular uprisings of citizens seeking governmental change have occurred this year in Bosnia, Brazil, Greece, Iran, Jordan, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and most recently in Hong Kong. Although much smaller in size and scope, demonstrations took place in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, where people protested the local government’s handling of a controversial shooting by the police.

The internal situation in the Ukraine is compounded by military aggression from neighboring Russia, which forcibly annexed the Crimean Peninsula, a geographic region of Ukraine, in early 2014 and threatens further military action in that area. This is an example of conflict driven by a desire to gain wealth and power in the form of land and resources. The United States and the European Union are watching the developing crisis closely and have implemented economic sanctions against Russia.

A painting of the Boston Tea Party.
What symbols of the Boston Tea Party are represented in this painting? How might a symbolic interactionist explain the way the modern-day Tea Party has reclaimed and repurposed these symbolic meanings? (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Symbolic interactionism

Other sociologists study government and power by relying on the framework of symbolic interactionism, which is grounded in the works of Max Weber and George H. Mead.

Symbolic interactionism, as it pertains to government, focuses its attention on figures, emblems, or individuals that represent power and authority. Many diverse entities in larger society can be considered symbolic: trees, doves, wedding rings. Images that represent the power and authority of the United States include the White House, the eagle, and the American flag. The Seal of the President of the United States, along with the office in general, incites respect and reverence in many Americans.

Symbolic interactionists are not interested in large structures such as the government. As micro-sociologists, they are more interested in the face-to-face aspects of politics. In reality, much of politics consists of face-to-face backroom meetings and lobbyist efforts. What the public often sees is the front porch of politics that is sanitized by the media through gatekeeping.

Symbolic interactionists are most interested in the interaction between these small groups who make decisions, or in the case of some recent congressional committees, demonstrate the inability to make any decisions at all. The heart of politics is the result of interaction between individuals and small groups over periods of time. These meetings produce new meanings and perspectives that individuals use to make sure there are future interactions.

Summary

Sociologists use frameworks to gain perspective on data and observations related to the study of power and government. Functionalism suggests that societal power and structure is predicated on cooperation, interdependence, and shared goals or values. Conflict theory, rooted in Marxism, asserts that societal structures are the result of social groups competing for wealth and influence. Symbolic interactionism examines a smaller realm of sociological interest: the individual’s perception of symbols of power and their subsequent reaction to the face-to-face interactions of the political realm.

Short answer

What is one criticism of functionalism?

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Explain what is meant by the term power elite . Consider its original intention as coined by C. Wright Mills as well as your understanding of it.

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Further research

Functionalism is a complex philosophical theory that pertains to a variety of disciplines beyond sociology. Visit the entry devoted to this intriguing topic on Stanford University’s Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for a more comprehensive overview: (External Link)

References

Domhoff, G. William. 2011. “Who Rules America?” Sociology Department at University of California, Santa Cruz. Retrieved January 23, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Marx, Karl. 1848. Manifesto of the Communist Party . Retrieved January 09, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Questions & Answers

what is gender studies
Muhammad Reply
origin and development of sociology
Rakshita Reply
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Prisca
What is gender studies
Muhammad
it means either of the two sexes (Male /female)
Prisca
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Muhammad
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Rakshita
gender studies is the study of the roles that men and women play in our society ...how those roles have been shaped..what factors have influenced them ...and their pros and cons etc
Babar
is sociology similar to political science
connect
hey guys iam a new member of this community can u tell me exactly what sociology is to be real I don't know anything about it iam interested to learn
connect
sociology is the study of social life...society, culture, social changes etc
Babar
the study of human behaviour and how interact with each other
Kimoya
what is Becker 1963
Karen Reply
sociology kisse mil ker bna hai
Poonam Reply
"Logy" means study n "social" is society.
Reemiya
Socius and logos
Silent
waah Raj
Rishit
Definition of sociology
Shashi Reply
sociology is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior.
Sunny
as the implies it is the study of both sex in the environment
Philip
what is culture
Anuman Reply
To me what culture is what you grow up with in your family. What are some of the customs and ritual that you follow. Your parent maybe born in there country, while u are born in the United States. You can clash both cultures together or identity yourself more with one than the other.
Josephine
There are people who follow there culture like a book and there are people who don't follow there cultural as much.
Josephine
culture is what makes you more like your environ and imprison your thought process.
Noor
how a researcher can conduct his theoretical framework
AMINU Reply
what are the major ways that are use to prevent our youth from drug abuse
AMINU Reply
1.keep them engaged in positive activities like study,sports. 2.Provide them jobs. 3.Married people are less inclined towards drug as they have to shoulder family responsibility. 4.Law system also need to play their role to control drug mafias. 5.rehabilitation centers for drug abused should be ther
deepak
would love to know others thought on this
deepak
keep them engaged in positive activities
Rizwana
implement the Law is one and forcing the law is two, which is the weak point of the government to stop drug abuse.
Pupa
tackling corruption, poverty and illiteracy is very essential
Farous
how does poverty have an impact on drug abuse. In my opinion, I think if you don't have money to eat how do you get money for drugs.
Eunice
Characteristics of culture
Yusuf Reply
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deepak
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Yusuf
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Rizwana
How has sociologists views shaped the way we think of society today?
seba Reply
why sociological imagination called sociological lens?
Crisel Reply
since the views of sociology derive from the minds of those who think as they do, this is called the sociological lens. Our imagination is only limited to how we think and we perceive things as a result of thinking vigorously. A sociological imagination focuses on the depth of a concept or idea...
seba
I agree what seba said.
Josephine
what are the measures that are used to cure and prevent our society from repping
AMINU Reply
what is Hawthorne effect
Karen Reply
It is when the respondent is influenced by the researcher For example the respondent might lie to impress the researcher thus Hawthorne effect is include
Soumeyrah
what are the measures that are used to prevent and resolve suicide among people in the society?
Edah Reply
encouraging them not to spend alot of time alone
Rannah
hllo
Yalam
what is socilogy
Yalam
First of all listen to them..... They need someone who can listen to their problems without judging them or giving them stupid suggestions..... Then gradually make them believe that they are important their existence matters. Make friends with them... Express your love and care towards them.
Miss
Some people use a suicide plan. I know it sounds bad but it is a plan on what to do if you feel you might comit suicide. It list things you need to do to prepare for your mental instability, people who need to be alerted, someone to call, and if needed medical attention instructions.
KhaliCA
move closer to them and help them out.
Tunde
contempory socialogy
Karen Reply
do you have books to download on contempory socialogy
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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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