<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >
  • Explain what sociological theories are and how they are used
  • Understand the similarities and differences between structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism
People holding posters and waving flags at a protest rally outside the U.S. Capitol Building are shown.
Sociologists develop theories to explain social occurrences such as protest rallies. (Photo courtesy of voanews.com/Wikimedia Commons)

Sociologists study social events, interactions, and patterns, and they develop a theory in an attempt to explain why things work as they do. In sociology, a theory    is a way to explain different aspects of social interactions and to create a testable proposition, called a hypothesis, about society (Allan 2006).

For example, although suicide is generally considered an individual phenomenon, Émile Durkheim was interested in studying the social factors that affect it. His studied social ties within a group, or social solidarity    , and hypothesized that differences in suicide rates might be explained by religion-based differences. Durkheim gathered a large amount of data about Europeans who had ended their lives, and he did indeed find differences based on religion. Protestants were more likely to commit suicide than Catholics in Durkheim’s society, and his work supports the utility of theory in sociological research.

Theories vary in scope depending on the scale of the issues that they are meant to explain. Macro-level theories relate to large-scale issues and large groups of people, while micro-level theories look at very specific relationships between individuals or small groups. Grand theories attempt to explain large-scale relationships and answer fundamental questions such as why societies form and why they change. Sociological theory is constantly evolving and should never be considered complete. Classic sociological theories are still considered important and current, but new sociological theories build upon the work of their predecessors and add to them (Calhoun 2002).

In sociology, a few theories provide broad perspectives that help explain many different aspects of social life, and these are called paradigms. Paradigms are philosophical and theoretical frameworks used within a discipline to formulate theories, generalizations, and the experiments performed in support of them. Three paradigms have come to dominate sociological thinking, because they provide useful explanations: structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.

Different sociological perspectives enable sociologists to view social issues through a variety of useful lenses.
Sociological theories or perspectives
Sociological Paradigm Level of Analysis Focus
Structural Functionalism Macro or mid The way each part of society functions together to contribute to the whole
Conflict Theory Macro The way inequalities contribute to social differences and perpetuate differences in power
Symbolic Interactionism Micro One-to-one interactions and communications

Functionalism

Functionalism , also called structural-functional theory, sees society as a structure with interrelated parts designed to meet the biological and social needs of the individuals in that society. Functionalism grew out of the writings of English philosopher and biologist, Hebert Spencer (1820–1903), who saw similarities between society and the human body; he argued that just as the various organs of the body work together to keep the body functioning, the various parts of society work together to keep society functioning (Spencer 1898). The parts of society that Spencer referred to were the social institutions, or patterns of beliefs and behaviors focused on meeting social needs, such as government, education, family, healthcare, religion, and the economy.

Questions & Answers

What's the reference and citation for this information
malama Reply
types of cultures and it definations
Umar Reply
how has Covid 19 affected sociolization process
Glenn Reply
our communications translated into untouched greets
Cavs
which work can you do in company as a sociologst
Abel Reply
teaching
LAKEM
human resources manager
Shiikaa
can you think of people in your own life who support or defy the premise that access to technology leads to greater opportunities? how have you noticed technology use and opportunity to be linked,or does your experience contradicts this idea?
Swiftix Reply
we are witness positive and negative samples about it. Technology offers a lot of opportunities, however it's pretty possible that we confront a great many opponent in this phenomenology therefore system does always balance itself.
Cavs
point that's interesting us is make us think better than we were before. it's partially illusion
Cavs
guys can anyone please explain a well definition and meaning of gender in 30 to 35 words.... please guys its really urgent for me to find a well definition
Ritu Reply
role of culture in socialization
Malak Reply
what is sociology
YAKUBU Reply
sociology is the study of human behavior
Hashim
sociology is the scientific study of man and society
USMAN
sociology is the study of people behaviours who are interaction in different cultures and groups
Cavs
ethno methodology
USMAN
ethnomethodology and symbolic interaction are good inquiry but it's micro level studying, it's overlook grand theories.
Cavs
cultural diffusion
USMAN
What is social history?
Abir
mean scientific study about society
Ambrish
what is the difference between social science and social dicpline
AREN Reply
what is social transformation?
Shraddha Reply
Social transformation is a somewhat ambiguous term that has two broad definitions. One definition of social transformation is the process by which an individual alters the socially ascribed social status of their parents into a socially achieved status for themselves.
Taniza
social change in a consumer society
Sarah Reply
hi sarah
puneet
hi Sarah
Ambrish
consumers shifted from need based purchasing to want based purchasing
sumitra
guys can anyone please explain a well definition and meaning of gender in 30 to 35 words.... please guys its really urgent for me to find a well de...
Ritu
type of sociology and character
Mawien Reply
who was the father of socialism?
Delsila Reply
Karl Marx
Chima
Auguste comte
Chima
August comte
HUSSAINI
Cultural sanctions can also be viewed as ways that society
Khaketla Reply
what is a value
Khaketla
what is the difference between nature and nurture
Khaketla Reply
uspc?
sumitra
Hey there! UPSC CSE aspirant here as well
tridy
cool!
sumitra
hi ?
Chang
guys can anyone please explain a well definition and meaning of gender in 30 to 35 words.... please guys its really urgent for me to find a well de...
Ritu
Gender is not a "sex". it's determined by referring values people who is live in different societies, by other people.
Cavs

Get Jobilize Job Search Mobile App in your pocket Now!

Get it on Google Play




Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Introduction to sociology 2e' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask