Basic Sociological Theories

In this post, we will look at several significant theories of sociology. These are basic ideas that anyone familiar with the field would know.

Functionalism

The functional perspective in sociology sees society as structured in a way that the parts of society are interrelated and connected. Each part or piece of society’s primary purpose is to meet people’s social and biological needs. The ideas behind this thought were developed by Herbert Spencer, who compared society to the human body. As the various body parts work together, so do the various social institutions of society.

Social institutions are the organizations in a society that meet the social needs of people. Examples of social institutions include schools, government agencies, churches, families, hospitals, etc. When these various institutions work together to benefit individuals, a state called dynamic equilibrium is met, and society is generally stable.

With the development of any society, specific laws, morals, values, etc., govern individual people’s behavior. These rules are called social facts. These rules protect society from social unrest and insecurity. For example, perhaps all countries have rules against theft and murder as allowing such behavior to go unpunished would unleash chaos.

There are times when society tries to improve the general condition of members, and these are called manifest functions. An example would be encouraging people to buy a home and providing ways to do this. Latent functions are unsolicited outcomes of manifest functions. An example would be an increase in do-it-yourself repairs as more and more people buy homes. When a social process has a negative outcome, it is called a dysfunction. One example of this would be bankruptcy, as people cannot pay for the homes they purchased.

Conflict Theory

Conflict theory is a theory proposed by Karl Marx, one of the leading proponents of Communism. Marx saw the world as a battle between social classes. This battle can be seen in the inequality in which people have access to the various social institutions of society such as schools, homes, money, jobs, etc. The people who have the most access also work nefariously to ensure others never obtain the same amount or maybe none of these resources.

Out of Marx’s ideas of conflict theory came the contribution of the Frankfurt school and their work with critical theory. Critical theory expands conflict theory to include race, religion, sexuality, gender, and essentially anything that is not a part of the majority’s values. The majority oppresses all minority positions in one way or another. This further expands into ideas developed in intersectionality and critical race theory, queer studies, and more.

The idea of conflict has had a significant impact on the average person. Few people are familiar with functionalism, but almost everyone in the West has heard of inequality and how some have more than others. In addition, Conflict Theory is not content to be a theory but encourages rectifying the inequality in society. Communism, critical theory, critical race theory, Queer Studies, Feminism, and more do not just describe society but want to change it actively.

Symbolic Interactionist Theory

Symbolic interactionist theory is focused on relationships between individuals rather than the broader society. Proponents of this perspective look for patterns in the relationships among people. Instead of looking at inequality and oppression as a conflict theorist, a symbolic interactionist looks at the relationships between activists as they challenge the system. There is an emphasis on symbols and the meaning behind them.

Constructivism is the belief that we construct reality. A term commonly associated with this is social constructs. For example, people have proposed that race, sexuality, and gender are social constructs. In other words, these ideas only exist because people say they do. Naturally, this is highly controversial, but specific ideas that used to be considered fixed are now considered fluid as people challenge existing norms.

Conclusion

These major sociological theories are used as a lens through which many experts see the world. Most of these theories do not have a direct impact on the average person. However, these views influence educators and leaders who either train the next generation or are leading the current one.

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