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Understanding the Sociological Perspective
 
 

Understanding the Sociological Perspective

A. Unifying Properties of Sociology
While society is a system of beliefs and actions carried out by human beings, sociology is something that transcends these boundaries by connecting common themes and highlighting areas warranting change.

When attempting to apply themes to commonalities found in society, the term "sociological perspective" is frequently employed.
The term "sociological perspective" may also be interchanged with "model." In short, a sociological perspective or model presents an assumption made about society.

A model is developed through a process in which different types of information are culled and put together to create a synthesized view of society. Even though each perspective or model has its own unique focus, each perspective attributes meaning to what goes on in the world around us.

According to Wikipedia, the sociological perspective is a particular way of approaching a phenomenon common in sociology. It involves maintaining objectivity; hence, accepting, based upon the evidence presented, what may come as a surprise or even a disappointment based on that evidence.

B. Varying Forms of Sociological Perspectives

It is important to point out there is a range of sociological perspectives, and no one perspective is best in all circumstances. In order to arrive at a specific perspective, it will be necessary to first define the focus and goals of the study. This means that if you are exploring the intricacies of bureaucratic structures, you may want to employ a perspective centered upon social order; whereas, if you are learning about social inequality, you may want to use the conflict perspective.


In many instances, one perspective may work, but sometimes a combination of multiple perspectives may be the best fit.
After simplifying the number of perspectives that actually exist, the three primary ones are: functionalism, conflict, and symbolic interactionism.
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Functionalism


The origins of functionalism can be traced back to the collective works of Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim. It is best summed up as the study of how social order is maintained within a society. The view in functionalism is that the parts of society act in unison, even though they act in different ways.
In functionalist societies, such institutions or social structures as families, religious groups, educational forums, and others are the bricks that bind individuals together to cultivate unity and order within a society. They promote integration, stability, agreement, and harmony.
In general, functionalists focus on how the parts of the social system contribute to the persistence of that system. Their interest is in the purpose of the aspect of society they are studying.
The purpose concept can be taken one step further by evaluations according to function. This analysis is broken down into three parts, manifest functions, latent functions, and dysfunctions. The purpose question can be evaluated based on whether functions are apparent, or manifest, such as the military's function to defend and protect its citizens; or latent, such as bartenders serving drinks but also providing the less recognized function of listening to people's problems. An example of dysfunction is the widespread population growth in Las Vegas that has created intense concern about the residual effect of the breakdown of social order.

Conflict Perspective


In the conflict perspective, the view is less of a unified system and more of an environment of conflict struggles and clashes of power. Hence, rather than working together to achieve a common objective, individuals within this perceived society work independently to attain their own personal goals.

While individuals strive to fulfill their personal destinies, they are not above using force or other competitive means to ensure that others do not get in their way or take away their precious resources.
Benefiting at the expense of others is a hallmark feature of the conflict perspective. It implies that while people are willing to hurt others in order to get what they want, they do so by using rationalization as a means of justifying their actions or behaviors.

Karl Marx may be the most well-known of all the conflict theorists. His argument was that the struggle between social economic classes created the major segregation among members of society.


However, today, not all conflict theorists ascribe to the Marxist way of thinking. Rather, many see conflict pertaining to class not necessarily as the causal effect of change but instead as a normal part of life.
Furthermore, in failing to see class conflict as the only form of conflict in existence, they recognize all forms of conflict, including that caused by gender inequality, ageism, political ideology, and racial prejudices.

Some of the common themes of the conflict perspective include:

  • Change, one of the basic, inherent features of society, occurs on account of either an inequality or a scarcity of resources.
  • Conflict is the result of human desire to obtain goods, power, or prestige, any of which may be in short supply but in big demand.
  • Conflict is not intrinsically bad. Rather, conflict can serve as the motivation driving people to align for the purpose of achieving a higher goal.

In short, conflict has proven to be the impetus for desirable change. In the conflict perspective, people align within social structures, not for their continuation but as a means of serving the rich and powerful. On the other side, social structures run by the rich and powerful have a way of keeping out the less fortunate ones, thus, shunning them and ensuring that they remain beneath them.


The primary question a conflict theorist asks is, "Who is the beneficiary?" For instance, while gas prices increase, not everyone suffers. The oil barons tend to profit handsomely in such situations.

Lastly, as theoretical conflict discussions go, the following tenets hold true:
  • Cooperation cannot be assumed. Rather, the idea of society as an integrated system based upon a consensus of ideas is a fictional idea.
  • Instead, a conflict-driven society is run by the powerful ones who exert control over the rest of the population and set the tone for how things are to be done.
  • While social order is indeed maintained, it is not by consensus but by either the direct or indirect exertion of power.

Interactionist Perspective

The third major perspective, that of interactionism, holds the view that people are the ones who exist, take action, and behave. Therefore, all societal structures are no more than mere constructs created at the hands and discretion of humans. George Herbert Mead is considered to be one of the original theorists of this perspective.

General components of interaction studies:

  • According to interactionists, society is in a constant state of development. This is the by-product of consistent communication and negotiation.
  • Symbolic interactionists are also known as microsociologists. The scope of their studies is confined to small focal points, such as interaction among small, intimate groups of individuals as opposed to large populations.
  • Interaction, normally conducted through face-to-face meetings, tends to address everyday regular activities, such as shared meals, work schedules, leisure pursuits, and more. It is the belief of interactionists that society is the result of the ongoing exchanges among individuals and small groups of persons over the course of long stretches of time.
  • Interactionists are most interested in how persons act toward and respond to one another, as well as the influence that each holds over one another in society as a whole.
  • Interactionists perceive people as being able to create their own level of acceptability in their lives. This means that each person, through shared communications and boundary establishment, sets up his or her own sense of comfort, as well as expectancies for future interactions.
  • Rather than being interested in institutions such as the economy, government, or social class, microsociologists are concerned with the personal relationships and interchanges among individuals and among small groups of people.

Key themes of interaction studies:

    • Society is dynamic, or constantly evolving.
    • Change occurs because of the interaction of individuals, as opposed to larger bodies or institutions found in society, e.g., the government.
    • Persistent evolution, as opposed to steadfast patterns, winds up being the true hallmark of society.
    • Compared with Marxist theorists who seek out change determined by traits found in the social structure, interactionists seek out change that is free form and independent of any one conduit.

 
 
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