Sociological Theories - Rowan County Schools







Structural Functional

• They look at the needs which must be met for a social system to exist, as well as the ways in which social institutions satisfy those needs.

• A functionalist might argue, for instance, that every society will have a religion, because religious institutions have certain functions which contribute to the survival of the social system as a whole, just as the organs of the body have functions which are necessary for the body's survival.

• Social systems work to maintain equilibrium and to return to it after external shocks disturb the balance among social institutions.

• Such social equilibrium is achieved, most importantly, through the socialization of members of the society into the basic values and norms of that society, so that consensus is reached.

• social control mechanisms may also exist to restore conformity. These social control mechanisms range from sanctions to formal institutions such as schools or prisons

• Functionalists tend to be less concerned with the ways in which individuals can control their own destiny than with the ways in which the limits imposed by society make individual behavior scientifically predictable.

• Robert Merton distinguishes between manifest and latent functions.

• Manifest- those which are recognized and intended by actors in the social system and hence may represent motives for their actions

• Latent- those which are unrecognized and, thus, unintended by the actors

• He also distinguishes between consequences which are positively functional for a society, those which are dysfunctional for the society

• Go back to the original list on the first slide.

What are the manifest and latent functions of each?

Social Conflict

• Materialist view of history starts from the premise that the most important determinant of social life is the work people are doing, especially work that results in provision of the basic necessities of life, food, clothing and shelter.

• Marx saw working men and women as engaged in making society, in creating the conditions for their own existence.

• The Marxist dialectical method, based on

Hegel's earlier idealistic dialectic, focuses attention on how an existing social arrangement, or thesis, generates its social opposite, or antithesis, and on how a qualitatively different social form, or synthesis, emerges from the resulting struggle.

• This is how society changes (remember,

Structural Functionalist like society to stay the same for the sake of continuity)

• Return again to the original list.

How would a social conflict theorist view each of these? Which groups or classes are pitted against each other? Which groups uses that institution to keep others down or separated?

Symbolic Interaction

• Interactionists focus on the subjective aspects of social life, rather than on objective, macro-structural aspects of social systems

• One reason for this focus is that interactionists base their theoretical perspective on their image of humans

• For interactionists, humans are pragmatic actors who continually must adjust their behavior to the actions of other actors.

• We can adjust to these actions only because we are able to interpret them, i.e., to denote them symbolically

• This shifts attention away from stable norms and values toward more changeable, continually readjusting social processes

• The interactionist theorist sees humans as active, creative participants who construct their social world, not as passive, conforming objects of socialization

• There’s an interest in the roles people play


Write down what each of these symbols means to you.


• http://www.thesociologicalcinem

• Discuss how symbolic interactionist theory plays out in these scenes.

• Take each theory and express how each would address the following:

• The Mall and Shopping

• The Military and War