Sociology of Education [ppt]

Chapter 1
Theory and Research
Sociology of Education
Major theoretical perspectives:
functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic interactionism
Contemporary approaches:
code theory, cultural capital, status competition, institutional
theory, post-modern critique
Functionalist Theory:
Durkheim 1960’s
• Durkheim first to apply sociological theory to education
• Moral values  foundation of society
• Society  machine
• Assume consensus is the normal state in society; Stresses
consensus and agreement
• Well functioning society  Role of schools: schools
socialize students into appropriate values and sort/select
students according to ability
Basic Tenets **
• Education is critical in creating moral unity
necessary to social cohesion
• function of the school is the maintain social order;
• intellectual (cognitive)
• political (allegiance)
• economic (occupational roles)
Basic Tenets **
• Schools develop and maintain a modern and
democratic society providing
Underlying Assumption **
• Meritocracy  hard work/talent
determines allocation rather than birth
• Education is the key institution in a
meritocratic selection process
Conflict Theory:
• 1960’s  alternative critique to Functionalist
• Social Scientists: Marx, Weber, Bowles and
Gintis, Collins
Basic Tenets **
• Schools function in the interest of
dominant groups  empirical evidence
does not support notions of
Basic Tenets **
• Meritocracy is an ideology created by
the powerful designed to enhance their
position by legitimizing inequality and
the unequal distribution of resources
• Relationship between schools and
society is problematic
Conflict Theory:
• Collins: status groups/symbols
• Bourdieu: cultural capital passed
on by families  “exchange value”
• Bernstein: speech patterns 
social class; schools are middleclass institutions
Underlying Assumption **
Class domination is codified in the
school structure, processes and
Interactionist Theory
• Mead, Goffman, Rist  critique of
functionalist and conflict theory
• Focus on micro-level  everyday
interactions, nuance
• Human agency vs. deterministic social
Interactionist Theory:
• Goffman; patterns of everyday life hold
society together
• Rist: classroom processes  academic
achievement i.e. labeling and ability
Post – modern
Critical Theory:
• Connection of theory and practice
• Teachers as agents of social change
• Schools as sites for democratic
transformation  political action
• Inclusion of women/people of color
• Most important question: why do low
SES students do less well  reduce
achievement gap
• Diminish the separation of theory,
research and practice