TheoreticalPerspectives in Sociology
Sociologistshave often been using theories or theoretical perspectives ininterpreting the varied aspects of the society. In this regard, threefundamental theoretical perspectives have been devised includingsymbolic interactionism, functionalism and the conflict theory.
Symbolicinteractionist perspective or symbolic interactionism operates at themicro level of analysis. It directs sociologists to consider everydaydetails and symbols, their meaning and the manners in which peopleinteract with each other. While the theory may be traced to MaxWeber’s insinuations that individuals usually act in line withtheir interpretations of their world’s meaning, its introduction tothe American sociology is credited to American philosopher namedGeorge H. Mead. Key assumptions include the notion that meaningemanates from interacting with other people, that society is made upof continuous interactions of people and that people react towardsothers and things according to the meanings they attach to them. Thistheory asserts that people attach meanings to symbols before actingin line with their subjective interpretations of the symbols. One ofthe key weaknesses is the fact that it ignores the influence thatsocial institutions and forces have on individual interactions.Further, it neglects social interpretations’ macro-level, forinstance, by paying attention to the size of a wedding ring ratherthan the quality of a marriage.
Thefunctionalist theory, on the other hand, operates at the macro levelof analysis. Devised by Emily Durkheim, and Robert Merton, thefunctionalist theory asserts that every element of the society isinterdependent and makes its contribution to the overall functioningof the society. Nevertheless, society is not the sum of its partsrather every component of the society is functional for the overallstability of the society. This theory may be applied in thecontemporary society especially with regard to the effects of theeconomic or financial repression on other aspects of the economy. Thehigh rates of inflation and unemployment during financial repressionaffect social programs. One of its key strengths revolves around thefact that there exists general consensus pertaining to the societalvalues and norms by majority. Further, societies are composed ofinterlinked parts, in which case the failure of one would affect theother components. One of the key weaknesses of the theory is the factthat it sees nothing wrong with inequality on the basis of race,gender or class. On the same note, it does not allow for socialchange as that would eliminate the stability.
Theconflict perspective was originally crafted by Karl Marx as aresponse to the capitalism that had gained popularity in his time. Itstates that the social life is shaped by individuals who competeagainst each other over varied rewards and resources thereby creatingparticular distributions of prestige, wealth and power in socialsystems and societies. For instance, the theory may see an eliteboard as raising tuition fees so as to pay for esoteric programs thatenhance a local college’s prestige as self-serving and notbeneficial to students. One of the key strengths of the theory isthe fact that conflict and power differentials are ever present inthe society as every person pursues particular interests. Similarly,societies always conflict with battles over control of resources,norms and values in the society. On the other hand, the theory hasbeen criticized on the basis of its deficiency of focus on sharedvalues and social stability. On the same note, it has been criticizedon the basis of its attribution of democracy an, civil rights,humanitarian efforts and altruism among other positive elements ofthe society to capitalist designs for controlling the masses ratherthan on inherent interests in the preservation of social order andsociety.