Here are the 4 Key Theoretical Perspectives of Sociology
Sociology offers two things that most fields of study do not. The first is that it instills a new awareness in our thinking of the social forces that influence our lives. Secondly, it greatly enhances our ability to be active and a better-informed citizen.
While we don’t necessarily need to major in sociology to benefit from its offerings, such a decision is not a bad one by any stretch. The reason is that its principles will always apply — as long as humans exist.
A fascinating element of sociology pertains to sociological perspectives. Simply put, a sociological perspective is when sociology observes a general pattern in the lives of a particular group of people.
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When you read that statement, it could be interpreted as something that comes uncomfortably close to ‘biasing’ or ‘profiling.’ Perhaps it does. Or maybe it depends on the purposes of those having sociological perspectives in the first place.
But this is what sociology does. It forces us to deal with awkward and uncomfortable ideas, which are good in the long run. Isn’t this the only path to progress?
A theoretical perspective takes the sociological perspective a step further. In this case, we set an assumption about reality and then decide whether it is true or not.
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Another way of looking at this perspective is that we purposely distort or intensely focus on a specific aspect of our observing group. In this way, we can exclude or include particular attributes of our object.
Theoretical perspectives are crucial for research because they allow us to organize ideas and thoughts, making them more straightforward and easier to understand. In many cases, a sociologist will employ several theoretical perspectives simultaneously to establish more efficient ways to structure research questions, design their studies, and then analyze their results.
While there are countless theoretical perspectives used in sociology, let us examine the four major ones.
Karl Marx inspired the conflict perspective. In his writings, the notion of conflicts is caused in society because of the uneven distribution of status, power, and resources.
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This perspective assumes that social change comes about as a result of these inequalities. When the world is viewed through the conflict perspective lens, societal power is created in several forms. It can be amassed by controlling wealth and material resources through the influence in society’s political and academic arenas. It can even be measured in terms of a person’s social status relative to others — using factors like class, race, and gender.
A functionalist perspective is sometimes referred to as functionalism, and it all started from the work of French sociologist Émile Durkheim — long considered an original thought leader of sociology.
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Durkheim’s inspirations lay in how social order was ever established and how a given society remained stable within that established order. His writings about the functionalist view became the backbone of the functionalist perspective. Still, others such as Talcott Parsons and Herbert Spencer added to this perspective and even refined its meanings.
This functionalist perspective primarily works at the macro-theoretical level.
Micro versus Macro
Perhaps the most significant dividing factor within the applications of sociology pertains to its approach. Even with both theoretical and practical studies, a macro or micro approach can be used. And both approaches are useful and offer their own unique viewpoint.
Unfortunately, some see them as competing perspectives, but they are actually mutually dependent and even complimentary. A macro approach focuses on a bigger picture of social trends, structures, and patterns, while a micro approach focuses on a more detailed view of daily life and individual experiences.
American sociologist George Herbert Mead first developed the interactionist perspective. It’s basically a micro approach that hones in on understanding how purpose is established through social interactions.
Those who use this perspective generally assume that meaning is derived from daily social interaction and used this as a social construct.
Another popular theoretical perspective was created by Herbert Blumer, who was also an American. This theory looks at how people use symbols, such as clothing, to communicate with one another. It also looks at how symbols are used to create and maintain a coherent self for people around us.
Ryder University. Why Study Sociology. https://www.rider.edu/academics/colleges-schools/college-liberal-arts-sciences/departments/sociology-criminology/why-study-sociology.
Universal Class. Understanding the Sociological Perspective. https://www.universalclass.com/articles/psychology/understanding-the-sociological-perspective.htm/.