How do the sociological perspectives explain the causes of prejudice and discrimination?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are three main perspectives in sociology.  These are structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.  These perspectives would each explain racial discrimination in a different way.

Structural functionalism holds that every aspect of society is like an organ in a human body.  It is needed to keep society stable and healthy.  From this perspective, discrimination must play (or must have once played) an important role.  For example, it might have helped to create more solidarity within the white community, thus enhancing the stability of society at a time when whites were the vast majority of the population.

Conflict theorists hold that aspects of society come about through conflict between groups.  They would say that racial discrimination is an aspect of that conflict.  Whites discriminate against blacks, for example, because whites have won their conflict with blacks.  The discrimination is also part of that conflict as it helps whites maintain their superiority over blacks. 

Symbolic interactionists look at the world on a much more micro scale.  They look at how people conceive of one another.  They would say that discrimination exists because the people of different races choose to see themselves as different from one another.  They would argue that discrimination is waning as people stop seeing one another in this way.

Thus, the three perspectives each see racial discrimination in a different way.

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