Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

Ccompare and contrast the three (3) sociological perspectives.    

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The three main sociological theories are functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism. Functionalism and conflict theory are grandiose, overarching, macro-level sociological theories, dealing with the behavior of large groups of people. Symbolic interactionism is different than the other two, however, because it takes a more microscopic view of sociology. This theory states that a society is made up of individual humans, and therefore to truly understand the group mentality, you have to analyze the individual characteristics and tendencies that are inherent in the people at work within it. It deals with humans interacting with their environment and defining and categorizing things, which eventually leads to group behaviors.

Functionalism and conflict theory are two opposites in terms of what they believe about society's role. Functionalism states that, in general, humans will seek the well-being of themselves and those around them. Therefore, governments and organizations rise up to guide these benevolent tendencies and to protect the community from the surrounding environment.

Conflict theory, however, states that humans are inherently in conflict with one another and with nature. In order to rectify this, society has had to create institutions that will mitigate disputes and protect individuals from their basest desires—as well as from the harmful actions of others around them.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sociologists have compiled three main perspectives which can help us to understand the social world.

The first is called the Functional Perspective, or functionalism, which states that each element of society is interconnected and that these elements work together harmoniously to maintain balance and societal equilibrium. Each of society's institutions—including family, politics, education, religion, and economics—has a part to play in upholding the structure of society.

The second perspective is called the Conflict Perspective. According to this perspective, society is made up of separate elements which are constantly competing with one another for resources and power. This theory has its origins in the works of Karl Marx, who suggested that the process of industrialization leads to the existence of two classes of people, namely the bourgeoisie (wealthy business owners) and the proletariat (working-class masses).

The final sociological perspective, Symbolic Interactionism, focuses on the idea that the way people behave is driven by meanings and definitions that come into existence through symbolic interactions with others. According to Symbolic Interactionism, our identity is constructed through meaning, language, and thought.

Meaning, in this context, refers to the way people interact with others according to what they know about them. For example, one would respond differently to a police officer than one would to a servant.

Language, according to Symbolic Interactionism, is the process by which we name something, assign meaning to it, and gather knowledge about it.

The final principle of Symbolic Interactionism is thought, which has its basis in language and includes imagination. In essence, thought relates to our own interpretations of stimuli and symbols.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are three main theoretical perspectives in sociology.  These are structural-functionalism (often just called functionalism), the conflict perspective, and symbolic interactionism.  The first of these two have some things in common and some differences.  The third is rather different from the other two and does not really share anything in common with them.

Functionalism and conflict theory are similar to one another in that they are both macro-level theories.  Both of these perspectives look at society as a whole or at large groups.  They do not really look at individual people.  Beyond this, however, these two perspectives differ.  Functionalism holds that society is like an organism and that each aspect of society plays a vital role in keeping the society healthy and stable.  This is essentially a positive view of society in which all aspects of society exist for a good reason and help to maintain stability.  By contrast, conflict theory holds that aspects of society arise out of conflict between groups.  There are, in this view, many groups in society that compete with one another.  In each area of conflict, one group wins, and some aspect of society is created.  Each aspect of society is created by the winner of the conflict in such a way as to help them.  Thus, society is made up of institutions that arise from conflict and which are meant to privilege one group over another.

Symbolic interactionism is simply different from these two.  It is so different that it cannot really be compared to them.  While the other two perspectives focus on the macro level, structural functionalism looks at the micro level.  It looks at individual people and how they understand and define the various aspects of the world around them.  To this perspective, society is created by the combined ways in which people interpret all the things that they see around them.  This perspective, then, is one that is concerned not with large groups but with the interactions between individuals and the environment in which they live.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team