Which of the major sociological theories best explains social problems?   functionalism, conflict or symbolic

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All of these three sociological theories help explain the existence of social problems. For example, functionalism looks at the interconnectedness of society and regards social problems as a disconnection from the interrelatedness of society. The symbolic school of thought examines the communication and meaning of people as they carry out their roles in society. For example, deviant behaviors that create social problems may have particular meanings to the people who carry them out, and these behaviors may be the way that certain individuals communicate and react to the voices of others in society. Finally, conflict theory looks at social problems as a result of the tensions that exist between the elite class and those with less social and economic capital. Conflict is an outcome of the attempt of the elite to keep the less elite from gaining power in society. All three perspectives play a role in understanding and solving social problems in our society.

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This depends largely on one's political perspective.  The more liberal a person is, the more likely the conflict theory will make sense to that person.  By contrast, conservatives might well be more inclined to believe in functionalism.

For example, let us try to explain why there is a problem with poverty in the United States today.  Liberals would tend to argue that poverty continues because of intentional exploitation of workers by the rich or perhaps by the workings of structures that serve to prevent the poor from getting equal opportunities in life.  Racial conflict might play a role as well.

By contrast, conservatives might argue that poverty persists because poverty plays an important part in our system.  The presence of poverty serves as a salutary lesson for the rest of us.  If we do not act in good ways, this could happen to us.  In that view of things, poverty serves a purpose in society by encouraging others to behave in more productive ways.

It is, then, up to each person to decide for him or herself which of these perspectives is more credible.

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