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What might be three major perspectives that sociology takes toward the war on terrorism?

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There are three main theoretical perspectives in sociology.  Let us examine what each might say about the war on terrorism.

Functionalism holds that all aspects of a society exist because they help the society to maintain cohesion and stability.  They are like organs in a body, all helping the overall organism to prosper.  There are at least two ways in which we can say that the war on terror helps keep our society cohesive and stable.  First, we can say that it protects the physical safety of members of our society. We have it for the same reason we have police—to stay safe. Second, we can say that the war on terror exists to help us feel more solidarity towards the people in our own society.  One way we can define who “we” are is by focusing on who “we” are not.  The war on terror clearly establishes Islamic radicals as a threatening “other.”  By focusing on them, we Americans can feel more like we all have something in common, thus making our society more cohesive and stable.  Both of these are potential views of functionalists.

The conflict perspective argues that all aspects of our society come about through conflict between groups.  In every aspect of our lives, some group is in conflict with another.  Things happen because these conflicts are ongoing or because one group has won the conflict.  Using this perspective, you might argue that we have a war on terror because the group of Americans who are in favor of using our military might have defeated those Americans who favor a less aggressive foreign policy.  Aggressive, nationalistic Americans have been in conflict with more pacifistic Americans who think that our country often makes mistakes in foreign policy at least since the Vietnam War.  The existence of the war on terrorism shows that, at the present, the aggressive nationalists have won.

Symbolic interactionism is a very different kind of a perspective.  It emphasizes that the world is full of objects, people, and behaviors and that each individual must create meanings for each of those things that they observe.  Our society and its institutions are built up through the ways in which people interpret their world.  From this perspective, you might argue that we have the war on terror because people perceive radical Islam as a serious threat to our existence.  People look at things like car crashes and regular murders and do not call for “wars” on these things because these are just seen as normal parts of everyday life even if they do kill more Americans than terrorism.  For whatever reason, Americans have come to interpret radical Islam as a major threat, one which requires us to have a war against it.

These are ways in which the war on terrorism might be perceived from each of the three sociological perspectives.

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