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Which of the three sociological perspectives do you identify with more? Which best aligns with your personal worldview? Explain why with examples.

The three most common sociological perspectives are symbolic interactionism, functionalism, and conflict theory. Each examines the ways a society influences our attitudes, choices, behaviors, and opportunities.

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A sociological perspective is a means of determining how our societal constructs influence our attitudes, choices, behaviors, and opportunities. There are three common perspectives that seek to explain these interactions and influences.

Symbolic interactionism: People follow the rules of society but rely heavily on shared symbols in their interactions with...

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A sociological perspective is a means of determining how our societal constructs influence our attitudes, choices, behaviors, and opportunities. There are three common perspectives that seek to explain these interactions and influences.

Symbolic interactionism: People follow the rules of society but rely heavily on shared symbols in their interactions with other people. Symbols can include words and gestures or more abstract concepts, like wedding bands or a Christian cross. The interpretations of these symbols can change over time, depending on the way individuals interpret them.

Functionalism: Aspects of a society are interdependent and all contribute to the way society as a whole functions. For example, the government relies on well-educated citizens to become future taxpaying citizens and to maintain stable communities. Thus, the government creates educational systems that families can use to ensure their children have opportunities to learn much-needed skills.

As children become adept in a particular field of education, they are better able to contribute to their own families and become financially independent. As they become employable, those investments into education also benefit the government, which is then able to further fund education. Societies, therefore, need an effective means of socializing individuals in order to create strong societies as a whole.

Emile Durkheim, who is known as being one of the first proponents of this framework, believed that humans' desires will ultimately lead to chaos without the confines of a strong societal order. Thus, through socialization, people learn to agree on common values and appropriate behaviors and also become connected to other people through shared social institutions such as religion, education, employment, and family. This framework looks at sudden changes to social institutions as disruptive and problematic. Functionalists believe that members of a society agree upon those things that best benefit society as a whole and that the group agrees to work together to achieve those common goals.

Conflict theory: This theory focuses on the negative and ever-changing nature of society. Functionalists do not see rapid change as problematic; instead, they believe that challenging the status quo and encouraging rapid social change is often beneficial. Conflict theorists examine the ways inequality among groups (racial, religious, economic, etc.) influences competition and change. They also believe that various segments of any population will have different interests and concerns because of their varying social positions.

Society is thus divided based on the differences of its populace, and these differences drive conflict because of ongoing inequality. While functionalists would point to the ways society provides a sense of stability, conflict theorists would support social changes (even rapid changes) to reduce inequality.

To determine which of these theories best aligns with your own worldview, consider these questions.

  • Do you believe that society connects people because they agree on shared symbols, such as language? (That's symbolic interactionism.)
  • Do you believe that varied components of society (religion, family, education, etc.) depend on each other to function well as a whole? Do you believe that people in a society agree to mutually work together toward common goals and values? (That's functionalism.)
  • Do you believe that societies are driven by a need for change based on the inequalities of various groups of people? Do you believe that social change is more important than social stability? (That's conflict theory.)

Once you decide how your own worldview aligns with these three theories, consider why you lean toward that theory. What current events or personal examples can you think of that demonstrate how attitudes, choices, behaviors, and opportunities shape the way a society functions?

I hope this helps you further examine these theories. Good luck!

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