Comparison and Differentiation of Sociological Theories Essay Sample

Comparison and Differentiation of Sociological Theories Pages
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Evolutionary theories are based on the assumption that societies gradually change from simple beginnings into even more complex forms. Early sociologists beginning with Auguste Comte believed that human societies evolve in a unilinear way- that is in one line of development. According to them social change meant progress toward something better. They saw change as positive and beneficial. To them the evolutionary process implied that societies would necessarily reach new and higher levels of civilization.L.H Morgan believed that there were three basic stages in the process: savagery, barbarism and civilization.Auguste Comte’s ideas relating to the three stages in the development of human thought and also of society namely-the theological, the metaphysical and the positive in a way represent the three basic stages of social change. This evolutionary view of social change was highly influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of Organic Evolution.

Those who were fascinated by this theory applied it to the human society and argued that societies must have evolved from the simple and primitive to that of too complex and advanced such as the western society. Herbert Spencer a British sociologist carried this analogy to its extremity. He argued that society itself is an organism. He even applied Darwin’s principle of the survival of the fittest to human societies. He said that society has been gradually progressing towards a better state. He argued that it has evolved from military society to the industrial society. He claimed that western races, classes or societies had survived and evolved because they were better adapted to face the conditions of life. This view known as social Darwinism got widespread popularity in the late 19th century. It survived even during the first phase of the 20th century. Emile Durkheim identified the cause of societal evolution as a society’s increasing moral density.Durkheim viewed societies as changing in the direction of greater differentiation, interdependence and formal control under the pressure of increasing moral density. He advocated that societies have evolved from a relatively undifferentiated social structure with minimum of division of labor and with a kind of solidarity called mechanical solidarity to a more diifferentiated social structure with maximum division of labor giving rise to a kind of solidarity called organic solidarity.(1)

Spencer defined sociology as the study of societal evolution and believed that the ultimate goal of societal evolution is complete harmony and happiness. Spencer’s theory of evolutionary change is built upon three basic principles: integration, differentiation, and definiteness. Spencer argued that homogenous phenomena are inherently unstable, which makes them subject to constant fluctuations. These fluctuations force homogeneous systems to differentiate, which results in greater multiformity. In other words, homogeneous systems grow to become heterogeneous.(2)

Spencer focused much of his energy on trying to legitimize sociology as a scientific discipline. He argued that laypeople might think they deal with the same issues as sociologists do; however, they are not trained to adequately comprehend these issues. One of the ways that Spencer believed sociology could become more legitimate was for sociologists to study other disciplines, especially biology and psychology. Biology could be linked to sociology through the search for the basic “laws of life,” understanding society as a “living body” and focusing on human beings as the starting point of sociological inquiries. Psychology is useful to sociology because it helps to show that emotions or sentiments are linked to social action. According to Spencer, individuals are the source of all social phenomena, and the motives of individuals are key to understanding society as a whole.(2)

Structural-Functional Paradigm

The Structural – Functional Paradigm looks at society as a stable and orderly system in which the members share a common set of values, beliefs and behavioral expectations. Society is then a set of interrelated parts, each of which serves a function, and contributes to the overall stability of a society. A society has a series of structures that all operate together to form a stable society. Stratification is a normal part of the system, since different positions carry different degrees of difficulty and require increasingly more qualified individuals to fill those positions. Structural-functional approach is a framework for building the theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. This approach focuses on the importance of social structure – a relatively stable pattern of social behavior. Social structures give our lives shape in families, the work place, or the college classroom (Macionis, 2009).Other examples of social structures are health, media, recreation, sports, religion, socialization and deviance.(3)

Structural functionalism drew its inspiration primarily from the ideas of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. It Emphasizes the central role that agreement between members of a society on morals plays in maintaining social order. This moral consensus creates an equilibrium, the normal state of society. Durkheim was concerned with the question of how societies maintain internal stability and survive over time. Durkheim proposed that such societies tend to be segmentary, being composed of equivalent parts that are held together by shared values, common symbols, or as his nephew Marcel Mauss held, systems of exchanges. In modern, complex societies members perform very different tasks, meaning that a strong interdependence develops between them. Based on the metaphor of an organism in which many parts function together to sustain the whole, Durkheim argued that complex societies are held together by organic solidarity. He espoused a strong sociological perspective of society which was continued by Radcliffe-Brown, who, following Auguste Comte, believed that the social constituted a separate level of reality distinct from both the biological and from inorganic matter.

The central concern of Structural Functionalism is a continuation of the Durkheimian task of explaining the apparent stability and internal cohesion of societies which are necessary to ensure their continued existence over time. Societies are seen as coherent, bounded and fundamentally relational constructs, who function like organisms, with their various parts (social institutions) working together to maintain and reproduce them. The various parts of society are assumed to work in an unconscious, quasi-automatic fashion towards the maintenance of the overall social equilibrium. All social and cultural phenomena are, therefore, seen as being functional in the sense of working together to achieve this state and are effectively deemed to have a ‘life’ of their own. They are then primarily analysed in terms of this function they play. Individuals are significant not in and of themselves but in terms of their status, their position in patterns of social relations, their roles and the behaviour(s) associated with their status. The social structure is then the network of statuses connected by associated roles.(4)

Social Conflict Paradigm

Social conflict theory is a Marxist-based social theory which argues that individuals and groups (social classes) within society have differing amounts of material and non-material resources (the wealthy vs. the poor) and that the more powerful groups use their power in order to exploit groups with less power. The two methods by which this exploitation is done are through brute force usually done by police and the army and economics. Earlier social conflict theorists argue that money is the mechanism which creates social disorder. The theory further states that societies created from ongoing social conflict between various groups. There are other theories of deviance, the functionalist theory, the control theory and the strain theory. It also refers to various types of positive social interaction that may occur within social relationships.(5)

Consider paying rent towards housing. The conflict theorist argues that this relationship is unequal and favors the owners. Renters may pay rent for 50 years and still gain absolutely no right or economic interest with the property. It is this type of relationship which the conflict theorist will use to show that social relationships are about power and exploitation.(5)

Padgitt continues, “Marx argued that through a dialectic process, social evolution was directed by the result of class conflict. Marxism argues that human history is all about this conflict, a result of the strong-rich exploiting the poor-weak. From such a perspective, money is made through the exploitation of the worker. It is argued thus, that in order for a factory owner to make money, he must pay his workers less than they deserve.(5)

Thus, the social conflict theory states that groups within a capitalist society tend to interact in a destructive way, that allows no mutual benefit and little cooperation. The solution Marxism proposes to this problem is that of an workers’ revolution to break the political and economic domination of the capitalist class with the aim of reorganising society along lines of collective ownership and mass democratic control.(5)

Symbolic Interaction Theory has been a powerful theoretical framework for over sixty years. It provides striking insights about human communication behavior in a wide variety of contexts. The theory is logical in its development, beginning with the role of the self and progressing to an examination of the self in society. In this chapter we noted that the theory is heuristic, identifying its application in a variety of contexts, including media, organizational, and interpersonal. Yet, the theory is not without its critics.(6)

The major objections raised in regard to SI tend to focus on the following areas: It is too broad, it places too much emphasis on personal behavior, it neglects other important variables, and it is not falsifiable. We briefly explore these criticisms below.(6)

Some critics complain that SI is too broad to be useful. This criticism centers on the evaluation criterion of scope. SI covers too much ground, these critics assert, to fully explain specific meaning-making processes and communication behaviors. Related to this is the objection that the concepts that make up the theory are broadly drawn and rather vague. Additionally, due to this vagueness, SI is difficult to falsify. In response to this criticism, SI proponents explain that SI is not one unified theory; rather, it is a framework that can support many specific theories. In the more specific theories, like Role Theory, for example, the concepts are more clearly defined and are capable of falsification.(6)

A second area of criticism concerns Mead’s emphasis on the power of the actor to create reality. Critics observe that this ignores the extent to which people live in a world not of their own making. SI theorists regard a situation as real if the actors define it as real. But Erving Goffman (1974) comments that this notion, although true, ignores physical reality. For instance, if Roger and his parents agreed that he was an excellent engineer and that he was doing a wonderful job at his new firm, that would be reality for them. Yet, it would not acknowledge the fact that Roger’s boss perceived his skills as inadequate and fired him. SI theorists counter by citing that they try to tread a middle ground between freedom of choice and external constraint. They recognize the validity of constraint, but they also emphasize the importance of shared meanings.(7)

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