Sociological Perspectives to Understand Society

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WITH REFERENCE TO THE RANGE OF SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES, EXPLAIN HOW SOCIOLOGISTS ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND SOCIETY. The main aim of sociology is to seek an understanding or explanation as to how society functions or operates. There are numerous sociological theories, some dating back as early as the 19th century, these include Structural and Marxist Functionalism and Social Action theories. Throughout the years these perspectives have gradually been modernised due to the changes that have occurred in society. In this assignment I shall be looking at the key theories of the more notable exponents of the different sociological perspectives from pre-industrialisation times to the modern age and their interpretation of how society works. The term ‘sociology’ was coined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte in his Course of Positive Philosophy; the Course had 58 lessons in 6 volumes and two main goals, a foundation for sociology, which at that time was known as social physics and the second was the “coordination of the whole of positive knowledge”. ( 2010) Comte theorised that the average human went through three stages during their life: the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive, this is where the ‘positivism’ sociological theory started. By the end of the First World War there was a shift away from Comte’s thinking as new theories began to spring up but his work has been a major influence on sociologists and sociology as a whole. The three perspectives mentioned above share some similar objectives, they all sought to explain how society functions and changes, also how the use of social science methods are favoured amongst the sociologist. Their theories are generally split into two groups: social systems and social action theories, their ideas tend to overlap and critique one another. The social system or structuralism approach places a greater emphasis on the theory that human behaviour is determined and structured by social forces and that individuals are an end product of society. Muslim philosopher and historian Ibn Khaldun argues that “man is a child of the customs and the things he has become used to”. (Callinicos 1999 p.11). There are two approaches which make up the structural theory; these are Functionalist and Marxist and they are both interested in the institutions that combine to make up the fabric of society. (O’Donelle 1997) The two theories look at the overall picture of society and are referred to as being macro. Although these two theories are structural, the manner in which they view society and its institutions differ, one sees consensus as the primary characteristic of society whilst the other views it as conflict. (Taylor 1998) The functionalist theory can be traced to a movement in the late nineteenth-century beneath the influences of Darwinism on the biological and social sciences. It is an effort to comprehend the humanity and it tests the reason and consequence of sociological activities. Two of the more well-known functionalists are Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons. Functionalism, or structural consensus, was developed in the 19th century by French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). The 19th century was regarded as a period of enlightenment where superstitious explanations for human behaviour and the development of society were slowly being replaced by new scientific knowledge. Functionalists see society as a social system based on consensus, a set of parts which work together harmoniously to form a whole. These parts consist of social institutions such as the family and the education system and they work cooperatively to maintain social order and social solidarity. (Taylor 1998) For example, Durkheim believed that the main purpose of the family was to socialise new members of society by teaching them the appropriate norms and values that are suitable for society, the education system continues the process of socialisation begun in the family home. Durkheim referred to...
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