Structural-Functionalism and Conflict Theory

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Structural-Functionalism and Conflict Theory

By | November 2011
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Theories in sociology provide us with different perspectives with which to view our social world. A perspective is simply a way of looking at the world. A theory is a set of interrelated propositions or principles designed to answer a question or explain a particular phenomenon; it provides us with a perspective. Sociological theories help us to explain and predict the social world in which we live.

Sociology includes three major theoretical perspectives: the structural-functionalist perspective, the conflict perspective, and the symbolic interactionist perspective. Each perspective offers a variety of explanations about the causes of and possible solutions for social problems (Rubington & Weinberg, 1995).

Structural-Functionalist Perspective

The structural-functionalist perspective is largely based on the works of Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, and Robert Merton. According to structural-functionalist, society is a system of interconnected parts that work together in harmony to maintain a state of balance and social equilibrium for the whole. For example, each of the social institutions contributes important functions for society: family provides a context for reproducing, nurturing, and socializing children; education offers a way to transmit society's skills, knowledge, and culture to its youth; politics provides a means of governing members of society; economics provides for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services; and religion provides moral guidance and an outlet for worship of a higher power.

The structural-functionalist perspective emphasizes the interconnectedness of society by focusing on how each part influences and is influenced by other parts. For example, the increase in single-parent and dual-earner families has contributed to the number of children who are failing in school because parents have become less available to supervise their children's homework. Due to changes in technology,...

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