The first major theoretical perspective is the functionalist perspective, which also goes by the names functionalism and structural functionalism. These types of perspectives are commonly based on the theory that society is a stable, orderly system. Under the functionalist perspective, a society is said to be composed of many different parts, which are interrelated and serves different functions that in the end contributes to the stability of the society. Many factors, such as education, family, government, the economy, and religion, all play an important role in the survival of a society. If anything is to happen to one of these factors, the other factors will be affected, and would cause the system to no longer work properly. Talcott Parsons, who was known as the most influential contemporary advocate of the functionalist perspective, emphasized that each society had to provide for achieving social needs in order to have the ability to survive. Robert K. Merton, further refined functionalism, by distinguishing between both the manifest and latent functions of social institutions. Manifest functions being intentional, while latent functions are unintentional. Latent functions are the initial establishment of social relations and networks. Robert Merton also noted that the features of system might not always be functional. The functionalist perspective is beneficial when it comes to analyzing consumerism. The second major theoretical perspective is the conflict perspective. In these types of perspectives, groups in society are involved in a continuous power struggle for control of limited resources. There are different forms in which conflict can take place; this includes litigation, politics, family discussions about financial matters, and also negotiations. Max Weber, Georg Simmel, and Karl Marx, all contributed significantly to the conflict perspectives, by primarily focusing on the inevitability of battles between social groups. Advocates of this perspective view social life as a never ending power struggle between competing social groups. Karl Marx focused on the exploitation of the workers, by the owners or capital class. Weber recognized the importance economic conditions in producing inequality in a society, and also added that power and prestige are other sources of inequality. C. Wright Mills, who was a key figure, encouraged everyone to look below everyday events in order to perceive the major resource and power inequalities that currently exist in society. The conflict perspective consist of three branches; the neo-Marxist approach, the feminist perspective, and a branch that focuses on racial-ethnic inequalities. The third major theoretical perspective is the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective. In these types of perspectives, society is said to be the sum of the interactions of both individuals and groups. Theorists who use this perspective typically focuses on interactions, and the parts that symbols play in giving meaning to human communication. These symbols include signs, gestures, and even written language. Amongst the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective, there are macrolevel analysis, and microlevel analysis. Macrolevel analysis examines whole societies, while microlevel analysis focuses on just small groups. Microlevel analysis is typically what Symbolic Interactionist Perspectives are based on. Symbolic Interactionists attempt to study how people make sense of their life situations, and how they carry out activities on a day-to-day basis. Symbolic Interactionists believe our thoughts, and behaviors are primarily shaped by our social interactions with other individuals. Theorists such as Charles Cooley, and George Mead, explored how individual personalities are developed from social experience and came to the conclusion that “we would not have an identity, a self, without communication with other people.” The last major theoretical perspective is the...
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