Aice Sociology AS
January 28, 2015
‘Social reality is created through the interactions of individuals. There are no structural forces shaping human behavior.’ Explain and assess this view.
Social reality means different things to different sociological perspectives. Symbolic interactionists for instance, would claim that social reality is the product of shared symbols and interactions between people. Positivism, which claims that the same scientific methods we use in natural science can also be used in social sciences, and believe that social reality is nothing but the social facts, or data that is collected about human actions. Ethnomethodology on the other hand, believes there is no such thing. To argue that there are no structural forces shaping human behavior though, is in direct conflict functionalism.
Symbolic interactionists would agree with the view that social reality is created through the interactions between people, though not with the statement that there are no social forces shaping human behavior. Started by Robert Mead, this perspective mainly revolves around the socialization of people, and how our social self is created through shared realities and the exchange of meaningful symbols between individuals. ‘The structural forces’ for this theory would be in the form of the generalized other, which is the organized and general attitudes to which an individual defines themself, and through socialization we learn what is acceptable and expected from us. The generalized other is a form of social control, and is the way in which community gains control over the actions of individuals. Though this is not a hard rule, and we do have the freedom of initiative to choose our own specific course, we generally conform to the societal norms of our society. The way in which we learn how to socially conduct ourselves is through the ‘I’ and the ‘me’. The ‘I’ responds to the attitudes of others, and the ‘me’ is the social self and how we act when we know what is expected in a situation.
Positivism, coined by Auguste Comte, states that all things in social sciences, like in natural sciences, can be studied and recorded empirically. It would agree that social reality is created through interaction, because it can be measured as social facts, in the form of statistics, graphs, and determined through simple cause and effect, along with correlation and causation. Positivism also claims that the behavior of all objects and people are subject to relative laws. Due to this belief positivism would not agree that the statement that are no structural forces shaping human behavior, since it is subject to general laws. The best argument against positivism is phenomenology. Phenomenology, based of the work of Husserl, is a perspective that believes that sociology should focus only on what appears on the surface of our society as opposed to delving into its depths, claims that positivism leans to far towards determinism, which states that people have no choice in their behavior. It disagrees with positivism, stating that social behavior is not out of our hands, that there are no external forces shaping human behavior, unlike natural science. Phenomenologists think that we have a great degree of freewill, or the ability to make our own choices and decisions, than positivists think. According to this perspective, the best we can do is understand how people, individually, and as a whole interpret, understand, and place meaning on their social reality.
Ethnomethodology is the complete antithesis of positivism, and is mainly concerned with the way people try to make sense of what other people do and say. Most prominently associated with Harold Garfinkel, it claims that there is no such thing as society. We all try to understand and interpret human behavior and society by coming up with theories and perspectives to explain our everyday lives, but this quest, according to ethnomethodology is completely...
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