Classical Marxist theories have served as a springboard of inspiration for a variety of contemporary theorists challenging the existing state of society and seeking social justice and a fair society. Consequently, feminist standpoint theories, theories that represent a specific disposition, align with common themes found throughout Marxist interpretations of society, with an emphasis on the development of individual schemas dependent upon the relationship between the individual and their economic and material conditions. Although the foundation of the separation of and disparities between classes is applicable in feminist standpoint theory, feminist theories contribute an entirely unorthodox dimension to the Eurocentric, masculinist dominated sociological discourse about oppression: gender.
Marx’s theories of society developed around what he considered an unfair and unjust society in which two classes existed, determined by the coincidence of birth, which Marx coined the bourgeois, the owners of the means of production, and the proletariat, the wage earning laborers who become alienated from their work due to social constraints. Marx believed in historical materialism and class struggle, demonstrating that the private ownership of the means of production enabled the bourgeois to maintain power over the larger, powerless proletariats who provided the labor for the means of production. As a repercussion of this disparity of power Marx concluded social and moral problems were inherent to a capitalist system, which forced competition and created unnecessary antagonisms, essentially isolating the proletariat in their social position for generations.
Feminist standpoint theories corroborate the essence of Marx’s disposition regarding the injustice found in society, as it is acknowledged that there is a clear disparity of power in society among stratified groups of people. Yet instead of focusing on the owner of the means of production versus the wage laborers or proletariats, feminist standpoint theories extend the argument to include the dimension of gender and emphasize the necessity of including feminist experiences. According to feminist standpoint theories, the concrete experience of females and males is historically different, as they are required by society to play very different roles. Feminist theories build on Marx’s standpoint of experience based on social class and include the systematic oppression in a society that devalues women’s knowledge and experiences. One feminist standpoint theorist in particular demonstrated the subtle differences between standpoint theories and Marx’s theories on society. Patricia Hill Collins’ matrix of domination theory agrees that there is a top-down power struggle in society that forces and controls unwilling victims, yet also notes that an individual has the ability to be the oppressor, a member of an oppressed group or both simultaneously, citing gender and class as variables of oppression. Collins continues to purport that it is the oppressed or subordinate individuals and groups in society who possess the most comprehensive social knowledge of power structures and their affects on these individuals and groups due to their social positions. Marx sought change in society and attempted to inspire a revolution amongst the proletariat, with an overthrow of the capitalist system. Collins seeks to understand the struggle with a more complex perspective, contributing the observation that people simultaneously experience and resist oppression, implying that there is more control in the hands of the oppressed than what was previously thought. Just as Marx challenged the capitalist system, feminist standpoint theory further challenges the existing male-biased conventional knowledge. In both theories there exists the implication that the experiences of individuals is shaped by their social position, and a hierarchy of power relations exists among those who have and those who have not, or the oppressor and the oppressed. However, although Marx’s theories on society and feminist standpoint theories share the emphasis on individual experience being shaped by social position, Marx focused on class from an economic standpoint while feminist theory added to the discussion of social injustice by incorporating a new dimension, gender. While Marx was more interested in social justice for the proletariat, feminist standpoint theory extended this social justice to include the day to day concrete experiences of females with respect to their different knowledge of the world, as well as various other subordinate groups whose perspectives are often left out of the discourse on society. In conclusion, the comprehensive discussion of class relations that has been ongoing for centuries has continued to evolve over time and space, extending the concepts of social justice and a fair society to various subordinate groups. I support Marx’s theories of society serving as a significant platform for the descending schools of thought to build off of, with shared goals of social justice and a fair society. The differences can be attributed to the historical context of the development of these theories, with the discourse of sociology seen as an ongoing continuum. Sociological implications are inspirational, as it has been seen that within the discussion of social justice subordinate groups are gaining attention and credibility, and I believe it can be concluded that because of this criticism of the existent state of society, society has begun to improve. With the emersion of Marxist inspired feminist standpoint theory in the middle of the 20th century, women’s experiences have been acknowledged and improved because of their visibility in academic discourse. I support the Marxist call for an examination of subordination in the existent social structure, accompanied by feminist standpoint theories that extend to include all subordinate groups that struggle with societal constraints.
The structure of the critiques of science and knowledge provided by Foucault parallel the central concepts and arguments found in the feminist critiques of science and positivism, yet the focus of topics are differentiated along gender lines and the quest for the origins of truth, or the acceptance that truth itself is subjective. Both Foucault and feminist critiques share a common theme of mistrust of authoritative power, and the social injustice stemming from this authoritative power. As a post-positivist philosopher with an interest in power relations and the ability of power to dominate western culture, Foucault offers criticisms of science and knowledge rooted in the distrust he maintained for the developments of science representing improved reference and authority. Foucault emphasized the quest to discover the roots of truth values in the social context of science but rejected an account of science as ideological and argued that the discourse of scientific knowledge is constraining of what scientists themselves can see, but more significantly is productive and enabling for the production and solving of problems, the construction of data, and therefore the production of new knowledge to be interpreted widely as valid, or universal truth. For post-modernists, such as Foucault, science is nothing more than an allegation derived from subjective orientations, or a social construction. Feminist theorists corroborate this belief and interpret the power and injustice stemming from science with a different sociological perspective, a female standpoint. Feminist theorists believe mainstream science is a product of a patriarchy, and despite being portrayed as universal, value-free and neutral in its pursuit of truth or knowledge deemed valuable for all, it is actually organized in a way that systematically oppresses and harms women based on their gender. Feminists believe that the production of knowledge is a social activity, embedded in a certain culture and worldview, echoing the social construction of knowledge purported by Foucault. Feminist critics of science have noted that Western science, as it has developed since the Enlightenment, is determined by political, economic and social conditions, which are based on a patriarchal order. Feminists go on to note that women themselves were left out of the development of science, and as a consequence of being perceived as closer to nature than men with respect to their capacity for feelings and emotions, were ruled out as unfit for reasoning abilities.
Foucault’s main concern throughout his lifetime of publications revolved around the relationship between power and knowledge, and how one affected the other. Citing Nietzsche’s considerations of a will to power motivating human behavior with the declining of traditional values losing power over society is built upon by Foucault’s further analysis of knowledge ceasing to be liberating and instead becoming a mode of surveillance, regulation, and discipline. Foucault also argued that power itself creates new objects of knowledge and accumulates new bodies of information.
The feminist critiques on positivism shares common characteristics with Foucault’s critical theories of science and knowledge, as feminists tend to adopt an anti-positivist, anti-science position due largely to the male dominated social science research. Despite positivist views put forth by such classical theorists as Emile Durkheim, supporting the necessity of objectivity in research, feminist critiques argue for subjectivity. According to feminist critique, male social science researchers like Durkheim claimed objectivity by citing non-involvement in social problems, enabling them to distance themselves from their human subjects of research and omitting their research goals, as well as claimed scientific truth for their theories by imitating quantitative methods of the natural sciences. In an effort to parallel the natural sciences with sociology, furthering the notion that science is in fact objective, Durkheim conducted a study on suicide and measured it using the scientific method and quantifiable observations. The feminist criticism notes the results of paralleling the natural sciences with sociology were often blatantly untrue and biased against women, with science and social science being manipulated to harm women, for example by neglecting to appropriate equal value of their experiences with that of their male counterparts. Most significantly, feminist critique argues the pursuit of objectivity in science and the pursuit of truth are impossible, and by pretending that they are possible the scientific community is deceiving the public.
In conclusion, feminist critiques of science and positivism are directly paralleled with the concepts found in Foucault’s critiques of science and knowledge. In both instances, I support the arguments that center on the need to understand the ambiguity and cultural context of the notion of universal truth and for scientific and social research to be sensitive to the dangers of objectivity regarding such truth. I believe the scientific approach is useful but misguided as subjectivity is inherent in the search for truth and knowledge. These critiques have significant sociological implications as the existing state of male-centered scientific research is being challenged in a way that will be productive for the various sub-groups within society, particularly along gender lines.
The concept of modernity generally refers to a post-feudal historical period that is characterized by the move away from feudalism and toward capitalism, accompanied by all of the ripple effects initiated by capitalism, such as the industrialization and secularization of society that is maintained and controlled through extensive surveillance. Modernity focuses on the affects that the rise of capitalism has had on social relations, and notes Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber as influential theorists commenting on this phenomenon. For the purposes of this assignment, I will be focusing on the concepts and analyses of Marx and Weber.
Karl Marx is perhaps the first in a series of late 19th and early 20th century theorists who initiated the call for an empirical approach to social science, theorizing about the rise of modernity accompanied by the simultaneous decline in traditional societies and advocating for a change in the means of production in order to enable social justice. Marx’s analysis of modernity reveals his conceptualization of modern society as being dictated by the rapid advancement of productive forces of modern industry, and the corresponding relationships of production between the capitalist and the wage laborers. In addition, Marx also examined the concept of class interest, which seeks to further the life of capitalism as those individuals or groups who have power work to retain this power at the despair of the subordinate, socially powerless individuals and groups. The rapid advancement of major innovations after the Enlightenment period known as modernity stood in stark contrast to the incremental development of even the most complex pre-modern societies, which saw productive forces developing at a much slower pace, over hundreds or thousands of years as compared to modern times, with swift growth and change. This alarming contrast fascinated Marx who traced the spawning of modern capitalism in the Communist Manifesto, citing this record speed as the heat which generated the creation of the global division of labor and a greater variety of productive forces than anytime before. Ultimately, Marx’s approach is best known as an effort to come to terms with the unprecedentedly rapid development of the new capitalist world and the consequential development and adaptation of social constraints. Marx concluded that modernity was a social construction of mankind, and as a creation of mankind, mankind could reverse it and with the public class-consciousness acknowledging this rule, revolution, followed by utopia, was inevitable.
In contrast, Max Weber found that social life did not evolve according to this rule, and, unlike Marx, Weber did not anticipate a definitive end of modernity but instead viewed modernity and the outlook of mankind as an open query, with an answer impossible to predict. Weber’s disposition on modernity transformed modern society into a metaphorical iron cage. The iron cage represents society’s entanglement with the modern, mechanized transformation of society initially thought to be controllable, with the ability to detangle itself from the machines at any time, like a cloak that can be removed. Throughout history, however, Marx notes that this entanglement has become permanent and the individual has been locked in a cage by a modern society, with the implementation of more social control manifest in excessive bureaucracy. Karl Marx and Max Weber have made significant contributions to the field of sociology, and I support both theorists in their arguments. I believe that Marx was correct in regards to his conceptualization of the social structure being of man’s creation and therefore within the realm of change under the direction of man. However I believe that limitations exist in the idealistic nature of his utopian dream. Maintaining a utopian objective as the goal of social change exposes the inherently distorted analysis of sociological phenomenon, as there is neglect of examining social issues from a micro, day-to-day orientation essentially proving the existence of a Eurocentric male bias historically found within the study of sociology. I also agree with Weber’s connection between the Protestant work ethic and the consequent rise of capitalism as is found in his work The Protestant Work Ethic, which implicates religion as the engine that enabled the rapid development of capitalism. However I find limitations with the primacy placed on the influence of religion as the sole engine for capitalism…. Marx and Weber lived and worked in a distinctive scholarly moment in time, after theological persuasive power had declined and while sociological analysis maintained a fresh outlook on classical theories. During this moment in time Marx and Weber also experienced the rapid transformation of society dictated by modern forces, which would influence their focus and work. Marx and Weber, who’s work has been critiqued and contributed to by future theorists as society continues to rapidly transform into a fully mechanized, technologically dependent society, holds sociological implications in the theorists whose work has been influenced by their analysis of modernity.
The Marxist perspective on work and capitalism is paralleled in many ways with Max Weber’s perspective on these issues, with subtle differences stemming from the causation of capitalism. For Marx, the theory of historical materialism held that all human institutions, including religion, were based on economic foundations, with the implication that the economic foundations came first. In contrast, Weber’s The Protestant Ethic challenges this assertion and instead implicates a religious movement as responsible for fostering capitalism, yet doesn’t fully discount the theories of Marx.
According to Marx, it is historical materialism that fuels the engine of society. Historical materialism examines the causes of developments and changes in human society in regards to the collective production of life necessities, with non-economic characteristics of society, such as religious ideologies, seen as a repercussion of its economic activity. The emphasis on material objects, or commodities, during the newly mechanized time period influenced the construction of a labor class that performed activities that were detached from their personal identities. As private ownership over the means of production reduces the role of the worker to that of a cog in a machine, as Marx astutely determined, the worker becomes an expendable object that performs routinzed tasks. For Marx, working simply for money, in essence seen as a means to an end, and neglecting the creative potential for labor itself was analogous to selling one’s soul.
Weber, on the other hand, did not fully discount Marx’s theories but added to them and incidentally sparked a conversation that has become a historically significant and enduring sociological debate. Weber proposed that ideology fostered capitalism, in part resulting from the absence of assurances from religious authorities. Weber argued that Protestants began to look for other signs that they were saved, and, spurred on by Calvinist ideas of predestination, in which individuals identified their central duty to prove their salvation accompanied by the rejection of having too much wealth, capitalism prospered. Essentially self-confidence replaced the priestly assurance of God’s kindness, and a way for this self-confidence to manifest itself and be measured was with worldly success, and profit became a visible blessing from God that enabled followers to feel confidence that they were going to heaven. This enthusiasm toward achieving self-confidence through the production of profits encapsulates the Spirit of Capitalism, and it was within this spirit that capitalism flourished.
Weber described a paradox regarding this Protestant work ethic. On the one hand, Protestants desperately sought the accumulation of worldly wealth in an attempt to give them self-confidence that God has chosen them and they will be granted salvation. However, on the other hand, Protestants were also deeply passionate about frivolous purchasing of luxuries being perceived as a sin, accompanied by complex limitations for extricating the money. In order to resolve this paradox the money was invested, giving life to the class distinctions along the lines of those who possess, and those who do not. Adam Smith paved the way for this phenomenon of investment and class divergence, citing the existence of those who work hard and those who do not, and that over time those who work hard and can be motivated will accumulate wealth.
I applaud Weber’s theoretical surfacing of the irony of the Protestant work ethic, which views ideology as being composed of the need to be posthumously saved through their religion, and yet this motivational work ethic would inspire the distribution of excessive earnings to maintain their religious ideals, spawning and encouraging capitalism. Marxist perspectives are limited by the need for further examination of the causes and continuations of capitalism throughout the current state of society, particularly with respect to the rapid transformation and globalization of the economy. If further analysis reveals the causation of capitalism and the structure that continues to keep it running, then it may reveal implications that mankind can control the economic and social conditions of humanity. With the appropriate critiques of capitalism in a contemporary society there may be a potential for social justice.
Social action and interaction can be explained in a number of ways, and in the field of sociology exists two major theoretical orientations that aim to discover whether the hierarchy of influence between individuals and society is macro, with society influencing the individual, or micro, with the individual influencing society. Herbert Blumer’s interpretation of symbolic interactionism demonstrates the process of interaction from a micro perspective, demonstrated in the formation of meanings for individuals. As John Dewey influenced Blumer, Blumer believed human beings are best understood in relation to their environment and used this concept as inspiration for the study of human group life and conduct. Blumer outlines his micro theory of symbolic interactionsim with three central principles. The first principle, meaning, states that humans act toward people and things, based upon the meanings they have given to those people or things, and meaning is a central influence on human behavior. The second principle regards language as a means by which to negotiate through symbols. According to Blumer, it is by engaging in acts of speech with other individuals that humans come to identify meaning, enabling the development of discourse. The third and final principle is thought, which is based on language, and is a mental representation of conversation or dialogue, requiring role taking and imagining different points of view. Essentially, Blumer supported the micro perspective of individuals influencing society because he believed the language and meaning of language explains social action. In contrast, Talcott Parsons’ macro approach to social action and interaction reveals a different conclusion. Parsons developed the theory of functionalism, which serves as a framework that views society as a complex system, whose parts work together in order to promote stability and solidarity. Parsons’ approach views society with a broad focus on the social structures that shape society as a whole, adopting a macro orientation to social action. Looking simultaneously at social structure and social functions, the theory of functionalism tackles society as a whole in terms of the functions that compose elements. These elements mostly include norms, traditions, customs and institutions. For example, it is like the human body; the individual parts work together for the functioning of the body as a whole.
Functionalists such as Parsons support the notion that a social role is created due to the repetition of behaviors in interactions with the reinforcement of expectations. The role that is created is defined by Parsons as the regular, repetition of participation in concrete social interactions with specific role-partners. Eventually, Parsons’ concept of roles was formed into a collective definition that is functional as they assist society in servicing and satisfying its functional needs, enabling society to run smoothly.
I support both Blumer’s micro level orientation as well as Parsons’ macro orientated theoretical arguments in that they acknowledge the capabilities of the individual and the adaptability of society, implicating a dialogue between the two entities. However I believe limitations exist in that both theorists place primacy of one orientation over the other, and as a result are neglecting a holistic approach. Research questions that have emerged from functionalist theories add new depth and dimension to the basic concept of functionalism. For instance, emergent theorists have inquired about functionalists’ tendency to see only the benefits of various institutional relationships brought to society, posing the question of whether or not institutions can be oppressive and exploitative. Further emergent research questions address whether or not social institutions create social constraints, and controversially ponder why anything should change if it is already functional to society. Ultimately this discourse inspires sociological thought to continue developing and evolving over time.
Traditionally, theorists and theories that generally support one of two orientations have dominated the discipline of sociology. The first orientation is regarded as a macro-perspective, with an analysis of society focused on the larger overall structure of society, placing an emphasis on social systems and institutions, or structure, and the ensuing tendency for the structure to dominate the individual. The second orientation can be described as a zoomed in image of society, with a focus on the every day individual and group interactions, with the implication that the individual is being dominated by the structure of society. It is through these two distinct lenses that sociologists have contributed to the larger discourse regarding social justice and equality, yet the disconnect manifests in the perceptive cohesion of these two orientations. Contemporary sociologists, such as Anthony Giddens’ theory of structuration and the empowerment theory in feminist thought, have sparked a revolution in sociological thought with the unorthodox notion that the actor, or individual, and the agency, the structure, are in fact of equal primacy, and represent a duality rather than a hierarchy. In addition to bringing this connection to the surface of sociological discourse, many contemporary theorists’ theories are challenging the limitations of solely using one orientation in the effort to balance humanity’s understanding that individual’s posses the will to maintain social relations based on the comprehension of power, social reproduction, and institutional constraints. Giddens developed the theory of structuration, and, like many other contemporary theorists like Pierre Bourdieu, the theory supports the integration of macro and micro orientations. The structuration theory centers on the consensual duality of structure and agency, where the agent and the structure intersect, arguing that they are a dichotomy where one wouldn’t exist without the other. Giddens argues that the individual, or agency, is essentially responsible for their surroundings as they are reflexive and possess the ability to adapt to the ever-changing social structures and institutions, which also adapt to the individuals’ behavior, creating an ongoing dialogue between the two entities. The argument for a rejection of primacy between the agency and structure includes the objective of literal social change that can result from social scientific knowledge of society. Giddens continues to argue that it is the individuals’ motives that dictate the larger plan of action and the routinized practices determine what the action will manifest as. According to this logic Giddens proposes that individuals therefore have the ability to change their actions, which produce unintended and inevitable consequences, influencing future actions. Giddens critiques sociologists for placing too much emphasis on the constraints of social structure when he believes it is only through this activity of the individual agent that structure, or rules and resources, can exist at all. In fact, Giddens purports that a social structure or system is composed of a set of produced and reproduced relations between agents. It is this belief in the duality of agency and structure, as well as the desire to alter the discourse to incorporate an integrated orientation rather than independent orientations, that Giddens has significantly contributed to the discussion and debate of macro and micro orientations, citing the inability for one to exist without the other. Despite criticism of structuration as inadequate, Giddens’ work continues to influence and inspire contemporary social thought. Feminist thought and the empowerment theory takes an additional step back from sociological discourse to evaluate the misconception of objectivity found in Eurocentric, male dominated standpoints and argue for the need to take a subjective perspective in order to achieve any social change. Additionally, feminist thought advocates for the integration of orientations to examine the individual’s experience as equivalent, or dualistic, with the social structure in which the individual plays an active role in shaping. It is also deemed necessary that the interrelationships between the individual, groups and society are examined from a subjective, integrated orientation in order to make the leap from social theory to social practice. According to feminist thought, by making the previously personal world of the individual political the barrier between the individual and society is broken down and lays the foundation for individuals to influence and experience social change. The empowerment theory suggests that production and maintenance of society is dependent upon the individuals who are socially considered undesirable, casting these occupations as invisible in society and, accompanied by a societal ideology that lacks public appreciation for these occupations, the undesirable individuals also believe their work is invisible, revealing the distortion of societal components. It is within feminist thought that the empowerment theory extends not only to women, but any subordinate, oppressed group or individual within the larger society. This emerging connection between the personal and political identity parallels Giddens’ support of integrating the macro and micro orientations in order to achieve any significant social change, and I support both approaches. I believe that with the integration of the orientations true social change can be achieved, and that further examination of the intersection between agency and structure can enhance the limitations of past sociological thought. By creating and maintaining a boundary between these two worlds and rejecting the notion of a duality, a cognitive dissonance will continue to remain in the lives of oppressed and marginalized individuals without any hope for societal change. Contemporary sociologists must continue to transcend this boundary, accepting the inherent subjectivity found in any social science and focusing on fostering a productive sociological discourse with the goal of social justice. As Marx a stoutly stated in the mid-19th century, philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it.
As the grand theory is considered the most abstract level of sociological theory, the initial intentions of such a theory are discussed in an abstract, idealistic way. Grand Theory, a term created by American sociologist C. Wright Mills, refers to the preference for formal organization and the arrangement of concepts over understanding the social world. The concept of an overarching, grand sociological theory can be applicable in an idealistic setting, where each diverse aspect of society is equitably dealt with and examined to formulate widely accepted conclusions about the world. However, the emphasis tends to focus on concepts that are generally disconnected from the concrete, every day realities of societal life. I believe that an adapted version of a grand theory in sociology is necessary to the extent that it has the ability to provide a structured framework in an otherwise incredibly complex social world. However, I also believe the grand theory should not be accepted as universal but instead should be considered a continuous work in progress that is added to over time as traditionally invisible issues continue to surface, creating multiple new dimensions of potential thought. Throughout sociological history the theoretical supporters and critics of a grand theory have been numerous. Karl Marx’s Historical Materialism, Anthony Giddens’ The Juggernaut of Modernity, and Talcott Parsons’ Actions Theory each offer various uses and perspectives of grand theory concepts. The evolution of the concept of a grand theory can be seen throughout these noteworthy theorists’ work. For example, Marx’s work with the grand theory of historical materialism put forth a streamlined argument that stated economic relations were the foundation of social structure, regardless of any other variable. Embedded in this theory is the idea of an overarching, universal definition of social structure contingent solely upon economic and material relations. This revolutionary idea may have been appropriate in the historical context of the theory, yet weaknesses in the universal concept of a grand theory appear in the absence of any other variable which undoubtedly impacted the social structure of Marx’s time. Anthony Giddens uses the concept of a grand theory to examine modernity, differentiating from the streamlined definition of society as purported by Marx by including a complex assortment of variables, which contribute to modernity. Giddens relates modernity to an overpowering force that transcends everything in its path with the implication that it is uncontrollable. Giddens also suggests that the overpowering force of modernity is dynamic, with the consequences of actions unforeseeable and uncontrollable, yet it manages to adjust based on reflexive actions, creating new societal problems in the process. Overall, Giddens’ interpretation of grand theory offers a more complex framework for analyzing society in modernity, yet it is left open ended as Giddens anticipates the creation of a new slew of issues that will plague society based on the adjustments made from previous issues. Talcott Parsons is credited with the continuing the quest toward the theoretical evolutionary development of structural functionalism and established what can be defined as a grand theory of action systems, despite the fact that Parsons himself declined to identify it as a grand theory. Parsons contributes to the discussion of grand theories in that he expanded the theory to consist of influence from various disciplines aside from sociology, including psychological, economical, political and religious components. Parsons also connected the concepts of motives as part of our actions, and determined that social science must take ends, purposes and ideals into consideration when creating a grand theory. Parsons attempted to integrate all of the social sciences within an overarching, grand theoretical framework that aimed to include aspects of both macro and micro orientations.
Tracing the evolution of the concept of a grand theory reveals the irony rooted in the quest for such a grand theory, which is that despite attempts to create universal truths regarding society independent of time and space, such independence is not possible. Marx, Giddens and Parsons each lived in their own, slightly different time periods and as a result one can observe the variations in their concepts of grand theories. I believe that the evolution of a grand theory is a continuous one with no particular end, because as Giddens suggested, the flexibility of society to adapt to societal issues in turn creates new societal issues, suggesting the permanence of such an analytical cycle.
Among Emile Durkheim’s plethora of contributions to sociological theory emerges an unorthodox, evolutionary approach, which considered society to be like an organism, distinguishing two central characteristics as structure and function. Durkheim’s contributions also include helping establish and define the field of sociology as an academic order. Durkheim expanded the limitations of the study of sociology when he argued that sociologists should study particular features of collective, or group, life. He suggested that society exists independently of the individuals in it, as societies influence individuals through established norms, sentiments, and social facts. Durkheim contributed the inquiry of study regarding modern society and its ability to remain cohesive despite the individualism and self-sufficiency of each person, as well as the study of social facts representing features of the group that cannot be examined independently of either the collective or the individual.
Emile Durkheim’s writings are recognized for forming the foundation of functionalist thought, which remains among the oldest and most dominant theoretical perspectives in the study of sociology. The foundations of functionalism center on two categories: the individual organism and society being seen as analogous, and the examination of the objective social world with the application of the scientific method. Durkheim was one of the first sociologists to make use of scientific and statistical data to conduct sociological research, such as with his famous work Suicide, using real data to examine the phenomenon of suicide among religious groups. By incorporating the scientific method as a central method of research, Durkheim implicitly contributed the assertion that the social world can be studied in the same ways as the physical world.
Regarding Durkheim’s relation to structuralism, he was concerned with the question of how particular societies are able to maintain stability internally and are capable of survival over time. Durkheim discussed structuralism in two variations, with the first referring to the pre-industrial societies that were structured on equivalent parts connected by shared values, and the second referring to more complex post-industrial societies that are connected through specialization and strong interdependence. The essence of Durkheim’s relation to structuralism and functionalism is the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, with society being greater than the individuals.
Talcott Parsons offers a contemporary perspective on the concepts of structuralism and builds on Durkheim’s interpretation by discussing structuralism as a framework to examine society as a complex system whose parts work together in order to promote solidarity and stability. The focus on Parsons’ work is on the social structures that shape society as a whole, determining that each individual has a set of expectations based on other’s actions and reactions to that individual’s own behavior. Parsons also contributes the idea of the role, established through the repetition of behaviors and interactions dictated by social structure and that become recognized as normal. This concept of roles evolved into the groups of roles that harmonize each other and ultimately fulfill functions for society, in the sense that they assist society in operating and running smoothly.
In conclusion, the concepts put forth by the theories of functionalism and structuralism has had a significant impact on the study of sociology. Durkheim utilized the scientific method, and for this leap to a parallel with the natural sciences and hence more validity I am in support. However, Durkheim’s scientific method was perceived from an inherently Eurocentric male standpoint, and consequently produced misleading results. Emile Durkheim is ascribed with forming the foundation of thought in the functionalist orientation, and continued to attempt revolutions in sociological thought throughout his life’s work. Talcott Parsons is one of many contemporary theorists who have built upon Durkheim’s original theory by contributing contemporary rationalizations and have enhanced the sociological discussion regarding the macro evaluation of a modern functioning society. I support Parsons’ concept of social roles that are dictated on social expectations and are controlled by social structure, yet I find limitations in the neglect of an analysis of the social roles for subordinate individuals and groups, and without this analysis social justice will remain an idealistic theory.
The theoretical contributions and approaches of sociological theorists such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Patricia Hill Collins are significant in the conversation of sociological history as they take the unorthodox approach of delving into the perception of historically invisible issues regarding race and gender. For instance, Du Bois approaches the subject of race that centers on describing and explaining the actual, instead of theoretical, daily life conditions of African Americans, such as the threat of racially motivated violence like lynching, and the psychological damage of being separate but equal under Jim Crow laws. This brought a clearness of vision of specific phenomenon to the sociological conversation, with a focus on race, and an extension to any colored group that has experienced Eurocentric imperialism. In regards to racism, Du Bois granted the primary responsibility of the social construction of racism on capitalism, and Du Bois was sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his work. Du Bois utilized deductive analysis, accompanied by empirical observation, to examine the experience of African Americans throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Du Bois was primarily focused on variables that had been ignored by his sociological predecessors with particular attention paid to the intersection of race and class. He was interested in how the intersection of these variables contributes to broader cultural patterns dictating the stratification of individuals along lines of race and class and the shaping of individuals’ perceptions and experiences. Du Bois offers his conceptualization of race in comparing the variety of races around the world, with the U.S. housing two of the most extreme examples of race on the planet. As a result, the concept of the double consciousness exists, as African Americans may ask themselves on daily occasions what identity is truly theirs. For instance, one might ask, am I American or am I black? Can I be both? Does being black give me more of an obligation to assert my nationality than European immigrants would? Further, the double consciousness is the sense of “otherness” that prevents this uniform sense of self in accordance with the American image and produces a sense of two-ness, both American and black. In addition, Du Bois’ concept of the veil represents the distance that is felt socially between people of separate races, most significantly keeping the less dominant group, blacks, out of the dominant group’s, white, world. Patricia Hill Collins continues to build on the concepts highlighted by Du Bois’ work, and instead of extending his conversation about race and class Collins adopts an unconventional method of examining the intersection of race and gender. Collins emphasizes the specific experiences of black women as intersecting categories of oppression, with the goal of extending the discourse into other oppressed individuals and social groups. Collins’ theorizes that black women stand at the focal point where two historically powerful systems of oppression meet: gender and race, focusing on black women as outsiders within the larger, white male dominated society. According to Collins, by acknowledging this intersection of oppression, the possibility to see into other social injustices. Collins identifies three aspects of every day life in which black women are affected by and manage their race and definitions of identity in the greater American culture. These three aspects are known as safe spaces where black women are able to articulate their thoughts and feelings without the social pressure of mainstream society, which creates the double consciousness experienced by racial divide. The creation of the safe space is essential for the survival of oppressed groups, as they provide a unique place away from the ruling ideologies. For instance, one safe space for black women is in their relationships with each other. By empowering themselves in their own relationships, black women are able to help each other learn the knowledge to survive. Other safe spaces include black women’s blues traditions, followed by black female literature and poetry. Through these art forms, black women are able to approach the concepts of social injustice in a non-threatening manner. Collins also adds that groups must identify themselves, instead of letting other identify them. In conclusion, W.E.B. Du Bois and Patricia Hill Collins have made significant contributions to the sociological discussion of social injustice by forcing the issues of racial, class, and gender inequalities to the surface of social discourse. I find the work of Collins to be an extension of what Du Bois began, and I support the shared goal for both theorists in their quest for social justice for all subordinate groups. In fact, I believe that the combination of work from Du Bois and Collins epitomizes the essence of micro sociology, as they are able to articulate the invisible yet powerful social constraints that subordinate individuals and groups experience, and represents a transcendence of sociological thought above Eurocentric male standpoints. Their work has left deep impressions on current and future sociological theorists and essentially opened the door for the study of other socially oppressed groups.