As a science that is concerned with the systematic study of human society,
sociology has three major theories for its backbone:
structural-functional, social-conflict and symbolic-interaction.
THE STRUCTURAL-FUNCTIONAL APPROACH
Is a framework for building theory that sees societies as a complex social
organism. August Comte who is considered the father of sociology held the
view that society’s social structure help to promote solidarity and stability.
Functional theorists are concerned with how patterns of behavior help
Societies function. It was also Comte’s idea that sociological investigations
should be carried out scientifically - an approach known as positivism.
Emile Durkheim work advanced the structural-functional theory by viewing
society as built on social facts, or patterned ways of acting and thinking.
According to Robert Merton, some of these social patterns have intended
consequencies – manifest function; while the purpose of other behaviors are
not obvious – latent functions
THE SOCIAL-CONFLICT APPROACH
Conflict theorists view human society as an arena of inequalities that breed
conflicts and changes. They are concerned about how social class, race, gender and sexual orientation affect society’s distribution of wealth, power
and prestige. While structural-functional approach is concerned with how a
social structure promotes stability within a society, the social-conflict
approach focuses on the social struggle between the dominant and the
disadvantaged groups within a society - an analysis that Herbert Spencer
referred to as Social Darwinism. He likened the society to the human body
with different organs necessary for survival.
For conflict theorists like Carl Max, the twentieth was a very important
century, in terms of sociological events.
His socio - economic ideas were adopted by the Bolsheviks who won
the class struggle of the Russian society. On the US home front,
race and gender conflict analysis required new approaches.
THE GENDER-CONFLICT APPROACH
The gender-conflict perspective focuses on gender inequality, and is
linked to feminism which advocates equality between men and women.
The approach acknowledges the contributions to sociology by women such
as Jane Adams, Susan .B. Anthony and Harriet Martineau who was
considered the first woman sociologist. Jane Adams campaigned for
the underclass and women’s social equality, and was credited with founding
the Hull House Settlement for poor immigrant families.
THE RACE-CONFLICT APPROACH
The race-conflict approach focuses on social inequality and conflict between
groups of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and advocates social
equality for ethnic minorities who endure social and economic
disadvantages. The approach also highlights the contributions by minorities
such as Ida .W. Barnet and W .E. Du Bois to the development of sociology.
THE SYMBOLIC-INTERACTION APPROACH
The symbolic approach is a framework for advancing sociological theory
based on close-up analysis of interactions between individuals in specific
settings, a process known as micro-level orientation.
The name most associated with symbolic approach is Max Weber who
emphasized the need to understand a society from the point of view of
individuals who live in it. In the symbolic approach view of society, the
reality people experience is variable and changing, depending on the
symbolic meaning they attach to it.
In conclusion, each approach helps to analyze human societies, but a fuller
understanding can only be attained by applying all three approaches.
Macionis, John J., Sociology, 11th Edition, New Jersey, Pearson, 2007.