SOC 352 Chapter 3

SOC 352 Chapter 3 - HARPMC03_0131884980.QXD 11/7/06 12:02...

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There are three broad theoretical perspectives in contemporary American sociology. These are functionalism, conflict theory, and a cluster of related perspectives that we will call “interpretive theories.” They embody three different images of society and social change and provide different answers to the most basic sociological questions. For our purposes, these questions boil down to: What factors determine the structure of society and the nature of change? One answer is that society and change are shaped by the necessities of survival (the functionalist answer). Another is that soci- ety and change are shaped by conflict among groups and classes within society over the control of valued and scarce resources (the conflict theory answer). A third answer is that the social interaction processes between people and groups result in the creation and ongoing negotiation and revision of the meanings, symbols, and social definitions that constitute both society and change (the interpretive answer). The three perspectives derive from different historical sources and view change in quite different, often contradictory, ways. Functionalism originated in 43 Social Theory and Social Change Chapter 3 Social theory is not something confined to ivory towers. Our street-level political discussions often invoke theories of how the social world works. Like these students and their professor, a broader understanding of social change usually comes as we step back from our day-to-day lives and look at the big picture. HARPMC03_0131884980.QXD 11/7/06 12:02 AM Page 43
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44 Chapter 3 analogies between biological systems and social systems, commonly used in nineteenth-century sociology and anthropology. The earliest explicit advocate of functionalist explanation in sociology was Emile Durkheim. Conflict theory is historically rooted in classical Marxism, although contemporary conflict theory in sociology has considerably modified early Marxist thought. Interpretive theories are really a group of related perspectives with different sources, but they are rooted in the historic ideas of Max Weber more than any other classical thinker. In various ways, they all examine the ways that actors define their social situations and the effects of these definitions on ensuing action and interaction (Ritzer, 1988:392). These three perspectives provide only the broadest, and often unacknowledged, assumptions where most specific sociological analysis and explanation takes place. It is often the case that actual sociological writing uses insights and assumptions from all of these broad perspectives at different times and for different questions. In this chapter, we will (1) discuss these three theoretical perspectives and their implications for explaining social change in the abstract, and then (2) discuss the interaction of structure and human agency in relation to large-scale change. FUNCTIONALIST THEORY
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This note was uploaded on 04/29/2009 for the course SOC SOC 352 taught by Professor Whitaker during the Spring '09 term at ASU.

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SOC 352 Chapter 3 - HARPMC03_0131884980.QXD 11/7/06 12:02...

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