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Sociological Theory



Sociologists use a variety of theories and approaches to study and analyze societies and social behavior. Conflict theory and structural functionalism are two macro-level approaches to sociology. Macro-level analysis is an examination of society as a whole. Its aim is to understand how society influences human behavior. Symbolic interactionism is a type of micro-level analysis, detailed examination of an individual's interactions and behavior within a specific group, community, or organization. Micro analysis aims to understand and analyze specific social interactions as well as the role of individuals in shaping their own experiences. Feminist sociology considers questions of gender, at both the macro and micro levels. Many feminist theorists stress an intersectional approach, noting that gender is one of several social factors that shape an individual's identity and experience in society.

At A Glance

  • Conflict theory views society as composed of groups with unequal power and conflicting values and interests.
  • The power elite is a concept that describes how a few elite leaders hold power, using it against the interests of other social groups.
  • A criticism of conflict theory is that it cannot necessarily predict when social upheaval will occur, and it focuses mostly on social change, rather than social stability.
  • Functionalism analyzes how society functions by studying the roles and relationships of social institutions.
  • Criticism of functionalism includes that it does not address social change and does not consider factors such as race, gender, class, and conflict.
  • Symbolic interactionism argues that interactions between individuals create rules and meanings that then influence and structure their interactions.
  • The theories of Cooley, Mead, and Goffman consider the social construction of the self and how social interactions shape identity and behavior.
  • A criticism of symbolic interaction theory is that its focus on the individual ignores the larger structural contexts in which individuals are actors.
  • Feminist theory considers power in relation to gender and analyzes how gender informs both microinteractions and the macro social system.
  • Some approaches to feminist theory are criticized for excluding questions of race, class, and gender nonconformity.
  • Intersectionality is an influential concept that supports analysis of gender along with other factors of social identity.