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3. What doesn’t symbolic interactionism see?

Korgen, Sociology in Action, 1e

SAGE Publishing, 2019

Chapter 2: Understanding Theory

Lecture Notes

Learning Objectives:

2-1: Why and how do sociologists use theoretical perspectives?

2-2: What is structural functionalism?

2-3: What is a conflict perspective?

2-4: What is symbolic interactionism?

2-5: How do structural functionalism, conflict perspectives, and symbolic interactionism work together to help us get a more complete view of reality?


1. What is Theory?

0. Theories help us notice and understand social patterns in society.

0. Theories are often broad and abstract.

0. Theoretical perspectives are groups of theories that share common ways of viewing society.

0. Three main theoretical perspectives include structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.

1. Understanding the structural functionalist perspective.

1. Structural functionalism views modern society as having interdependent parts that work together for the good of the whole.

1. Individuals work for the good of society.

1. Social solidarity is the moral order of society.

1. Durkheim and types of societies.

3. Examined social solidarity throughout history.

3. Mechanical solidarity was found in smaller, preindustrial societies. The solidarity comes from the similarity of its members.

3. Organic solidarity is found in more industrial and advanced societies.

2. These societies operate like living organisms.

2. Various parts of society specialize in different tasks.

2. Each part relies on the others.

2. All parts have to work well together for society to function.

3. Social harmony and social order are important concepts for this perspective.

1. Social institutions.

4. Social institutions are sets of statuses and roles that focus on one central aspect of society.

4. Status is a position a person occupies in an institution (e.g., college student).

4. People have multiple statuses.

4. A role includes the behaviors that accompany the status (e.g., college students should come to class on time).

4. Statuses and roles work together to form the social structure of groups, organizations, institutions, and society.

4. The microscopic level of analysis focuses on individuals.

4. The macroscopic level of analysis focuses on the social structure of a society.

4. There are seven primary social institutions: family, religion, economy, education, government, health care, and the media.

4. Each social institution fulfills tasks on behalf of society, referred to as task functions.

4. Manifest functions.

9. The stated reasons a social institution exists.

9. These are necessary tasks.

9. The family encourages procreation and socialization of children.

4. Latent functions.

10. Useful, or secondary, things that a social institution does.

10. Families buy goods, thus supporting the economy.

10. Always link to other social institutions.

4. Dysfunctions.

11. Unintended consequences of behavioral patterns.

11. Highway system increased levels of pollution.

1. Seeing the social world using structural functionalism.

5. Structural functionalism is a macroscopic theoretical perspective.

5. Unit of analysis is the object being examined.

5. The unit of analysis in structural functionalism is society as a whole.

5. Focus is on social institutions and how they work to build social harmony and stability.

5. Social institutions cooperate to socialize us into following the same cultural norms and values.

5. Curbing violations of social norms.

5. Punishment is needed for violation of norms.

5. Punishment is a step toward the rehabilitation/resocialization process.

5. Punishment helps prevent “bad behavior” from spreading.

5. Social change.

6. Change occurs when there are large-scale shifts in society.

6. Structural functionalists believe change should happen very slowly to prevent the social harmony from being disrupted.

1. What doesn’t structural functionalism see?

6. Overlooks those times when rapid social change is the right thing to do.

1. Using structural functionalism to analyze the case of the Meitiv family.

7. Meitiv children (ages 10 and 6) were repeatedly allowed to play in a park alone.

7. One mile from their home.

7. In different instances, they were picked up by the police and Child Protective Services initiated an investigation.

7. The parents were engaging in “free range” parenting in order to promote independence.

7. CPS never found evidence of abuse or neglectful parenting.

7. Structural functionalists evaluate the role of socialization and interdependence of social institutions in this case.

1. Understanding the conflict theoretical perspective.

2. Conflict theory is based on the work of Karl Marx.

2. Karl Marx and advanced capitalism.

1. Marx believed there were 10 stages of societal development. He focused on the last three stages.

1. Advanced capitalism (Stage 8) is an economic system based on maximum profit.

1. There are two classes of people: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

1. The bourgeoisie own the means of production (technology and materials to make goods).

1. The proletariat are the workers.

1. A third group—the lumpenproletariat are the chronically unemployed.

1. False consciousness.

6. The workers do not understand how badly they are being treated.

6. Social institutions, such as religion and politics, promote the message of working hard in order to be successful.

6. Most workers will never be successful, regardless of how hard they work.

1. Species being and alienation.

7. Species being refers to the potential people have to imagine things and create the things they imagine.

7. Proletariat loses this ability because they are exploited by the capitalist system.

7. Alienation occurs when the proletariat gives up on their creative abilities. They become alienated from their true selves.

2. Karl Marx and socialism.

2. The proletariat needs to understand the depths of their exploitation in order to develop a true consciousness.

2. The proletariat revolution would cause society to move to the ninth stage of societal development, socialism.

2. There would be more economic equality under socialism, but some inequalities would still exist.

2. The state takes over the means of production in a socialist society by imposing heavy taxes.

2. Socialism would last a few generations before the next stage occurred.

2. Karl Marx and communism.

3. After a few generations of society existed under socialism, key social institutions such as the economy and politics would disappear.

3. Society would enter the 10th stage of development, communism.

3. Under communism, all citizens would be equal and allowed to fulfill their species being.

3. All societal stages discussed by Marx are economic stages.

2. From Marx to the conflict perspective.

4. Marx’s work became the foundation for the conflict perspective.

4. Conflict theorists argue oppression is not only economic in nature.

4. Social rewards can be unequally distributed by race, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, citizenship status, age, and ability/disability.

4. Conflict theorists focus on the “haves” versus the “have-nots” and incorporate rewards such as political power, education, and social status or prestige.

2. Seeing the social world using the conflict perspective.

5. The “haves” use oppression to maintain their power over the “have-nots.”

5. Value coercion is used by those in power to force their values on those not in power.

5. According to conflict theorists, the inequitable distribution of resources and rewards is the cause of most problems in society.

5. Social change should be rapid in order to reduce the levels of inequality in society.

2. What doesn’t conflict see?

6. Conflict theories don’t pay attention to times when society is functioning relatively well.

6. It fails to take into account how disruptive and harmful rapid change can be to society.

2. Subperspectives in conflict theory.

7. There are multiple perspectives within the conflict perspective.

7. These include critical feminist theories, critical race theories, and disability theories. All incorporate the inequitable distribution of resources and goods among different groups (e.g., gender, race, ability/disability).

2. Using the conflict perspective to understand the Meitiv family.

8. Conflict theorists focus on the power imbalances between the state and Meitiv family.

8. The Harrell case in South Carolina illustrates how race, education, and social class can influence the government’s response to an alleged child neglect case.

1. Understanding the symbolic interactionist perspective.

3. This perspective focuses on the interactions between individuals.

3. This perspective focuses on the microlevel, providing a contrast to the macrolevel perspectives.

3. This perspective asks questions about the development of one’s self, how meanings are constructed, shared, and continually reconstructed.

3. The social construction of reality.

3. Interactionist theorists study how culture is created.

3. Groups construct culture through shared interactions with each other.

3. Culture consists of norms, values, symbols, and material objects.

3. Primary socialization is when we are socialized during childhood.

3. The looking glass self-theory.

4. A child’s first step in development is imagining how she appears to relevant others.

4. Children put themselves in the other person’s shoes to determine how others feel about them.

4. The second step is reacting to feedback by parents and other people.

4. What does this feedback mean to the child?

4. Children perceive who they are by the feedback they receive from others.

4. The third step is integrating these two steps into a unique sense of one’s self.

4. Primary groups are important because they are the small groups of people where deep emotional ties exist.

4. People use others as “mirrors” to see themselves.

3. Dramaturgical theory.

5. This theory was developed by Erving Goffman.

5. He examined the social actors (individuals), social scripts (rules of interaction), and props (material objects) used during interactions.

5. There are often teams of individuals, not just two actors.

5. Interactions occur in locations, with two key locations being the front stage and back stage.

5. People engage in presentation of self to control the messages with give off to others.

5. Dramaturgical analysis allows symbolic interactions to study a wide range of interactions.

3. What doesn’t symbolic interactionism see?

4. This perspective cannot examine macrolevel issues in society.

4. The micro perspective prevents the study of social problems.

4. Social constructionism.

2. This is a combination of conflict theory and social interactionism.

2. Societies are socially constructed since they create norms, values, objects, and symbols.

2. Different groups of people receive different rewards, with some groups receiving more and others receiving less.

2. It is important to study how stratification is constructed in societies.

2. Change can occur through social interactions.

3. Using symbolic interactionism to understand the Meitiv family.

5. The parents helped socialize their children by having them walk short distances and secretly following behind.

5. The children’s self-concept was increased by these successes.

5. The parents created a card (prop) indicating the kids were “free range,” but the children did not have it on them when the police stopped them.

5. The parents claimed the authorities were trying to socialize the children to be fearful, which was in contrast to what the parents were doing.

1. Full theoretical circle.

4. Small groups create norms, which get shared by more people during interactions.

4. The norms lead to statuses and roles and create social institutions.

4. Social institutions shape society and influence how people react to those institutions.

4. Power differences are ultimately created between the haves and have-nots.
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