Международная образовательная корпорация

Международная образовательная корпорация


Course: Sociology Department: Humanities

Credits: 2 Semestr: 1

Lectures: 15 Seminars: 15 Academic year: 2015-2016


Khakimova Elvira, Ph.D. associate professor

Topic of the lecture: Contemporary sociological theories


1) Sociological paradigms: macro and micro perspectives.

2) Major sociological perspectives: structural-functionalism, social-conflict theory.

3) Applying the paradigms: comparison of major sociological paradigms, structural-functional perspective on health care, social-conflict perspective on health care, symbolic-interactionist perspective on health care

Sociologists depend on theories that help them explain the social world and organize their ideas about how it operates. A theory is the analysis and statement of how and why a set of facts Международная образовательная корпорация relates to each other.

In sociology, theories help us understand how social phenomena relate to each other.

Theories help sociologists explain why and how society works. Through the use of theory, they work to answer such questions as:

1. “why are things as they are,

2. what conditions produce them, and

3. what conditions change them into some- thing else?

If we have such a theory, we will at last be in a position to know what we really can do about the shape of our society”. By under- standing the real causes of how and why things operate as they do, we can find ways Международная образовательная корпорация to address the things that need improvement.

Like scientists in all disciplines, sociologists develop theories based on paradigms, broad assumptions about how the world works.These paradigms guide the way social scientists develop theories, conduct research, and evaluate evidence. An important work in understanding paradigms is Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970). Kuhn was able to show that scientific assumptions come in and out of favor at different times. Since these paradigms encompass assumptions about how various parts of the world are connected, they guide responses to perceived situations and solutions to any problems that Международная образовательная корпорация are identified.

An example from the field of medicine illustrates this concept:

- Very early theories of disease causation were based on the supernatural. Ancient peoples believed diseases were caused by deities or magic. Based on this theory, their treatments often involved rituals designed to remove the evil spirits from the body such as bloodletting (draining blood from the body) or a procedure called trephination in which holes were made in the skull using sharp stones

- Hippocrates (460–377 B.C.) popularized the theoretical paradigm that disease was a natural process. He developed a humoral theory of disease that explained illness as an imbalance Международная образовательная корпорация of four humors (hot, cold, dry, and wet) within the body. Based on his theory, treatments were designed to rebalance these humors (e.g., cool someone with a heat-related illness). This remained the dominant theory for centuries.

- The germ theory of disease that guides today’s medical paradigm was not developed until French chemist Louis Pasteur (1822–95) turned his attention to human diseases in the late 1800s. After his research, treatments began to focus on fighting bacteria.

Sometimes all of these treatments worked, regardless of whether evil spirits were actually released, humors were rebalanced, germs were killed, or some Международная образовательная корпорация other mechanism was the actual cause of the recovery. Results, however, tend to be interpreted according to the prevailing paradigm of the time.

In sociology, theoretical paradigms differ in how much of society or what aspects of society they focus on at one time. In other words, they differ on how “big” their look at society is.

- Macro perspectives are “big” perspectives that look at social processes throughout society. Social theorists who take macro perspectives examine the interrelationships of large-scale social structures (e.g., the economy, the government, and the health-care system). They look at how these Международная образовательная корпорация facets of society fit together and any troubles or stress within these interrelationships. They are also interested in why and how society changes as a result of these relationships.

- Micro perspectives focus on patterns of individual interactions. Social theorists who take a micro perspective focus on the daily interactions we have on an individual level. They are interested in why and how individuals relate to each other, how our day-to-day interactions with each other are shaped by larger society, and how these day-to-day interactions can, in turn, shape larger society.

There is Международная образовательная корпорация no clearly identifiable date when sociological theory began. However, the mid-to-late 1800s marks the period when social thought turned to what we today call sociology. There are currently three major theoretical paradigms in sociology:

  1. the structural-functionalist paradigm,
  2. the social-conflict paradigm, and
  3. the symbolic-interactionist paradigm

No one of these three perspectives is singularly “right” or “wrong.” Each provides a different way to view and analyze society. They can reveal different issues and suggest different answers to tackling any problems they identify. Two of the major paradigms, the structural- functionalist and the social-conflict perspective, take a Международная образовательная корпорация macro perspective on society. The third perspective, symbolic-interactionism, takes a micro perspective.


Structural-functionalism is the earliest sociological paradigm. It is rooted in the scientific advances of the physical sciences occurring in the 19th century. Based on these advances, Herbert Spencer(1820–1903) approached the study of social structures through an “organic analogy” that emphasized evolutionary laws. In this model, Spencer viewed society as being similar to a body. In the most simplistic terms, just as the various organs in the body work together to keep the entire system functioning and regulated, the various parts of society (the economy Международная образовательная корпорация, the polity, health care, education, etc.) work together to keep the entire society functioning and regulated. Spencer also saw similarities in the way physical bodies and societies evolve. Spencer actually coined the term survival of the fittest, which is often incorrectly attributed to evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin.

Spencer influenced early French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858– 1917), Durkheim took this organic analogy and refined it into a perspective that would become structural-functionalism.The perspective is also called functionalism,or the functionalist paradigm. This paradigm views society as a complex system of interrelated parts working together to maintain stability. According to Международная образовательная корпорация this perspective:

  1. a social system’s parts are interdependent;
  2. the system has a “normal” healthy state of equilibrium, analogous to a healthy body; and
  3. when disturbed, the system parts reorganize and readjust to bring the system back to a state of equilibrium. Any changes in society occur in structured, evolutionary ways.

Durkheim realized that society influences our human actions but that society is also something that exists beyond individuals. He felt that society must be studied and understood in terms of what he called social facts. These social factsinclude laws, morals, values, religious beliefs, customs, fashions, rituals, and the myriad cultural and social Международная образовательная корпорация rules governing social life. Durkheim saw this system of social facts as making up the structure of society. He tried to answer questions: how do social facts fit together? What needs do the various parts of society serve? What part does each segment of society play in keeping the system operating and balanced? How and why do systems change?

Functionalism has been very influential in sociology. It was especially popular in the United States when championed by Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons(1902–79) during the 1940s and 1950s. Parsons is known for his grand theory,an abstract level of theorizing that Международная образовательная корпорация tried to explain the entire social structure at once and was difficult, if not impossible, to test through research.

Robert K. Merton (1910–2003), Parsons’s student, turned away from these grand theories in favor of what he called theories of the middle-range. These middle-range theoriesare theories that are more limited and can be tested through research. They explain, for example, deviant behavior, public opinion, or how power is trans- mitted between generations.

Robert K. Merton also showed that social patterns are complex, with the various parts of society fulfilling different types of functions. Some functions Международная образовательная корпорация, which Merton called manifest functions,are obvious and intended. Other functions, called latent functions,are less recognized and unintended. These functions may be either beneficial or neutral. However, some functions may be undesirable. These are called social dysfunctions.

Ex:A simple illustration of these concepts is the widespread use of cars in America and many other countries. Cars provide transportation and status. Both are manifest functions. Cars also provide personal autonomy, allowing drivers to come and go as they please, on their own schedules. This is a latent function of the vehicular transportation system. However, cars also pollute the environment Международная образовательная корпорация. Thus, relying on cars as a major means of transportation is also dysfunctional in that regard.

Structural-functionalists also recognize that as one part of the system changes, other parts of the system have to readjust to accommodate the change that has taken place elsewhere. A change in one part of the system may have manifest, latent, and dysfunctional consequences.

Ex: a change that has had a number of consequences is the addition of lighting at Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field. Built in 1914, Wrigley Field is the home stadium of the Chicago Cubs professional baseball team. All games at Международная образовательная корпорация Wrigley Field traditionally had to be played during daylight hours because the field did not have lighting for nighttime games. In 1988, lights were added to the field.

What did it happened then? Which consequences the adding of the light did bring?

Examining the neighborhood around Wrigley Field as a social system allows application of a functionalist perspective to this situation. Nighttime games can now be played at the field. This one change resulted in a number of other complicated neighborhood effects. The Cubs have a more flexible schedule and can take economic advantage of televised evening programming, thus Международная образовательная корпорация achieving the manifest functionof lighting the field.

A number of other manifest and latent functionscan also be noted. Ex: the nighttime games have resulted in needed new investments in the surrounding area, population growth, and an acceleration of residential investments by affluent buyers. Sports-oriented businesses catering to a younger crowd, such as sports bars, have flourished.

However, dysfunctions have also occurred. Some smaller businesses not catering to the baseball trade have suffered (pharmacies, bookstores, dry cleaners, and restaurants) Automobile traffic around the ballpark has also increased, and area residents and businesses have been faced with more elaborate parking restrictions

The other major Международная образовательная корпорация macro-sociological theoretical framework in sociological theory is the social-conflict paradigm, also referred to as the conflict perspective.

Social-conflict theory

This theoryfocuses on competition between groups. Whereas functionalists focus on balance and stability within a social system, conflict theorists view society as comprised of social relations characterized by inequality and change. According to conflict theorists, groups are constantly competing for unequally distributed resources, such as wealth and power, with each group seeking to benefit their own interests. In this scenario, one or a few groups control these resources at the expense of others. Thus, these Международная образовательная корпорация theorists look at social structures and ask, “Who benefits?” This constant conflict between groups also results in social change.

The works of Karl Marx (1818–83) are often credited with providing the sociological roots of the conflict perspective. Marx was born in Prussia, now Germany, during the stormy period in which western Europe was transitioning from feudalism to capitalism. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and Marx observed inequality throughout the growing capitalist society. The economics of capitalism, he felt, resulted in social classes that were constantly in competition for society’s limited resources. Marx saw rich factory owners who obtained Международная образовательная корпорация their wealth from the labor of factory workers who were paid little, often toiled long hours in dangerous conditions, and frequently lived in crowded and unhealthy spaces. Society, as Marx saw it, was an ongoing struggle between the classes: the “haves” (illustrated by the factory owners) and the “have nots” (illustrated by the workers). The result was social conflict and change as those without resources challenged those holding the resources for a piece of the proverbial pie.

Later conflict theorists have extended and adapted this idea of continuous tension between groups. They have moved well beyond Marx’s Международная образовательная корпорация emphasis on class and economics, focusing on other areas such as inequality between races or sexes. This wider look at social inequalities has provided the basis for feminist theory. To be a feminist theory, “a theory must recognize gender as a system of inequality, assume that it is a mutable rather than constant or necessary feature of human societies, and [support] a commitment to a gender equitable system. In other words, feminist theories argue that social systems oppress women and that this oppression can and should be eliminated.

Feminists, however, differ greatly in their views on why inequality occurs and Международная образовательная корпорация how to overcome it. Drawing from Marx’s emphasis on economics, Marxist feminismargues that capitalist economic structures favor men—for example, with higher paying jobs. Solutions rely on eliminating capitalism as the source of the problem. Liberal feminismargues that inequality lies in a lack of opportunity and education for women as well as traditional views of gender that limit women’s roles. Liberal feminists feel that if women are allowed to compete equally with men in all areas of society, they will do so successfully. Radical feminismargues that, regardless of economic system and other inequalities women face in their lives (e Международная образовательная корпорация.g., racism), male domination is the most fundamental and violence is one key method of controlling women. Solutions lie in eliminating all forms of sexual violence and enhancing women’s culture and lives.


Symbolic interactionism is the prevailing micro-theoretical framework in sociological theory. As a micro-level perspective, symbolic interactionism focuses on patterns of individual interactions. Although sociologists working in this tradition recognize that larger social structures exist and are important in shaping our lives, they point out that society is actually created by people interacting together on a daily basis. It is these Международная образовательная корпорация smaller interactions that actually make up the larger social structures that are of the focus of functionalists and conflict theorists. According to this perspective, society and these larger social structures must be understood through studying social interactions that are based on shared understandings, languages, and symbols.

A symbolis something that stands for, represents, or signifies something else in a particular culture. Symbols can be anything—gestures, words, objects, or events—and they can represent any number of others things, ideas, events, or emotions.

Symbolic interactionists argue that we are able to interact with others because we create symbols and learn to Международная образовательная корпорация interpret what those symbols mean in our interactions. Thus, symbolic interactionism is sometimes referred to as interpretive theory. Social change occurs as people develop a shared understanding that a change needs to take place and interact to make that change happen. Symbolic interactionism is based partly on the writings of German sociologist Max Weber(1864–1920). Unlike other sociologists who had focused only on large structural relationships, Weber was also interested in how individuals interact.

The aspect of his work that influenced the symbolic-interactionist perspective was his focus on how we interpret and understand the situations we encounter and Международная образовательная корпорация the interactions in which we participate. To Weber, the concept of verstehen, or subjective understanding, was central to explaining human behavior. Weber felt that we have to be able to take someone else’s position mentally, to stand in their shoes, so to speak, to under- stand their actions. From our own perspectives, we may not understand why a person acts in a certain way, what that behavior means to them, or the purposes it serves for them.

Ex: we may only be able to explain why an abused wife stays with her violent husband by understanding the totality Международная образовательная корпорация of her situation from her perspective—her emotional attachment to him, her economic situation, her religious views, and so on.

George Herbert Mead was a philosopher and social psychologist who was interested in how our personalities are formed through social interaction. The term symbolic interactionism was, however, not actually coined until a decade later. Herbert Blumer (1900–1987), a student of Mead, expanded on Mead’s concepts and introduced the term in 1937. More contemporary theorists expanded symbolic interactionism in new directions. Ex: labeling theory analyzes how we define deviance. Other perspectives that incorporate interpretative approaches to understanding social behaviors include the concept of Международная образовательная корпорация the social construction of reality, Erving Goffman’s (1922–82) concept of dramaturgy, and Harold Garfinkel’s (1917–) work in ethnomethodology.

Applying the Paradigms

Sociologists use these theoretical perspectives as the basic tools for analyzing social issues. The sociologist’s perspective shows their assumptions about how the world works and how change occurs. It will guide the questions the researcher asks and, in many ways, solutions to any problems that are identified.

Lets compare the paradigms

Theoretical Paradigm

Level of Analysis



How change occurs



Society functions as a system of interrelated parts to maintain stability

How does society operate?

What functions do the different parts Международная образовательная корпорация serve?

Evolutionary/ Rebalancing of the system



Society is comprised of social relations characterized by inequality and struggle between groups

Who benefits?

What is the source of conflict?

How it can be resolved?

Revolutionary/Conflict between groups for resources

Symbolic Interaction


Society is created through daily interactions

How do individuals interact?

Re-defining the situation








Macro/micro perspectives

Макро / Микро перспективы

Макро / Микро перспективалар





Социальный конфликт





Manifest functions

Декларативные функции

Декларативтік функциялар

Latent functions

Скрытые функции

Жасырын функциялар




Topic for Individual Work of Student with Instructor: Present the contemporary sociological theories, in particular, structural-functional, social-conflict and symbolic-interactionist perspectives.

Topic for Individual Международная образовательная корпорация Work of Student: Provide your opinion on the future of sociology and sociological research.

List of the literature


- Stolley, Kathy S., The Basis of Sociology, Greenwood Press, 2005


- Ritzer, G., Goodman D.J., Sociological Theory, 6th ed., Boston:McGraw-Hill, 2003

- Wallace, Ruth A., and Alison W., Contemporary Sociological Theory: Expanding the Classical Tradition, 5th ed., Upper Saddle River, N.J.:Prentice Hall, 1999

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