Theoritical Perspective

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Transcript of Theoritical Perspective

Sociology Theoritical perspective

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In the most general sense, a theory is a framework that can be used to comprehend and explain events. In every science, theories serve to organize and explain events going on around us. A sociological theory is a set of principles and definitions that tell how societies operate and how people in them relate to one another and respond to the environment.2

Definitions

Theory: a framework that can be used to comprehend & explain events. Sociological theory: a set of principles & definitions that tell how societies operate & how people relate to one another & respond to the environment. Function: The contribution of a part to the order & stability within the larger system.

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Three theories dominate the discipline of sociology: the

functionalist, the conflict, and the symbolic interactionist perspectives.

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The Functionalist Perspective

We turn first to an overview of the functionalist perspective. The central questions that functionalists ask are, Why does a particular arrangement exist? and What are the consequences of this arragement for society? Functionalists focus on questions related to order and stability in society.

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They define society as a system of interrelated, interdependent parts. To illustrate this vision, early functionalists used the human body as an analogy for society. The human body is composed of parts that include bones, cartilage, ligaments, muscles, a brain, a spinal cord, nerves, hormoes, blood, blood vessels, a heart, a spleen, kidneys, lungs, and chemicals, all of which work together in impressive harmony.6

Each body part functions in a unique way to maintain the entire body, but it cannot be separated from other body parts that it affects and that in turn help it function. Society, like the human body, is made up of parts, such as schools, automobiles and other modes of transportation, sports, medicine, bodily adornments such as tattoos, funeral rites, ways of greeting people, religious rituals, laws, language, household appliances, and tools.7

Like the various body parts, each of the societys parts functions to maintain a larger system. Funcutionalists consider a function to be the contribution of a part to order and stability within the larger system. Consider sports teams- whether they be Little League, grade school, high school, college, city, Olympic, or professional teams. Sports teams function to draw people together who are often extremely different from one another economically, culturally, linguistically, politically, religiously, and in other ways. Loyalty to a sports sense of belonging to the school, a company, a city, or a country associated with it.8

In the most controversial form of this perspective, functionalists argue that all parts of society even those that seem not to serve a purpose, such as poverty, crime, illegal immigration, and drug addiction contribute in some way to the larger systems stability. Functionalists maintain that a part would cease to exist if it did not serve some function. Thus they strive to identify how any parts even seemingly problematic onescontribute to the stability of the larger society.

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Functions of poverty

Herbert Gans (1972) argues in his classic analysis of the functions of poverty. He asked; Why does poverty exist? he answered that poverty performs as: The poor have no choice but to take on the unskilled, dangerous, temporary, dead-end, undignified, menial work of society at low pay. Hospitals, hotels, restaurants, factories and farms draw their employees from a large pool of workers who are forced to work at minimum or below-minimum wages. This hiring policy keeps the costs of their services reasonable and increases the employers profits.10

Affluent persons contract out & pay low wages for many time-consuming activities, such as housecleaning, yard work and child care. This practice gives them time for other, more important activities. The poor often volunteer for over-the-counter & prescription drug tests. Most new drugs, ranging from AIDS vaccines to cat allergy medicine, must eventually be tried on healty subjects to determine their potential side effects (for example, rashes, headaches, vomiting, constipation, drowsiness) & appropriate dosages. Money motivates subjects to volunteer.

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Because payment is relatively low, however, the tests attract a disproportionate share of low-income, unemployed, or underemployed people as subjects. The occupations of some middle-class workerspolice officers, psychologists, social workers, border patrol guards, & so onexist to serve the needs or to monitor the behavior of poor people.12

Poor people purchase goods & services that otherwise would go unused. Day-old bread, used cars, and secondhand clothes are purchased by or donated to the poor. In the realm of services, the labor of many less competent professionals (teachers, doctors, lawyers), who would not be hired in more affluent areas, is absorbed by low-income communities.13

Critique of Functionalism

As you may have realized by now, the functionalist perspective has a number of shortcomings. First, critics argue that the functionalist perspective is by nature conservative in that it defends existing arrangements. In other words, when functionalists identify how a problematic part of society such as poverty contributes to the systems stability, by definition they are justifying its existence and legitimating the status quo.14

Functionalists, reject this criticism, claiming that they are not justifying povertys existence, but rather simply illustrating why such controversial practices or parts continue to exist despite efforts to change or eliminate them. Second, critics take issue with the functionalist claim that parts exist because they serve a fuction. Critics argue that a part may not serve any function when it is first introduced.15

The conflict perspective

In contrast to functionalists, who emphasize order & stability, conflict theorist focus on conflict as an inevitable fact of social life & as the most important agent for social change. Conflict can take many forms, including physical confrontation, manipulation, disagreement, dominance, tention, hostility, & direct competititon. In any society, dominant & subordinate groups compete for scarce & valued resources (access to material wealth, education, health care, well-paying jobs, etc)16

Those who gain control of these resources strive to protect their own interests against the resistance of others. Conflict theorists ask this basic question: Who benefits from a particular pattern or social arrangement and at whose expence? In answering this question, they strive to identy (1) dominant & subordinate groups, & (2)practices that dominant groups have established, consciously or unconsciously, to promote & protect their interests.17

Conflict theoriss draw their inspirations from Karl Marx, who focused on class conflict. Marx maintained that two major social classes exist & that class membership is determined by relationship to the means of production. The more powerful class is the bourgeoisie, or the owners of the means of production & the purchasers of labor.18

Definitions

Means of production: the land, machinery, buildings, tools, and other technologies needed to produce and distribute goods and services. Bourgeoisie: the owners of the means of production (land, machinery, buildings, tools) who purchase labor. Proletariat: A ess powerful class composed of workers who own nothing of the production process & who sell their labor to the bourgeoisie. Facade of legitimacy: an explanation that members in dominant groups give to justify their actions.

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The Bourgeoisie

Motivated by a desire for profit, need constantly to expand markets for their products. In an effort to increase profits, they search for ways to make the production process more efficient and less dependent on human labor (using machines, robots, and automation, for example), and they strive to find the cheapest labor & raw materials. This need for profit spread the bourgeoisie over the whole surgace of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. (Marx, 1888) Marx: the bourgeoisie has created more massive & more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.20

The proletariat

The less powerful class, the proletariat, consists of the workers who own nothing of the production process except their labor. The bourgeoisie view the proletariats labor no differently than they see machines or raw materials. Mechanization combined ith the specialization of labor leaves the worker with no skills, according to Marx; the worker is an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack that is required of him. As a result, workers produce goods that have no individual character and no sentimental value to either the worker or the consumer.21

Conflict exists between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, because those who own the means of production exploit workers by stealing the value of their labor. They do so by paying workers only a fraction of the profits they make from the workers labor and by pushing workers to increase output. Increased output without a commensurate pay raise shrinks wages to an even smaller fraction of the profit.22

Facade of legitimacy

The capitalists exploitation of the proletariat is disguised by a facade of legitimacyan explanation that members in dominan groups give to justify their actions. On close analysis, however, these explanati