SOC-417: Sociological Theory

SOC-417: Sociological Theory

This SOC-417: Sociological Theory intensive writing course is a survey of the major theorists whose works and ideas have influenced and guided sociology as an academic discipline. The founders of sociological theory from the nineteenth century are highlighted, but those who followed in their footsteps in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are also discussed.

A sociological theory is a collection of ideas that explains human society.
Theories are picky about their priorities and perspectives, as well as the data they consider significant. As a result, they offer a limited and distorted view of reality. Sociological theories can be categorized based on several factors. The distinction between structural and social action theories is the most important of these.

Structural, or macro perspectives, look at how society as a whole work. Structural theory views society as a set of interconnected relationships that form the framework of the society we live in. Our lives and personalities are shaped by this structure. The reality that lies beneath the appearance of ‘the free individual’ in western individualism is structured sets of social relationships. Structuralism is concerned with the specific set of structural laws’ that govern any given society.

Regardless of their differences, both functionalism and Marxism use a model of how society functions as a whole. Many functionalists build their society model on the assumption of basic needs and then go on to explain how various aspects of society contribute to meeting those needs. Marxists, on the other hand, believe that society is built on an economic foundation or infrastructure that is topped by a superstructure. They see society as being divided into social classes that are potentially at odds with one another.

The main distinction between functionalist and Marxist perspectives, however, is how they characterize the social structure. The degree to which the various elements of the social structure fit together harmoniously is emphasized by functionalists. Marxists emphasize the incompatibility of the various parts, particularly social classes, and thus the potential for social conflict.


the major sociological theories include:


  • Symbolic Interaction Theory

According to this theory, humans develop a complex set of symbols that give meaning to the world from their point of view. The meanings of things are shaped by their interactions with society. And they subjectively interpret these interactions to fit the meaning by the existing symbols. It could be argued that to comprehend societal behavioral patterns, we must first comprehend the existing symbols. The interactions that shaped the symbols also result in the formation of a social structure. Individuals develop a sense of self-identity through their interactions with society, according to symbolic interactionism.

“Symbolic Interactionism is the way we learn to interpret and give meaning to the world through our interactions with others.”- Scott Plunkett.

  • Conflict Theory

Conflict theory is a broad term that encompasses a variety of sociological approaches that oppose functionalism and share the belief that the fundamental feature of all societies is the struggle between different groups for limited resources.

According to conflict theories, all societies have structural power divisions and resource inequalities, resulting in groups with competing interests (Wells, 1979).

For example, Marxism emphasizes class conflict over economic resources, but Weber claims that power and status can cause conflict and inequality without regard to class structures.

  • Functionalist Theory

According to the functionalist theory, society is a complex system whose components work together to promote solidarity and stability. This approach takes a macro-level approach to society, focusing on the social structures that shape society as a whole and considering both social structure and social functions. The function of society’s constituent elements, namely norms, customs, traditions, and institutions, is addressed by functionalism. These aspects of society are viewed as “organs” that work together to ensure the proper functioning of the “body” as a whole, according to a popular analogy popularized by Herbert Spencer.

The functionalist perspective on gender inequality was most clearly articulated in the 1940s and 1950s, and Talcott Parsons’ model of the nuclear family was largely responsible for its development. Gender inequalities, according to this theory, exist as an efficient way to create a division of labor, or as a social system in which specific segments are clearly responsible for specific acts of labor. The division of labor aims to maximize efficiency and resources. The division of labor is used in a structural-functionalist view of gender inequality to view predefined gender roles as complementary: women take care of the home while men provide for the family. As a result, gender, like other social institutions, contributes to society’s overall stability.

  • Feminist Theory

Feminist theory is a major contemporary sociological theory that examines the status of women and men in society with the goal of applying what is learned to improve women’s lives. Feminist theory is primarily concerned with giving women a voice and highlighting the various contributions women have made to society.

Feminist sociology focuses on analyzing the grounds of the limitations faced by women when they claim the right to equality with men.

Inequality between the sexes has been documented for at least 4,000 years (Lerner 1986). Its persistence has led to the formulation of the concept of patriarchy, despite the fact that the forms and ways in which it has been practiced differ between cultures and change significantly over time. Patriarchy is a set of institutional structures (such as property rights, access to positions of power, and relationships to sources of income) based on the belief that men and women are two distinct and unequal categories.

The assumption that physiological sex differences between males and females are related to differences in their character, behavior, and ability is central to patriarchy (i.e., their gender). These distinctions are used to justify a gendered division of social roles as well as disparities in access to rewards, power, and privilege. Feminists ask, “How does this distinction between male and female, and the attribution of different qualities to each, serve to organize our institutions (e.g., the family, law, occupational structure, religious institutions, the public-private divide, and the division between public and private) and perpetuate gender inequality?”


  • Critical Theory

Critical theory is a social theory that focuses on critiquing and changing society in general. Traditional theory, on the other hand, focuses solely on comprehending or explaining society. Critical theories aim to delve beneath the surface of social life in order to expose the assumptions that prevent people from grasping the full scope of how the world works.

Critical theory arose from the Marxist tradition and was developed by a group of sociologists known as The Frankfurt School at the University of Frankfurt in Germany.

Many social scientists and philosophers who came to prominence after the Frankfurt School have adopted critical theory’s goals and tenets. Many feminist theories and approaches to social science research can be traced back to critical theory. It can also be found in media theory and media studies, as well as critical race theory, cultural theory, gender, and queer theory.

  • Labeling Theory

Labeling theory is a sociological approach to deviance that focuses on how social control agents attach stigmatizing stereotypes to specific groups and how the stigmatized change their behavior after being labeled.

The premise of Labeling Theory is that once people are labeled as deviants, they face new problems as a result of how they react to themselves and others when they hear stereotypes about deviants (Becker, 1963; Bernburg, 2009). Labeling theory is based on the symbolic interactionism school of thought, which holds that an individual’s sense of self is shaped by their interactions with others and the labels they are given.





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