Functionalism interprets each part of society in terms of how it contributes to the stability of the whole. Each part of the society is seen as “functional”- that is, contributing to the stability of the whole. The different parts are primarily the institutions of society, each of which is organized to fill different needs, and each of which has particular consequences for the form and shape of society. The parts are each then dependent on one another. The functionalist framework emphasizes the consensus and order that exist in society, focusing on social stability and shared public values.
THE SOCIAL-CONFLICT PARADIGM
Conflict theory emphasizes the role of coercion and power, a person’s or group’s abilities to exercise influence and control over others, in producing social order. Conflic theory pictures society as fragmented into groups that compete for social and economic reasons. Social order is maintained not by consensus, but by domination, with power in the hands of those with the greatest political, economic, and social resources. When consensus exists, according to conflic theories, it is attributable to people being united around common interests, often in opposition to other groups.
THE SYMBOLIC INTERACTION PARADIGM
Symbolic interactionists consider immediate social interaction to be the place where “society” exists. Because of the human capacity for reflection, people give meaning to their behaviour, and this is how they interpret the different behaviours, events, or things that are significant for sociological study. Because of this, symbolic interaction relies extensively on the symbolic meaning that people develop and rely upon in the process of social interaction. It analyses society by addressing the subjective meanings that people impose on objects, events, and behaviours. People interpret one another’s behavior, and it is these interpretations that form the social bond.
Feminist sociology encompasses both the micro and the macro levels of analysis. Both levels focus on women’s lives. The micro level examines the “re-production” of gender through such things as talk, body language, and emotional management. The macro level examines the myriad of constraints and forms of resistance in women’s lives in such institutions as politics, economics, schooling, religion, and the family.
Postmodernnism, at its core, is both anti-theory and anti-methods as applied by the social sciences: human sciences, accorden to postmodernism, cannot be scientific because of human subjectivity, which makes it impossible to discover objective truth. Proponents argue that they are not trying to create systematic new knowledge, but are writing so as to permit multiple interpretations by their readers. Postmodernists observe the society with the goal of achieving understanding and a vision rather than data collection. Deconstruction (taking apart) of existing text allows them to demystify (uncover or identify) the assumptions, hierarchies of knowledge, and ideological motivation of the social sciences.
Task 2 (individually) Read the following assumptions and define whether they have been made in terms of functional, conflict symbolic, feminist or postmodern paradigm:
a) Sport encourages competition and the pursuit of success, both of which are central to our way of life.
b) Each player understands the game a little differenctly: some thrive in a setting of stiff competition, for others – love of the game may hold greater rewards than the thrill of victory.
c) African American mothers mistrust the medical system, so they choose not to have their children vaccinated.
d) Women are not given the same wages as men earn in comparable positions.
e) Some sports – including tennis, golf, and skiing – are expensive, so participation is largely limited to the well-to-do.
f) Within family infants receive protection and sustenance.
Task 3(work in groups of 3) Analyse the picture of Peter Bruegel “Hunters on the Snow” from the point of view of various sociological paradigmas.
Task 4(in written form) Guided by the discipline’s three major theoretical paradigms, what kinds of questions might a sociologist ask about (choose one from the list suggested):
Text 2.Is Sociology Nothing More Than Stereotypes?
Task 1 (individually) Read the following text and try to answer the following questions:
a) Do you think taking a sociology course erodes people’s stereotypes? Does it generate new ones?
b) Can you cite a stereotype of your own that sociology challenges?
“Protestants are the ones who commit suicide!”
“People in Canada? They’re dull as dishwater and won’t stand up for themselves!”
“Everyone knows that you have to be black to play professional basketball!”
It can’t be denied that sociologists make generalizations about categories of people. Recognizing this fact, some students who begin the study of sociology may wonder whether statements like those above are sociological insights or simply stereotypes. What, exactly, is the difference between the two?
All three statements above illustrate the stereotype – an exaggerated description that one applies to all people in a given category. Rather than describing averages, each statement paints every individual in a category with the same brush. Further, each ignores facts and distorts reality (even though each contains some element of truth), and each sounds more like a “put down” than an unbiased assertion.
Crafting a sociological insight, by contrast, does involve making generalizations, but with these important conditions. Instead of indiscriminately applying these generalizations to individuals, we ensure that a generalization squares with available facts. We also offer a geberalization fair-mindedly, with an interest in getting at the truth.
Recall that the sociological perspective reveals “the general in the partcular”; therefore, a sociological insight is a generalization about some category of people. An example is the assertion, that the suicide rate among Protestants is higher that that among Catholics or Jews. However, the way the statement above is phrased -“Protestants are the ones who commit suicide!” – is unreasonable because the vast majority of Protestants do no such thing.
Sociologists base their generalizations on available facts. A more facual and accurate version of the second statement above would be that historically Canadians have placed a high value on the role of consensus in decision making, both among themselves and in their dealings with other nations.
Lastly, sociologists strive to be fair-minded; that is, they are motivated by a passion for learning and for truth. The third statement above about Black athlets and basketball fails as good sociology not only because it doesn’t square with the facts, but because it seems motivated by bias rather than truth-seeking or understanding.
Good sociology, then, stands apart from sterotyping. One of the most valuable aspects of a sociology course is that, through it, we learn how to collect the factual information that we need to assess the truth of popular wisdom.