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Lecture 3. Contemporary Sociological Theories

  1. The main provisions of the structural functionalism in Sociology
  2. Conflictological paradigm
  3. Symbolic interactionism as a J. G. Mead’s theory of social interaction
  4. Institutionalization of Sociology in Kazakhstan


1. The structural functionalist provision is based largely on the works of Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, and Robert Merton. According to functionalism, society is a system of interconnected parts that work together in harmony to maintain a state of balance and social equilibrium for the whole. For example, each of the social institutions contributes important functions for society: Family provides a context for reproducing, nurturing, and socializing children; education offers a way to transmit a society’s skills, knowledge, and culture to its youth; politics provides a means of governing members of society; economics provides for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services; and religion provides moral guidance and an outlet for worship of a higher power.

Functionalists use the terms functional and dysfunctional to describe the effects of social

elements on society. Elements of society are functional if they contribute to social stability and dysfunctional if they disrupt social stability. Some aspects of society can be both functional and dysfunctional. For example, crime is dysfunctional in that it is associated with physical violence, loss of property, and fear. But according to Durkheim and other functionalists, crime is also functional for society because it leads to heightened awareness of shared moral bonds and increased social cohesion. Sociologists have identified two types of functions: manifest and latent (Merton 1968).

Manifest functions are consequences that are intended and commonly recognized. Latent

functions are consequences that are unintended and often hidden. For example, the manifest

function of education is to transmit knowledge and skills to society’s youth. But public

elementary schools also serve as babysitters for employed parents, and colleges offer a place for young adults to meet potential mates. The baby-sitting and mate-selection functions are not the intended or commonly recognized functions of education; hence they are latent functions.

2. The origins of the conflict paradigmcan be traced to the classic works of Karl Marx. Marx suggested that all societies go through stages of economic development. As societies evolve from agricultural to industrial, concern over meeting survival needs is replaced by concern over making a profit, the hallmark of a capitalist system. Industrialization leads to the development of two classes of people: the bourgeoisie, or the owners of the means of production (e.g., factories, farms, businesses); and the proletariat, or the workers who earn wages. The division of society into two broad classes of people—the “haves” and the “have-nots”—is beneficial to the owners of the means of production. The workers, who may earn only subsistence wages, are denied access to the many resources available to the wealthy owners. According to Marx, the bourgeoisie use their power to control the institutions of society to their advantage. For example, Marx suggested that religion serves as an “opiate of the masses” in that it soothes the distress and suffering associated with the working-class lifestyle and focuses the workers’ attention on spirituality, God, and the afterlife rather than on such worldly concerns as living conditions. In essence, religion diverts the workers so that they concentrate on being rewarded in heaven for living a moral life rather than on questioning their exploitation.

3. Both the functionalist and the conflict perspectives are concerned with how broad aspects of society, such as institutions and large social groups, influence the social world. This level of sociological analysis is called macro sociology: It looks at the big picture of society and suggests how social problems are affected at the institutional level. Micro sociology, another level of sociological analysis, is concerned with the social psychological dynamics of individuals interacting in small groups. Symbolic interactionism reflects the micro-sociological perspective, and was largely influenced by the work of early sociologists and philosophers, such as George Simmel, Charles Cooley, George Herbert Mead, and Erving Goffman. Symbolic interactionism emphasizes that human behavior is influenced by definitions and meanings that are created and maintained through symbolic interaction with others. Sociologist W.I. Thomas (1966) emphasized the importance of definitions and meanings in social behavior and its consequences. He suggested that humans respond to their definition of a situation rather than to the objective situation itself. Hence Thomas noted that situations that we define as real become real in their consequences. Symbolic interactionism also suggests that our identity or sense of self is shaped by social interaction. We develop our self-concept by observing how others interact with us a label us. By observing how others view us, we see a reflection ourselves that Cooley calls the “looking glass self.”

4. The main stages of the institutionalization of sociology in Kazakhstan. The first department of Sociology appeared in 1988 at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University. In 1997 social scientists were trained at the Eurasian National University. Sociology in different periods of time was taught at KazNPU, Karaganda State University, International Kazakh-Turkish University, University of East Kazakhstan, and Kazakh State Law University. But in September 2012 sociologists are prepared only by two universities in the country -Al-Farabi Kazakh National University and ENU. Due to thel ack of a single institution under the structure of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan, sociology operates under the Institute of Philosophy. Interestingly, all these years, there is no department of sociology, but the Department of Ethno Sociology has been working for more than 10 years.

Scientific journals, being an important component of academic activities, are undergoingdifficult

times. The Republic of Kazakhstan need for active policy of developing research,the need

for approximation of national science standards to the standards of the world "western"s cience. The

development of a research university is a panacea for Kazakhstan science to foot hold in the world's

scientific arena. The development of a research university in Kazakhstan -is an example of transition of socialinstitutions.


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 158

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