“Knowledge is shaped by the social world.” (Karl Mannheim.) Though trying to understand the social world may seem difficult, sociologists managed to create three theories on how different areas of the world fit with one another as well as working hand in hand with each other. The three theories are known as Symbolic Interactionism, Functionalism and Conflict Theory. Each theory serves as a significant perspective on how individuals view social life and how it effects society as a whole.
The first perspective would have to be the simplest of all and is categorized as a micro level since it is focused on smaller scale than the remaining perspectives. Symbolic Interactionism was founded by Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929), William I. Thomas (1863-1947) and George Herbert Mead (18-63-1931). According to the textbook, symbolic interactionism means a theoretical perspective in which society is viewed as composed of symbols that people use to establish meaning, develop their views of the world and communicate with one another. In other words, it means symbols have an attached meaning that effect the way we view the world and communicate with individuals.
Examples of symbols are family members, relationships, language, co-workers, etc. If there were no symbols in our life, we wouldn’t know who we are related to or who to give authority to. For example, at your job you are required to respect the person of high authority which may be your manager or your boss, (depending on your symbol at your facility). In your family, the symbols would be your mother, father, brother, sister, aunts, uncles, etc. No matter what area, each symbol has a different behavior and interacts differently unlike the rest. To narrow this down, let’s compare the relationship with a boyfriend to a brother. A brother would be loving and caring but would not be as intimate as the boyfriend would be. If we didn’t have symbols, we wouldn’t be able to differentiate how to act with those two.
The only positive side about not having symbols would be the fact that there would be no war since we wouldn’t be able to understand who our enemy is let alone knowing what an enemy is. The next perspective is focused on a macro level since it is aimed at the large scale of society. Functionalism was founded by Robert Merton (1910-2003), “The accomplishments of functional analysis are sufficient to suggest that its large promise will progressively be fulfilled, just as its current deficiencies testify to the need for periodically overhauling the past to build for the future” (Social Theory and Social Structure Page 74). According to the textbook, functionalism means a theoretical framework in which society is viewed as composed of various parts, each with a function that when fulfilled, contributes to society’s equilibrium.
In other words, various parts work together as a whole to maintain society’s balance. Robert Merton defined functions as positive consequences based on human’s actions that benefit the society. Functions that are intended to help a system are known as manifest function. Followed by this would be the unintended consequence to adjust the system which is known as latent functions. The textbook breaks these two down using an example of giving married couples an extra $10,000 for child bearing (this is the manifest function). Unknowingly, this increases the products used to care for a baby which is known at the latent functions. Though manifest and latent functions are used to balance a system, there are also some dysfunctions that can actually break down the system.
These consequences are unusually unintended and because of that, it’s referred to as latent dysfunctions. Referring back to the example stated in the textbook; a latent dysfunction about giving $10,000 to each married couple that bears a child would be the rise in taxes which the couples may not be able to afford since they will be living off of the bonus. Another example that many individuals can relate to is our family. Every family member plays a significant role in their household. Examining the financial state of the family, it’s the bread winner that holds the financial issues together. Without the bread winner, the family would struggle and even turn for help towards the government. If the function of the bread winner begins to take a turn for the negative, the family weakens and loses their ability to prosper as a whole. This is an important factor on how functions can either make or break society. The smaller units affect the larger units in both negative and positive ways. Last but not least, the next perspective would be conflict theory.
Cooley, Charles H. “The Roots of Social Knowledge.” American Journal of Sociology 32.1 (1926): 59-79. Print. Merton, Robert K. Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Division of Macmillian Co &, 1968. The Free Press. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.>. Coser, Lewis. “Chapter IX.” The Functions of Social Conflict. Glenoe, IL: Free, 1956. 151-57. The Functions of Social Conflict. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://media.pfeiffer.edu/lridener/courses/COSERR1.HTML>.