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Sociological perspective Essay

Marxism, Functionalism and Feminism are sociological theories alongside several others, they are fundamental to the whole discipline of sociology.

Functionalism is a structural theory they argue that society is made up of interrelated and interdependent institutions such as education, work, religion, law, the family etc. The main function of these institutions is to maintain social equilibrium.

They see society similar to a human body with all the internal parts working together to bring out equilibrium. Functionalists see individual action as the product of social institutions such as the family and education socializing the young into cultural values and norms, this means people believe in much the same thing and consequently their actions and patterns are predictable.

“Durkheim believed the very core of society is it values which are passed on and reinforced by family, school religion etc.” Individuals behave similarly in the same social context because they have been socialized into the same cultural rules and goals. However Functionalist see institutions such as education and work organizations allocating people to roles in which they would make an effective contribution to the day to day running of society, they believe there is a class system and people gain their job, money etc through their own merit. Therefore functionalists believe human action is shaped and controlled by social forces such as value consensus and the need to maintain social order, beyond the individuals control , they results on this conformity is social stability and the reproduction of society generation by generation.

However it is argued that functionalists over emphasis consensus and order, and play down conflict. They tend to focus on functions or benefits of social institutions and consequently neglect the dysfunctions or harm that institutions can cause.

Marxism is a macro approach based on a conflict between capital and wage labour. Society splits into an infrastructure (economic base) and superstructure (social institutions). Ideology (distorted beliefs) is transmitted through the superstructure to justify inequalities.

Marx focused on the inequalities of capitalism. In capitalist society, the bourgeoisie own the means of production (own large amounts of capital and therefore have power), whereas the proletariat sell their labour power for a wage. This is where the conflict rests. The system dictates that the ruling class generates more profit (achieved by decreasing wages). Overtime, the worsening of conditions, exploitation and lowering of wages results in a situation where the working class become aware of their class position and unite in a state of revolutionary consciousness. Revolution is, therefore, inevitable.

Gramsci argues that middle class maintain dominance by using the government to persuade people, and also by propagating ideologies ( continuously feeding ideas so dey grow strength through things like media, churches, schools and family in order to win peoples consent. For the middle class to be ideologically dominant these ideologies need to be tied in to the popular culture of working class.

The extent to which such hegemony is achieved varies over time but its unlikely 2 ever be complete. There are two reasons for dis. firstly middle class are often divided and secondly the proletariat as a dual consciousness. One part which reflects the ideas of the middle class and the other which reflects their everyday experiences. He believes the proletariat to make alliances with other groups for Marxists to win the hearts and minds of subordinate classes by connecting Marxist ideas to popular culture. He’s optimistic that the struggle for hegemony. People will eventually be persuaded of the need for a revolution.

For Frankfurt school theirs two main characteristics which distinguish humans from animals- the ability to transform the environment and the ability to make a rational decision about our lives. Capitalists societies don’t allow humans to exercise their creativity and reason and thus warrant criticisms 4 being unfair n unreasonable. He agrees with Gramisci that attention needs to be paid to ideologies which are integrating people into capitalists system. Two developments are highlighted as crucial here- the growth on instrumental reasons which’s seen as the dominant way of thinking in a capitalist society and the development of mass culture. People’s acceptance of instrumental reasons is explained by Frankfurt school in terms of developments of mass culture. It reached the mass of population through media

The Frankfurt school comes to a negative conclusion- people are dominated not only at work but also in their leisure. The over riding picture is of society as a mass of isolated individuals who are manipulated by big business. Their seems to be no way out.

It has been argued that Marxists put too much emphasis on conflict. Capitalism has improved the standard of living working class. It may be that the working class are aware of inequality and exploitation but they feel that their standard of living compensates for this. So they may therefore actively choose to go to work despite this knowledge. They have also been criticized for economic reductionism i.e. reducing behaviour to class relationships. They may neglect the fact that social behaviour can also be influenced by religious, patriarchal, nationalism and ethnic structures.

Interactionalists focus upon the way in which individuals (or “social actors” as Interactionists like to call them) consciously act – rather than simply react to social stimulation. The way in which different social actors interpret the behaviour of others is significant as a means of understanding the way in which the world is socially constructed. This social construction of the world is focused upon the meanings people give to behaviour and the way in which they interpret the meaning of behaviour.

Mead argued that whilst we are each conscious, thinking, individuals, the way in which we choose to behave is conditioned by the social context of that behaviour. In this, he said that our behaviour as individuals is conditioned by two aspects of our self-awareness (that is, the ability to “see ourselves” as others see us). A) The “I” aspect which largely consists of spontaneous actions and B) The “Me” aspect which consists of an awareness of how other people expect us to behave at any given moment.

The “I” and the “Me” are parallel parts of what Mead called “The Self” and it is the ability of human beings to develop a “self-concept” that makes us different to most animals. In animals, for example, the “I” is dominant (to the almost total exclusion of the “Me” in most animals). This means, in effect, that most animal behaviour is instinct-based rather than socially-constructed. In humans, on the other hand, the reverse is true. The “Me” is dominant to the almost total exclusion of the “I”. This means, in effect, that most human behaviour is socially-constructed rather than instinct-based.

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