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The Principal Sociological Perspectives Essay

Sociological perspectives are used to understand and describe the way societies function and the different behaviours of individuals within these societies. These perspectives can be used to explain the organisation of different areas of society, including social stratification, social mobility, social diversity, socialisation, and social institutions as well as the way each element fits into society. In this assignment I will be focusing on explaining each of the main sociological perspectives in society. The perspectives that I will be focusing on in this assignment are: Functionalism, Marxism, Marxism, Feminism, the New Right, Collectivism, and Postmodernism.


Functionalism is the sociological perspective that focuses on the institutions, e.g. the legal justice system and the healthcare system, as working in harmony with one another, making specific and clear contributions to the smooth running of society. Functionalism uses methods of social control to deal with deviant members and groups in society, making sure they don’t disrupt the smooth running of society. An example of social control is the prison system which aims to exclude deviants in order to rehabilitate them. Talcott Parson, who played a large role in developing functionalism, saw society as a system made up of interrelating social institutions which all work towards its smooth running and continuation. He believed that the main role of each institution was to socialise individuals and ensure they were aware of and understood the values of their society and how to behave in a way that conformed to social norms and values.

This ensured that there was order in society and that each person had a role to play. Functionalism also focuses on the functions of the family and how having a stable and functional family contributes to the order and stability to society. Examples of the functions of the family include: 1) socialisation, which includes the responsibility of teaching children the acceptable ways to behave in society, meaning they are less likely to take part in deviant behaviour and 2) economic function including food, shelter and, financial security being provided for each family member.

There are also many criticisms of functionalism including the fact that functionalism is based on the idea that in all societies social institutions, groups and, individuals all share the basic values and beliefs and that this value consensus underpins the socialisation process and the working of the main institutions. Unfortunately it is clear that everyone has different beliefs and common values are clearly shared in society. Another criticism of functionalism is that is does not address any areas of conflict. Functionalism emphasises the consensus and agreement of all members of society and the institutions always having a positive impact on socialisation. However, this does not represent most people’s experience of modern society, where there are winners and losers as well as many people who refuse to conform to the norms of society.


Unlike the other sociological perspectives, interactionism is based on micro groups in society (i.e. school classrooms) and how they influence each person’s behaviour and their contribution to society. Interactionists disagree that the large institutions and how they interact with each other shapes society. Interactionism suggests that we have the power to choose how we live our lives and create our own social roles instead of being influenced by the socialisation process. Interactionists believe that our behaviour is driven by the way we interpret situations within small groups, how we see ourselves in relation to other people in the group, how we see other members of the group and, how other members of the group see us. Criticisms of interactionism include: although interactionism focuses on how much power different people have within in small groups it doesn’t pay attention to issues of power in wider society and where different social roles and positions come from.

Interactionism focuses closely on different social interactions within groups of people and does not discuss the effect of different social institutions on society nor consider social factors that may have influence the growth and development of different social structures. As well as this, interactionism does not explain why people largely behave in predictable ways. If small groups all interact differently, and large social institutions are not valid then it would be expected that people would act in different ways depending on the group they belong to, and because of the large amounts of different groups in society, you would expect that people’s behaviour would often not be predictable.


Collectivism is a sociological approach providing free health and social care services and support for vulnerable members of society, provided by the government and paid for through the taxes and national insurance of all working members of society, it means that everyone collectively works together to improve the standard of living for everyone. These vulnerable people may include: children, the elderly, people with physical disabilities and, those with mental health needs. It also provides all people in the UK with privileges such as free NHS care and free education, so that all people have the same chances to succeed in life, despite their background. Collectivism came about after the Second World War. The Beveridge Report 1942, which focussed on social insurance and allied health services, identified five giant evils that urgently needed to be dealt with. These were: squalor, poverty, disease, idleness, and ignorance.

From this there came a cross-party agreement that the state as a collective should take responsibility for: Addressing poverty through welfare benefits including: family allowance, unemployment and sickness benefit, and retirement pensions. Fighting disease by providing free National Health Service care, which is accessible to everyone. Combating ignorance through the expansion and improvement of secondary education, making it accessible to everyone. Getting rid of squalor by improving and providing more people with council housing. Dealing with idleness by provide more and better quality employment opportunities and by developing labour exchanges.

This system allowed the state to work together with families and voluntary organisations, to make living easier and more affordable for the people who lived in the UK. There are many criticisms of Collectivism, for example: the growing population means that working people are having to pay more and more in taxes. As well as this the constant shift between labour and conservative governments means the welfare system is not particularly stable, with both governments trying to reform and ‘fix’ the mistakes of the other when they are in power. Another criticism of collectivism is that many people abuse the system by taking more than their share, meaning people who need it are left with less than what they need, if anything.

The New Right:

The ‘New Right’ is the sociological perspective that focuses on challenging collectivism by holding the belief that the government should pay only a small role in providing welfare and giving individuals the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves. The New Right was made in opposition to Collectivism. The ‘New Right’ was developed in the 1980’s when the Conservative Party were in power and Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister. At that time the Conservative Government believed the welfare state produced a society who, rather than planning for the future and taking individual responsibility for themselves and their families relied on the welfare system (funded by the taxes of those who were working) to fund and support their wellbeing. To deal with this issue the conservative government: Moved people who were claiming benefits and could not afford their rent from expensive housing in big cities (i.e. London) into more affordable housing in more rural areas (i.e. Luton and Birmingham).

This way, people could afford their rent without having to ask for more government pay-outs and the government could rent out more expensive properties to those people who could afford it and would pay into the government through rent and taxes. Encouraged private enterprise, building on business competition and therefore putting more money into the economy. Capped people’s benefits so that no family could claim no more than the average working wage of £26,000 a year. As well as this benefits are capped at different amounts depending on a person’s lifestyle. For example: £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them compared to £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with them.

There are many criticisms of The New Right including the fact that it can leave people who are vulnerable at risk of losing their benefits, or of their benefits being capped. As well as this, the moving of people from expensive housing in London and other major cities to areas of cheaper housing in places such as Luton splits up families, disrupts children’s education, and causes people to have to leave their jobs and try to find work locally. Another criticism of The New Right is the constant shift between labour and conservative governments, which means the welfare system is not particularly stable, with both governments trying to reform and ‘fix’ the mistakes of the other when they have the power.


Feminism is an alternative conflict theory between genders. Feminists argue that society today is one of patriarchy, and that girls are programmed from a young age to be baby making machines who stay at home to cook, clean and, look after the children and her husband. Feminists believe this is wrong and that men and women should have equal rights and responsibilities in society, as well as equal opportunities to succeed. They want to be able to go out to work and live independently without being discriminated against because of their sex. There are three main types of feminism: Radical feminism see’s women as being oppressed by men alone. They believe that women are socialised into roles such as housewives and mothers instead of having a life outside the house.

They see being a mother as a form of oppression because it stops them from having a career, social life and wage. Marxist feminism see’s women, especially those of the working class, as being oppressed not only by men, but also by capitalism. It is believed that a women produce societies next generation of workers and that by meeting the needs of their children, their children will be ready to work in the future. They are expected to support their partners, cook, clean, and care for their children without getting any payment. It is believed that this shows women are dominated by their husbands. Liberal feminism argues that any changes that need to take place regarding the rights of women in society can happen through laws and government changes. Many liberal feminists would also argue that a lot of change as already taken place to make sure women are equal to men, through the help of legalisation such as the Equal Pay Act of 1970 and the Equality Act of 2010, and that improvements will continue to take place.


Marxism is a sociological perspective developed by Karl Marx. He believed the behaviour of individuals was not only shaped by society but also by the economic system and where each person was placed within that system. His view was that there were two groups of people in society, the bourgeoisie (upper class) and the proletariat (lower class). The bourgeoisie were the small group of people who owned businesses and controlled the way society was run. They are also known as capitalists. The proletariat were the majority of society who worked for and were kept in poverty by the bourgeoisie. Karl Marx believed that the two social class had and would always be in conflict because of their different views about the economic system. The bourgeoisies would always be looking for ways to gain a higher profit to allow themselves to get richer and richer and the proletariat would always want higher wages so they could feed their families and look after themselves.

The bourgeoisies would not want to pay for the proletariats to have a higher wage, because this would eat away at the profit they are making for themselves. For this reason, Marxism is a conflict model. According to Marxism institutions were organised to benefit the ruling class. He believed that the bourgeoisie’s controlled the media, legal system and, the government. The bourgeoisie have control of the school curriculum, making sure the lower class only learn what they want them to. Marxists believe that through secondary socialisation the values and ideas of the ruling class are passed on to the lower classes. The bourgeoisie also have the ability to make sure only the upper class can get the best education. For example: It costs approximately £30,000 to go to university which most proletariats cannot afford.

This way only people who are bourgeoisie can afford to go to university, therefore assuring only they will get the best and most specialised jobs. Leaving those who are proletariats in the same position as before. Marxism also says that the family is an important part of socialisation which contributes to socialisation working in favour of the rich. The family is regarded as being a slave to the capitalist society. The proletariats are prepared by their family for work, and taught the importance of working hard to earn a living. The family provides security and a place for workers to unwind and relax before having to go back to work.

This way businesses can get away with working their employees really hard because they have had a break from work. The criticisms of Marxism include: 1) there is no mention of a middle class, suggesting that someone is either lower class or upper class and that there is no in-between. 2) Marxism only focuses on the economic institution and not on any of other institutions i.e. religion and health and social care systems. And 3) many people believe that the Marxist perspective is out dated and no longer valid because the standard of living in industrialised societies has massively improved over the last 100 years. As well as that, opportunities of progression in the workplace are available so anyone can work their way up in the jobs ladder in their profession.


Postmodernism is the sociological perspective which focuses on the change and uncertainty of society. Postmodernism suggests that there is no point focusing on social institutions (i.e. family or the economic system) because nothing stays the same. For example: There are so many different beliefs and values within each religion that it is no longer possible to collectively state the beliefs and values of a single religion. Postmodernists believe that the social institutions have broken up and become less of an influence on individuals. Different individuals and groups of people make their own lifestyle decisions rather than being influenced by social roles and structures. People now have the ability to choose from the many different activities and material possessions that make each person’s life very individual, stopping people from being categorised by the social class and groups they are a part of.

Postmodernists believe that because of the continuing change of society structuralist perspectives no longer help us to understand society. For example: feminism is no longer valid because women are constantly gaining more status and value in society and many women now have careers. In conclusion, the different sociological perspectives were created to help us to describe and understand the way that societies function and the behaviour of individuals within these societies. Although the different sociological perspectives conflict with one another, each one gives us some understanding of society.

The sociological perspective I most agree with is Marxism, because I believe that people born into low social classes are not given the same opportunities to develop and be successful as those who were born into the upper class, therefore keeping them in a cycle of poverty earning low wages and only having enough money to survive. For example: Universities offer advance education, giving students the opportunity to specialise in a specific job role. But because of how much it costs to go to university it is unrealistic to believe that many people from the lower class would go there, meaning they will not specialise, giving them almost no chance to get high paid jobs.


• Health and Social Care Level 3: Book 1 BTEC National, Series Editors Beryl Stretch and Mary Whitehouse.

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