A2 AQA Sociology - Sociological Theory


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1. Functionalism
Society as a system
Functionalists use an organic analogy ­ we are like a biological organism
Parsons identifies three similarities between society and a biological organism:
1. System ­ both self-regulating and all play a part in the overall importance of the
2. System needs ­ organisms have needs without which, they will die. For society,
it's members need socialisation.
3. Functions ­ the function of anything is it's contribution to the overall wellbeing.
The economy helps maintain the system by meeting our needs.
Value consensus and social order
How are individuals able to co-operate harmoniously?
It's through a shared culture and norms & values
This causes value consensus
Integration of individuals
Make social order possible ­ integrating us to meet society's needs.
Has to ensure the social needs are met to do this.
The system has two mechanisms to ensure we conform to shared norms and values:
1. Socialisation ­ teaching individuals to want to do what it requires them to do. Internalise the norms and values.
Different agencies contribute ­ education, media and religion.
2. Social control ­ positive sanctions and negative ones to internalise norms and values.
Behaviour will be towards the common good.
Behaviour will be predictable.
Parts of the social system
There is a building block approach to how Parsons sees the social system:
These norms institutions
These are Status - roles
come in are set into
Individual governed by come in
clusters called sub-systems -
actions specific norms clusters too -
'status - roles' banks for
and values institutions
- e.g teacher economic sub-
This makes up the social system
The system's needs
Society has it's own needs. The shared values co-ordinates the different parts to ensure all needs are met.
Parsons identifies four needs ­ AGIL schema. Each is met by a separate sub-system of institutions:
1. Adaptation ­ Meets it's members' material needs. Economic sub-system.
2. Goal attainment ­ Needs to set goals and allocate resources. Political sub-system.
3. Integration ­ Different parts together to pursue same goals. Performed by religion and the media.
4. Latency ­ processes that maintain society over time. Kinship sub-system ­ pattern maintenance ­ socialising
individuals to go on. Tension management ­ let off steam.
Adaptation & goal attainment ­ instrumental needs. This means the means to an end such as producing food.
Integration & latency ­ expressive needs. This is because they involve emotions.
Carrying out functions, the four systems ensure needs are met and society is maintained.

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Types of society
Identifies two societies ­ traditional and modern. There are five basic sets of norms each:
Traditional societies (Pattern variables A) Modern societies (Pattern variables B)
Ascription ­ status based on fixed characteristics. Not Achievement ­ status based on performance.
what you have achieved.
Diffuseness ­ relationships are broad with a range of Specificity - Relationships are narrow.
purposes ­ family farm ­ relatives and workmates.…read more

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Postmodernist criticisms
Functionalism assumes society is stable and orderly ­ can't account for the fragmentation of society.
Functionalism is a meta-narrative or `big story' that attempts to look at the whole of society. This is impossible
because of society's fragmentation.
Exam Question
(a) Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the functionalist approach to society.
Introduce the organic analogy, value consensus, AGIL schema, social control and others.…read more

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Marx's Ideas
His ideas can be summed up in 7 ways:
1. Historical materialism
Materialism ­ human beings have material needs and need to work to
achieve them. They use the means of production.
These forces were just human labour but then came tools to assist.
To work for their own needs, humans enter into social relations of
production ­ ways of organising production.
As the forces grew, there was a division between two classes:
1.…read more

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The institutions such as religion and the media are controlled by the rich and produce ideologies that the rest
Creates a false consciousness in the lower classes ­ become a `wage slave'.
6. Alienation
True nature is based on capacity to create things to meet our needs.
Alienation is the result of the loss of control of our labour.
Exists in all classes because the owners use production for their own needs.
Under capitalism, it reaches it's peak for two reasons:
1.…read more

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The ruling class maintain their dominance in two ways:
1. Coercion ­ The army, police, prisons and courts of the capitalist state to force other classes to accept rule.
2. Consent (hegemony) ­ It uses ideas and values to persuade the subordinate classes that its rule is legitimate.
Hegemony and revolution
In advanced capitalist societies, the ruling class rely heavily on consent to maintain their rule. Gramsci agrees with
Marx that they are able to control mechanisms.…read more

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Feminist theories
Liberal or reformist feminism
Liberal feminists believe women can achieve gender equality in this way of gradual reforms like laws.
Liberals call for cultural change. That means to reduce the prejudices and stereotypes of women.
Sex and gender
Like Ann Oakley, liberal feminists distinguish between sex and gender:
Sex ­ These are biological differences between males and females such as their reproductive role.…read more

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Vague notions of separatism are unlikely to be achieved.
Jenny Somerville ­ Single sex households are unlikely to take over because of heterosexual attraction.
Patriarchy may be in decline anyway.
Marxist feminism
Women's subordination performs important functions:
1. Women are a source of cheap, exploitable labour
2. Women are a reserve army of labour
3. Women reproduce the labour force
4. Women absorb anger
Barrett: the ideology of feminism
We should give more emphasis to women's consciousness and motivation and the role of ideology.…read more

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Action Theories
Max Weber: social action theory
Saw structural and action approaches as necessary to describe social behaviour. An
explanation must have two things:
1. Level of cause ­ explaining the objective structural factors that shape people's
behaviour. For the Calvinist thing, this would be the Protestant Reformation.
2. Level of meaning ­ understanding the subjective meanings that individuals
attach to their actions. For the Calvinists, work took on a religious meaning.…read more

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Labelling theory
Here are three key interactionist concepts that underpin labelling theory:
1. The definition of the situation ­ W.I Thomas argued that if people define a situation as real, the it will have real
consequences. If we b elieve something to be true, then it will affect how we act. If a teacher labels a boy as
troublesome, then it will change their behaviour.
2. The looking glass self ­ Charles Cooley used this to describe how we develop our self-concept.…read more


Ruth Akinradewo

This is excellent! Thank you so much! Very comprehensive and detailed. It takes me ages to write notes because I write incredibly detailed ones and I knew I just didn't have the time to write new ones on Sociological Theory, so I'm glad to have found something that is based seemingly on Webb and Trobe's textbook/revision guide but can be carried around with me as I prepare for the exam. Thanks again! :D


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Ditsy Ninjaa

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