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Assess the contribution of interactionist theory and research to our understanding of society
Interactionist perspective focuses on social reaction to look for meanings which will enable people to
understand society. Interactionist perspective, compared to the positive perspective, is a micro
approach; this means data is collected on a smaller scales. Interactionist theory may be useful for
researching society as sociologists are able to analyse individuals' opinions but the theory has
Social constructionism is when society itself develops ideas that determine societies perceptions. It is
a way that a social phenomenon is created. Marxists argue that the law functions in the interest of
the capitalist class therefore it is mainly concerned with protecting wealth, property and profit. This
reinforces the idea that the capitalist system and bourgeoisie determine how we understand society
according to Marxists.
Weber, an interactionist sociologist, founded social action theory. It studies the way people engage
with one another. The theory is broken down into 4 types; Instrumental: When an individual does
something to achieve their goals, value rational action. This action doesn't guarantee effective
results. Traditional action: a routine action and effectual action where the individual expresses
emotion. Although, Weber explained his definitions, sociologists critique the theory.
As the social action theory uses qualitative methods, it collects Micro date therefore, the theory cant
be generalised to the population as the research group is not representative of the wider
population. On the other hand, the method is valid as it presents data that gives detailed data lacking
meanings but qualitative data is harder to analyse. Therefore, the social action theory may not be
relevant for understanding and researching society.
Aspects of society may be studied to look for meaning. A topic that may be studied is suicide. Suicide
is when a person intentionally takes their own life. Suicide is a sensitive topic therefore sociologists
researching suicide have to do so in a careful manner. Durkheim explained why people may people
may commit suicide.
Durkheim introduced 4 types of suicide: Altrustic, too much integration into society and people may
commit sucidie as a duty to others. Fatalistic is too much regulation and society integrate the
individual enough. Anomic is too little regulation and this type of suicide is more common during times
of recession. Egoistic is too little integration into social groups and society. Durkheim included that
the balance of their 4 types of suicide create the suicide rate.
Durkheim went on to study suicide by looking at suicide statistics therefore he used secondary
sources. He then had to analyse the data which led him on to the 4 types of suicide. Durkheim
concludes that the suicide rate varied during times of economic depression and the suicide rate
depending on how individuals `fit in' with society. Although, Durkheim collected data on a large scale
(Macro) his study has limitations.
The main limitation of Durkheim study was that he used quantitative data. This means that data is in
numerical forme. Therefore, the data lacks detail. This type of data is not useful for looking for
meanings but it can be analysed easily which led to Durkheim predicting a trend.
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Atkinson also studied suicide. Atkinson studied the role of coroner's definition of suicide. For
research, Atkinson used participant observation where he observed coroners who were trying to
find out the type of death and Atkinson looked for indicators of suicide, i.e. suicide notes, types of
death: hanging, mode of death, life history, location and circumstances of death. With these
indicators, Atkinson would look for meanings as to why the individual committed suicide.…read more
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Methods used by interactionists aim to collect Micro data. This is data on a small scale. Examples of a
type of method that would do this are: Natural/field experiments. This is when data is collected in
respondent's natural surroundings. A benefit of this type of data is that it allows respondents to act
naturally so the data has high ecological validity but sociologists may have limited access to research