Modern Theory - Functionalist, Marxist, Social Action

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Macro structural theory
- Focuses on the needs of the social system as a whole
Consensus theory
- Sees society as based on a basic agreement
Modernist theory
- Shares the goals of the enlightenment project
Functionalists believe that we can obtain true knowledge
- This can be used to improve society
Parsons' aim was to provide a theoretical framework that
combined the ideas of Weber
Parsons identified 3 similarities between society and biological
- Organisms such as the human body are made from
self-regulated systems and are interdependent parts that fit
together in a certain way
- In society these parts are the institutions, individual roles etc.
System needs
- Society has basic needs that need to be met in order to survive
- E.g. socialisation
- The function of any system part is the contribution it makes to meeting the systems
needs in order to ensure its survival
For Parsons `How is social order possible?' is the central question
Social order is achieved through the existence of
shared culture of a central value system
It provides a framework that allows individuals to cooperate by laying down rules about
how they should behave and what other may expect of them
Social order is only possible so long as members of society agree on these norms and
He calls this value consensus
The basic function of the value consensus is to make social order possible
It does this by integrating individuals into the social system, directing them towards
meeting their systems needs
Lucia Incerti

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This is done through socialisation and social control
- We are taught to do what the system requires us to do and we are rewarded for
complying or punished for deviating
Parsons believes adaptation and goal attainment are instrumental needs ( the means to an
He believes that integration and latency are expressive needs because they relate to
expression of emotions
- The social system meets its members material needs (economic sub systems function)
Goal Attainment
- Society sets goals and then allocates…read more

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Affective Neutrality
- Deferred gratification
- E.g. staying on at school
- Pursue your own self interests
Change is gradual, evolutionally process of increasing complexity and structural
Societies move from simple to complex structures
E.g.…read more

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Criticisms outside the functionalist approach
Sharrock et al.…read more

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They dispute criticisms of Parsons that suggest he is not interested in how people act
They argue that with some modification Parsonian theory can allow for people to be more
`reflexive', making decisions for themselves
These modifications to the theory also help explain social change
Karl Marx
Criticised Capitalism and proposed a revolution
suggesting that there should be
- No private property
- No state
- Freedom
- Equality for all
After Karl Marx, countries such as Russia and China…read more

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Marxists and Functionalists
What They Agree on:
Society is a structure or system that shapes individuals' behaviours and ideas
What They Disagree on:
Marxists reject the functionalist view that the social structure runs harmoniously and is
based on consensus
- Instead they believe that the social structure is based on a conflict of interests between
the social classes
Marxists also reject that society is stable
- Unlike functionalists, they believe that revolution is possible because stability is only due
to the dominant class imposing their…read more

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By creating class polarisation and brining the proletariat together and lowering their
wages, Marx believed that capitalism creates the right environment for the working class
to change from:
- A class in itself (where the members all have the same economic position
- Into a class for itself that has class consciousness ( is aware of the need to overthrow
For Marx the bourgeoisie don't just own the means of production, they also own the
means of mental production
- I.e.…read more

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Capitalism changed significantly after Marx's death with the introduction of a wide range
of health, pension, housing and welfare benefits
- All of which were missing from Marx's analysis
The basic model of Marxist theory has provided the platform for an entire tradition of
writing in sociology
His ideas have been taken up and developed by a wide range of sociologists
Neo-Marxists seek to overcome the criticisms listed above
The Frankfurt School
Associated with the works of Marcuse, Adorno…read more

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According to Althusser, the economic system has ultimate control, but the political and
ideological have significant degrees of independence or autonomy
In reality, this means that politics and culture develop and change in response to many
different forces, not just economic ones
Althusser used the term relative autonomy to describe this degree of freedom of politics
and values
For Althusser, the state was composed of two elements:
Repressive state apparatus
- Organisations such as the police and the army
Ideological state apparatus
- The more…read more

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For example, smiling is symbolic behaviour that might be interpreted as social approval
Experience of symbolic interaction results in people acquitting knowledge about what is
appropriate behaviour in particular situations
They earn that particular contexts demand particular social responses
For example, drinking and dancing at a party is regarded as appropriate, yet the same
behaviour at a funeral is inappropriate
Socialisation and Identity
Social action theorists argue that socialisation involved learning a stock of shared
interpretations and meanings for most given social interactions
Families, for…read more


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