Sociological persepectives

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A perspective which is concerned with the overall structure of society, and sees individual behaviour moulded by social institutions like the family, the education system, the mass media and work

Structural approaches see individuals formed by the wider social forces making up the social structure of society

This perspective takes the macro approach which means that it focuses on the large-scale structure of society as a whole rather than on individuals

There are two types of structuralism:

  • Functionalism (consensus structuralism)
  • Marxism (conflict structuralism)
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Functionalism (consensus structuralism)

A sociological perspective which sees society as made up of parts which work together to maintain society as an intergrated whole

Most famous functionalists:

  • Emile Durkeim
  • Talcott Parsons

Sees society as built up and working like the human body; made up of interrelated parts which function for, or contribute to, the maintenance of society as a whole. Functionalists argue that any society has certain functional prerequisites that must be met if society is to survive

Funtional prerequisites: the basic needs that must be met if society is to survive

In this view, social institutions like the family, education and work are connected and function in relation to one another for the benefit of society as a whole. Functionalists believe that value consensus helps to maintain what they see as a peaceful, harmonious society without much conflict between people and groups

Value consensus: a general agreement around the main values and norms of any society

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Marxism (conflict structuralism)

A structural theory of society which sees society divided by conflict between two main opposing social classes, due to private ownership of the means of production. The term Marxist comes from the work of Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Marx believed that the economy was the driving force in society. He argued that there were two basic social classes: The capitalists (bourgeoisie) and the working class.

Capitalists: A ruling class owning the means of production, exploiting the working class and controlling their ideas through the dominant, or ruling class, ideology

Working class: Non-owners of the means of production, who sell their labour to the capitalist class, are exploited by them, and are kept in a state of false consciousness by the power of the dominant ideology

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Social action/interpretivist

Perspectives which emphasise the creative action which people can take, rather than seeing them as simply passive victims of social forces around them

The free will of people doing things, rather than on determinism

Determinism: the idea that people's behaviour is moulded by their social surroundings, and that they have little free will, control or choice over how they behave

Takes a micro approach: focusing on small groups and individuals, rather than on the structure of society as a whole

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A view that examines the world from the point of view of women, who are seen as disadvantaged, with their interests ignored or devalued by society

Marxist feminists: emphasises the way in which women are doubly exploited - both as workers and as women

Radical feminists: focuses on the problem of men and male domination under patriarchy (the system whereby males dominate in every area of society)

Liberal feminists: foucuses on measures to ensure that women have equal opportunities with men within the the present system

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New right

This approach has four main features:

  • An emphasis on individual freedom and self-interest
  • Reduced spending by the state by making individuals more self-reliant
  • A defence of the free market (free competition between individuals, companies, schools and other institutions is encouraged)
  • A stress on the importance of traditional institutions and values (such as traditional family life and education)
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