Theory cards

  • Created by: lou9119
  • Created on: 19-05-18 09:44

Structural Sociology

These sociologists examine institutuions and how they act as constraints on human behaviour, we're merely puppets. These sociologists are seen as 'determinists' as they take a macro approach - focusing on the investigation of societal institutions. 

  • Classical Marxism: society is based on conflict (STRUCTURAL CONFLICT THEORY), conflict caused by unequal distribution of wealth. 
  • Neo-Marxism: RSA AND ISA (Althusser), Ruling class ideology and false class consciousness (Gramsci) 
  • Functionalism: Humans and societies have basic needs and these institutions meet these needs, belief that we should study each institution individually to see its importance. Parson's Organic Analogy compares the human body to societal institutions. (STRUCTUAL CONSENSUS THEORY)
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Social Action Sociology

These sociologists examine how the interactions between individuals and small groups shape our behaviour, we have free will. They take a micro approach - investigation of individuals and how we shape institutions.

  • Labelling theory: (Becker) The process of attaching a definition or meaning to an individual or group. Cooley's the looking glass self and Goffman's impression management.
  • Ethnomethodology: (Garfinkel) Methods which people use to make sense of and construct order in their every day society. Society is a social construction. 
  • Phemenology: (Schutz) argues that we make sense of the world through shared concepts or categories called typifications. Meanings are unstable and unclear but typifications clarify and stabalise them. ANY SHARED CONCEPT.
  • Symbolic interactionism: (Mead and Blumer) Focus on small-scale interactions and the construction of meaning, people have a degree of control and influence over social behaviour. 

Strengths: Qualitative data = high valididty, social construction of meaning, recognise we must understand motive and meaning, shows how we create meaning by drawing on personal understanding.

Weaknesses: Doesn't pay attentiong to social strucutre, metanarrative, doesn't fully explain their own theory of meaning 

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Post Modernism

A mixture between structural and social action theory. Postmodernism is an argument that society is changing so quickly that it is now in a state of chaos. They suggest that social structures have ceased to exist and have been replaced by individual choice; free from tradition. Individuals are consumers, they pick and mix features of society to form an identity. Modernity is made up of tradition, religion, objectivity, nathion states and culutre reflecting structure. Postmodernity is made uo of rapid new goods, consumption, diverse culture, digial media, globalisation and subjectivity. 

Foucault: Anti-foundationalism, no sure foundations to knowledge, truth is relative, metanarratives. Baudrillard: Media saturated society, simulacra = everyday reality and the media are blurred and has caused hyperreality. Beck: Risk society. Lyotard: People are no longer beliving in the myth of the truth, loss of faith in science and rational thought, individualism, pick n mix identity. Giddens: Globalisation has caused dis embedding, interconnectedness and hybrid identities. Bauman: Society is in a state of constant change 'liquid modernity' where social structures are breaking down. 

Strengths:  Challgenges metanarratives, insight into globalisation, highlights cultural changes, identity is flud and complex. 

Weakness: It is a metanarrative, ciritices other theories too much, over-emphasises the influence of the media, exagerates the scale of social change. 

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Conflict theory, conflict between men and women. They state that mainstream sociology has been focused on the concerns of men. 

  • Radical Feminism: Patriarchy - male dominance in society - and how this affects the female position. The source of patriarchy lies in biological differences, women giving birth (Firestone)
  • Liberal Feminism: Rights of women, removal of discrimination and moving of equality. 
  • Marxist Feminism: Double exploitation of women at home and work. Gender inequlaity is due to economic factors in women (Hartman) Reserve army of labour (Berston) 


Queer Theory: Not just womens' rights that need to be fought for, LGBT community. 

Preference Theory: Women are happy with their position, women exercise choice in relation to their position at home and in the workplace. The choices they make disadvantage them (Haikm) 

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  • Durkheim: Social contract, functional pre-requisites, social facts, anomie in modern society, multi-culturalism/technology/hyper-reality. VC, **, CC. 
  • Parsons: GAIL model, organic analogy. 
  • Merton: Manifest and latent functions, "dysfunction" parts of social structure that don't work as intended. 

Social change in one part of the system will change the whole system to keep it balanced. New Right thinkers step from functionalism as a political ideology. They emphahsie the importance of social solidarity, traditional institituions and the dangers of the welfare state.


Explains social order and why we conform. Recognises the importance of the social structure. 


Supports the status-quo. Too deterministic. Metanarrative. Doesn't explain social change effectively. It over-emphasises harmony.

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Revolution and communism could occure when the w/c develop class consciousness and strikes. There are the capitalists ( bourgeoise) and the workers (proletariat), the exploitation of the proletariat occurs due to surplus value, state protection of r/c interests, private ownership by the bourgeiosie, dominant ideology. The economic base and superstructure. 

Gramsci: Hegemony. 

Althusser: ISA & RSA


Recognises the importance of the economy, explains social injustice, importnace of social structure, highly influential.


Marx's prediction of revolution nver happened, media-satuarated society, metanarrative, too deterministic, overemphasises conflict

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Sociology & Science

The key debate: Is sociology a science or not? 

Yes: Positivists argue it should be as we can use quantative methods, objectivity, Popper's scientific method. We can gain social facts which are a measurable social phenomenon. Science is a product of social influence. We use social facts, are objective and use emperical evidence. Both positivists and interpretivists use scientific methods (they misunderstand science)

No: Interpretivists state it can't be as there are different naturess between natural science and the social world; sociology is too unpredictable and has too many meanings. Too many metanarratives, all theories can't exist at one time. Human behaviour is unpredictable; hawthorne effect. We give meaning to our actions. 

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Is science scientific?

  • (Kuhn) Paradigms are produce with a specific social context, scientists are infleunced by social factors. 
  • Social construction. 
  • Realism: many of the greatest scientific discoveries aren't observable, sociology acts in the same way. Open & Close systems, (Sayer) science can study in closed systems (lab experiments) but much research takes place in open sysems (where you cannot control variables) similar to sociology. 
  • Many social influences will affect scientific research such as pay from governments or bussinesses for certain topics. 
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Comte: Social world is governed by laws. 

Marx: His research aimed to improve the world. 

Durkheim: Talked about social facts - phenomenon that exists outside of someone yet effects them. Those can be measured and therefore sociology can too be a science as it produces emperical evidence. 

Features of positivism include the study of social institutions, research that should focus on the search of social causes, observable social facts and the quantative method. They believe objectivity is important in the scientifc process of Popper's method, they believe researchers should be open-minded, value-freedom and should scrtuinise. 

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Believe that there can be no laws of society as it is variable and constantly changing. We interpret and give meanings to a situation, we cannot predict behavious as it is context dependent. There use of the qualitative method rarely produces  precise evidence. 

Weber: Vershten. 

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Social Policy

Worsley: A social problem is a piece of public friction that causes public or private misery, it calls for collective action to solve it (Social policy) 

Studies that have been influential? 

  • Ann Oakley: Role of the housewife influenced child tax credit and maternity pay
  • Douglas: Overcrowding and housing influenced education action zones. 

How does sociology contribute to social policy? 

  • Provides awareness of cultural differences. 
  • Provides self-awareness and understanding. 
  • Changing assumptions. 
  • Providing a theoretical framework. 
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Theories on Social Policy

Functionalism: Science would discover cause and solution to societies problems. Policies help society function. 

Marxism: Policy serves the interests of capitalism, they probide ideological legitimisation, maintain the labour force and are a means of preventing revolution.

Feminism: Social policy has tended to be malestream, family policy centralises aroung the patriarchal nuclear family, liberal feminists aim to make new social policy that benefits the position of women. (Divorce reform act, marital **** act, abortion, sex discriminastion act.) 

New Right: Too much state interference in society, Murray talks about the underclass relying on the nanny state and being work-shy. e.g. they prefere situational crime prevention, responsibilty on individuals. 

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