Theory & Methods

  • Created by: Becky
  • Created on: 12-06-13 08:34

The Enlightenment Period

Industrial Revolition - machinery replaced humans in the productions of goods.

Urbanisation begun.

Scientific and technological breakthroughs began, people increasly began to believe the world could be explained using reason & rationality

Previously life's eternal questions were answered by religion.

2 Key features of enlightenment thinking:

- Human reason obtained through science could give knowledge to help them understand how the world works

- new found knowledge could be used to help the world progress for the better.

Structuralist theories & Social action theories emerged.

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Structuralist theory - Functionalism

Its possible to obtain a true knowledge of society and how it works & can be used to create a functioning society which can be continually improved upon.

Parsons - Society as a social system. Like the human body society consists of different parts which together make it a whole. Similar in 3 ways:

System: Institutions & organs

System needs:Nutrition, sleep & socialisation, strong economy

Functions: Veins supply blood to organs & economy supplies money to institutions

Value consensus & social order are needed for society to function well. Made possible through the existance of shared culture. Good socialisation = ensuring societies norms and values are stable to maintain order and harmony eg Education system teaches history and citizenship. Good social control = Deviance is punished by family, teachers, police and law. Helps individuals repect and protect society

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Structuralist theory - Functionalism, Parsons

Structural approach.

When studying society they take a top down approach. At the top are major institutions underneath are a number of roles which have a status and are determind by people norms and values.

Society needs to following to survive: Adaptation, Goal attainment, Integration, Latency.

Society has changed over time in a slow gradual and evolutionary way to aviod anomie.

Tradtitional society: Ascribed status, norms are particular to each family, immediate gratification, group is important

Modern society: Achieved status, Norms are universal, Deffered gratification, Individual in important.

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Structuralist theory - Functionalism, Durkheim, Ev

Traditional society - mechanical social solidarity, tightly bound

Modern society - Organic social solidarity, collective consciece attacked by rise of individualism.

Study large numbers, positivist approach, quantitative data, reliable, objective, experiments

Internal - Merton - 1) Ignors how functional alternative can exist eg lone parent families work effectively. 2) Ignores how the institutions can be functionally autonomous from one another. 3) Ignores how society can sometimes be dysfunctional eg. conflicts of interest.

External - Social action theories accuse functionalism of being deterministic

- Social reality is socially constructed by giving meaning to their words

- Postmodernist clain functionalism is outdated, in society change, chaos, uncertainity and flexibility is a rule.

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Structuralist theory - Traditional Marxism, Marx

Agreed with Durkheim, study positivistly & Enlightenment helped society to progress for the better.

Society is full of conflict, pain & misery, social revolutionist, preletariat false class consciousness = new communist way of living

People require material things, so they need to work, some people organise the means of production while others must work, driven by money (=infrastructure) & other instiutions emerge. The people who organise the means of production have power over the workers = class system, Bourgeoisie v. Proletariat. Workers earn a low wage to keep profit high = exploitative, oppressive capitalist system.

Ideology is taught by family, education, media & reigion to creat a false class consciousness to stop the proletariat from seeing the truth.

The proletariat must ride up and develop a true class consciousness causing the Bourgeoisie to fall from power = Communist society.

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Structuralist approach - Traditional Marxism Evalu

- Said very little about how the Proletarian revolution would come about.


- Feminists - ignores gender


- In todays society the class system is merging together, it is difficult to tell who is rich or poor


- accused of being deterministic.


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Structuralist theory - Humanist Marxism, Gramsci

Looked at how the Bourgeoisie have been able to cling onto power and how capitalism has been able to continue to thrive.

HEGEMONY - ideological and moral leadership which keeps things the way that they are.

Hegemony will never be totally secure becuase: the ruling class are a minority and so are weak. The proletariat have a dual-consciousness, they can party see through the poor conditions of their own lives (Neo-marx, liberation theory)

Proletariat must develop a counter-hegemoney which will enable its own organic-intellectuals to change the ideas that people hold in society. eg new politcal party.

- too idealistic by claiming that changing peoples ideas will change society itself

- Neo Marx, Willis supports are the 'lads' were able to see through the ideology of capitalism

- more interpretivist in that he believes people can change society with their thoughts and ideas

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Structuralist theory - Structuralist Marxism, Alth

It is not peoples social actions which help to shape history but rather the material structures.

Two types of force to keep the Proletariats in order:

Repressive State Apparatus: militart, police, prisons etc.

Ideological state apparatus: education system, media, religion.

Ideology works in a similar way to Hegemony.

People are sucked in by ideology and are victims of false class consciousness. eg education unachievement.

Similar to Marx, just added politics and ideology to economy influencing all other parts of society.

Gramsci accused Althusser of ignoring how people can change lives through rebellion and action

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Structuralist theory - Liberal Feminists

Enlightenment freed to minds of men but not wormen. Laws must be changed to give women the same rights as med. Cultural change is needed in how women are seen across the world, can be achieved through education.

Oakley - differences between sex and gender: Sex, biological difference between men and women. Gender, cultural differences between man & women. While sex differences are fixed, cultural differences are socially constructed.

The process of socialisation in family, education and religion needs to change in order to change the social construction of gender.

Men and women can equal perform some roles going again parsons view of seperate roles.

Liberal feminism is working = laws banning sexism in the workplace and increasing recognition of womens rights

- Other feminist claim they are too positive in their march of progress and more revolutionary changed need to be made

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Structural theory - Radical Feminism

Patriarchy is the biggest problem that women face in societies across the world:

Patriarchy is universal, originates form womens dependency on men in order to bear children, men are womens main enemy as they are cause of social inequality and conflict. All men oppress women by benefitting from their unpaid domestic labour and sexual services.

3 parts to the radical transformation:

Seperate from men

Raise awareness of womens oppression

Encourage political lesbianism

Marxists - ignores the oppression of capitalism. Patriarchy is in decline. Over look womens violence to men, and violence in a lesbian relationship. Solutions are unrealistic and unworkable. Ignores societies which are matriarchal, eg afro caribbeans.

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Structuralist theory - Marxist-Feminists

Capitalism is the main oppressor with mens helps. Unpaid deomestic work greatly benefits capitalism: 1) House work is cheap unpaid labour. 2)Women are a reserve army of labour who can be moved in and out of the workplace whenver suits eg WW2. 3)Women are baby making machines. 4) Ansley - women are the takers of **** - domestic violence.

Barrett - Ideology of familism, women are brainwashed to want a husband and family and to fear being single and alone. the ideology needs to be attacked if women are to be truely free in our society. Explains women that stay in unhappy, empty shell marriages.

- doesnt explain why women are oppressed in non-capitalist, more traditional societies across the world.

- accused of being sex-blind. unable to explain why it is women not men performing the role

- radical fem, over looks patriarchy

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Structural theory - Dual systmens Feminism

Combine, marx fem and radical fem.

Hartmann - both patriarchy and capitalism togehter help us truly understand womens oppression in societies across the world.

Patriarchal capitalism, womens domestic labour limits womens opportunities to seek paid work and lack of opportunity for paid work keeps them in the home.

The two systems reinforce each other.

Walby - both capitalism and patriarchy are inter-related but they dont always work together in a close realtionshop.

Capitalism demands women perform cheap, low-paid work, whereas patriarch demands that wemen remain in the home.

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Structural theory - Poststructuralist Feminism

In postmodern society there are no absolutes therefore the knowledge from the enlightenment period cannot be used effectively to improve the position of women as society has become so complex and diverse.

Butler - There are many other ways of thinking (discourses) than the one means of thinking that came from the enlightenment period. Eg, science, religion or medicine.

Feminists have falsely belived that they stand to promote rights for all women but this is impossible because being a woman is different across the world.

There is no such thing are womanhood, its is defined by the country or society we live in.

Feminists should attempt to look much deeper beneath the initial surface of womens oppression to unpick the different discourses.

Overlooks that all women are seen to be victims of patriarchy, breaking down what a woman is will weaken the feminist movement, ignores that is a real concrete problem that needs to be tackled.

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Structuralist theory - Feminist Methodology and re

The weak thesis: Many researcher look at the world through the eyes of men and women are laregely ignored.

Findings are often assumed to apply to both men and women when only men are used in the research.

Questionnaires easily use sexist language

The strong thesis: Oakley - its not possible to get rid of sexism from existing reseach methods for a feminist methodology is needed which is sex free.

Researchers should recieve training on how to ensure that reseach methods are used in a gender-neutral way.

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Social action theories - Weber

social structures in society and peoples social actions are important in order to fully inderstand human behaviour.

Social structures cause people to behave in certain ways and their behaviours are then given a meaning in order to be understood eg. Calvinism

4 types of behavious/actions: 1) Rational Action 2) Value-rational action 3) Traditional action 4)Affectual action

We behave in ways that will help us to meet our goals, resulting in behaviour being less traditional and emotional.= Secularisation as our behavious is more scientific. & we a disenchanted with religion.

- failed to explain how meanings become shared across societies, categories overlap eg. Kula in between the Trobriand Islanders.

- Not everyone acts and behaves in rational ways all the time.

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Social action theory - Symbolic interactionism

Mead - Looked in depth at human bahaviour and how it can best be understood.

Dogs work on instinct, humans act and bahave based upon how interpret the behavious of others.

Humans, see behavious, read the symbol and decide how to respond. Eg. a clenched fist.

'I' - what you want to do. 'Me' - how you actually act based on what others think of you

Mead shows our behavious is controlled by us, not by the institutions in society.

Blumer - Developed Mead's analysis.

Shared meaninhs which we give to human behavious are the result of peoples interaction with each other

Structural theories underestimate the power individuals have over society.

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Social action theory - SI, Labelling theory

Three main interactionist principles which underpin labelling theory:

1) Definition of a situation, label is given often influenced how people behave towards it

2)The looking-glass self, thinking about how others see us. SFP

3) Career, master status/deviant career.

our behaviour is a product of how we interact with one another. Small-scale, interpretivist methods are essential like observations.

- accused of being deterministic - assumes that the label had total power over an individual but an idividual can reject a label.

- Goffman - people actively create their own indentities by deliberately manufacturing how people see us. He says we are all actors who act our scripts using props and resting back stage between performances to audienced. Impression management, first impressions. SUBJECTIVE

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Social action theory - Evaluation of SI

- recognises that people have some control over the way in which they bahce.


- Structural theories accuse it of ingoring the power of societies institutes over peoples behaviour.


- It cannot explain how the family, education or religion and the law create norms and values which the majority of people follow.


- Goffman created the impression that people are manipulative well rehearsed actors which is not true. people can act spontaneously and unpredictably

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Social action theory - Phenomenology

interpretivist approach which believes that there is no reality in a truly objective sense but an existence of what we define as realy is the product of our mind set and thinking.

Concerns itself with explaining things as they appear on the surface not looking at the hidden depths of society.

We make sense of the world around us by a number of meanings.  We categorise meanings which enable us to share them. There is no external influence on our behaviour/

Schutz - categories of meanings = typifications, enables everyone to understand what behaviour means. We have created the social world through the shared meaning and understanding of behaviours making the world part of our mind set.

Atkinson - Classifications of suicide are not right or wrong they simple are.  There are no objective facts to be explained, they are just meanings which we try to understand and are given meanings by coroners. Rejects structuralist and positivists.

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Social action theory - Ethnomethodology

rejects the clain that society is a real, objective structure which exists out there independently from each person. Ethnomethodology is a way of putting Phenomenology into practice

It is our own common sense that keeps norms and values in place not the institutions of society.

Garfinkel - looks at the meanings that came before interactionism.

what behaviour means can be interpreted by someone else differently therefore it is vital for people to be able to effectively recognise the context in which behaviour is taking place.

The recognition comes from people using their common sense - reflexivity, language is an example of achieve this through explaining a meaning. without this people risk not being aware of what behaviour means - indexicality

Eg. he performed numbers of breaching experiment and asked student to ask like lodgers in their own homes. Sucicide reseach with coroners showed that they just look for evidence to fit their own common sense of suicide and do not understand the true meaning

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Social action theory - Endomethodology evaluation

Int- Credited for providing a theory of society which challenges the structuralist clain tha *** si the major ins***utes which dictate how we behave.

- Some question how useful it actually is.

- EM itself is also fic***ious

- presents a society as a produce of our imaginations, if this is true how can peoples behaviours be stuidied at all? Doesnt explain this.

- Marxists criticise for ignoring how wider social structures in society create inequality among people. It is actually ruling class common sense.

Interpretivist methods, observations, detailed case studies & unstructured interviews. Allows the true meaning to be discovered behind data

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Giddens Structuration theory

The is a duality of structure that exists - both structure and action (agency) exist. One cannot exist without another.

Institutions form part of society's overall structure but their influence over peoples changes over time and across different cultures as a result of peoples social actions (acency)

Eg. Language is part of societys structure which has a set of rules and spellings to help people understand what we mean but language also depends upon peoples social actions.

Society is well structures since it contains rules and resources. The existing social structure remains stead since peoples actions follows given traditions and rules passed down through socialisation. Challenging the social order is not encouraged and maintains our desire for ontological security.

Structure and agency can change societies eg calvinism, economic growth effecting the environment.

-created the impression structures are easily changed by people actions - not always true

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We are now living in a world that is unstable, fragmented and fluid.

There is no real ovjective criteria which can be used to prove whether the existing theories are right or wrong which makes it impossible for knowledge gained from the enlightenment period to be used as we dont know for sure whether it is correct.

Grand meta-narrative are not longer capable of explaining the social world so their claims must be rejected. We must therefore take a more relative view!

Foucault - knowledge is simply information and views we hold about life which come from a particular source. Knowledge and truth are relative, so our claims that we know things for sure about life are somewhat 'unlikely'

Baudrillard - there is no true 'knowledge' but instead a sense of hyper-reality. Life is now so complex and surreal that it is impossible to distinguish reality from imagery. The media is to blame for this. Culture is increasingly fragmented but the media and peoples sense of identity becomes increasing uncertain. Social class and gender no longer define us as individuals. Pick and mix identities.

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Evalutation of postmodernism


- Marxist accuse them of overlooking how the media is used by the rich to dominate the poor. Over looks the media as a manipulative tool.

- Postmodernists dont give people enough credit in being able to distinguish image from reality.

- 'all view are correct in their own way' - accused of being morally inexcusable.

- hypocritical

- too critical on the impact of the enlightenment period to help change the world for the better. Eg medical break throughs, faster air travel.

- Perhaps we are living in a modern era not a postmodern society.

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Are we living in a postmodern era?

Giddens - we are living in a later-modern stage rather than a radically new postmodern stage.

We can still use knowledge taken from the Enlightenment to improve human world.

Todays society is rapidly changing but this is changing existing society rather than creating a new society. We are increasingly dis-embedding from fixed culture and are now more individualistic.

We are increasingly reflexive in how we view ideas, knowledge etc. We can still take control over our lives and continue to try and improve things

Beck - agrees with Giddens that society is now different from the past but we can still manage it to make life better for ourselves.

People are more individualistic which give us more freedom but that comes with risks as consequences of the choices we now have. We are increasingly risk conscious and can therefore modernise in a reflexive way.

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Is sociology a science?! Postivism, YES!

- believe that society can be studied in exactly the same way as the natural world can. It is an objective reality which is there.

Studied using a range of reseach methods which produce objective data to identify patterns, trends and measure different things. Durkheim - sociologist can be equally as sure about laws of human nature as the laws of gravity.

Inductive sociology:  inductive approach, collecting data and then using this information to create different theories. The theory can be verified (verificationism) as more evidence is produced to support what has been found. Macro approach, need to observe how key social structures operate.

Positivist reseach methods - experimental method is most useful when studying society. experiments provdie good quantitative data which is objective and accurate. Observation, case studies and life histories lack true objectivity. Methods which keep the reseacher more detached such as closed ended questionnaires, structures interviews and official stats are more reliable.

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Is sociology a science? Interpretivism, No!

supporting social action theories of interactionism and ethnomethodology.

It is not possible to study people and society scientifically. Human behaviour is far too complicated. Depth, detail and true meaning must be uncovered which positivists dont do.

the fundamental difference between the natural world are the human world is that humans have free will and choice over how they behave. Gravity is not a choice!!

There are no social facts and nothing objectively factual about human behaviour.  Sociologists much attempt to see the world through the eyes of those who are being studied.

Weber believes sociologists must use verstehen (empathy and unerstanding)

Should take a bottom up micro approach. Extensive obervations will enable theories to be produced which explain behaviour.

Detailed, qualitative data should be used. participant obervation, unstructured interviews, case studies, historical documents and diaries. subjective interpretations.

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Popper, Kuhn & the realist approach

Popper- belives that it is possible for sociology to be a science although be disagrees with the approach to studying society scientifically that many sociologists take.

The sociologists should attempt to falsify their work, since this invites honest challenge and criticism.

 If a theory cannot be proven false then it must be right.

Kuhn- sociology is not a science since sociologists do not share a single paradigm in their views and approach to collecting data.

Scientists on the other hand so share a common paradigm

Realists - sociology could well be scientific but it and science must accept that it is not always possible to study things which can be directly observed. Instead both observable and unobservable phenomena need to be studied.

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Truly objective & value free sociology

Early positivism - early functionalist believed that with enlightenment there was the possiblity for them to study in a highly scientific way and use factual information to help improve society for the better. In doing so the sociologist is able to remain detached and removed from the data itself  therefore preventing bias.

Weber - interpretivist so cannot always be truly objective since data is collected by humans themselves. Sociologist will automatically make judgements based upon their own values however they attempt to keep their own values out of the data-collection process.

Sociologists own values can be helpful when conducting research:

1) values help sociologists to decide what to research

2) Valures should be kept out of the data collection process, otherwise validity is compromised

3)Values should influence how the sociologist interprets evidence

4) Sociologists should take responsibility for the values they hold.

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Value freedom

Modern positivists - sociologists should not be proud of the values they hold as uncovering the truth about people and society should not be influenced about the sociologists own values

Committed sociologists - sociologists should be firmly committed to their own values and be proud of how they shape their work which is shaped by their own values. Interpretivists believe that it is impossible for for a researcher to completely leave their values out of their work.

Becker - Sociologists values are always present in their research but the nature of their values depends on who they are trying to support. positivists and functionalists often support powerful groups however this is a mistake and they should try and see it from the other side and allow their values to possibly change. Eg, Goffmans study of patients in asylums

Objectivity & relativism - some sociologists believe that it is impossible to produce a truly objective, value free study of society. Relativism - there is no absolute truth which is truly value free but different interpretations of the truth. Postmodernists agree with this.

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