Theory and methods

HideShow resource information

Structuralist theories

  • Parsons
  • Durkheim
  • Merton
  • 2) MARXISM
  • Traditional - Marx
  • Humanist - Gramsci
  • Stucturalist - Althusser
  • Liberal - Oakley
  • Radical - Greer
  • Marxist-feminist - Ansley
  • Poststructuralist-feminists - Butler

Important to look at their METHODOLOGY and EVALUATE

1 of 33

Functionalism - Parsons

  • society as a SOCIAL SYSTEM
  • an organic anology is used: where society is compared to the human body in three main ways:
  • 1) they are both a SYSTEM - all their parts work together and each of them has a paticular function
  • 2) they both have SYSTEM NEEDS - e.g. the body needs nutrition and society needs good socialisation and strong economy
  • 3) they both have FUNCTIONS - the systems function to keep the body/society alive
  • in order for society to function well VALUE CONSENSUS and SOCIAL SOLIDARITY are needed
  • this is possible when NORMS and VALUES are passed down to future generations
  • for this to take place, two things are needed:
  • 1) GOOD SOCIALISATION through the family and education system
  • 2) GOOD SOCIAL CONTROL through law and order etc
  • an example of the above is parson WARM BATH THEORY
  • there has been a move from TRADITIONAL SOCIETY to MODERN SOCIETY
  • this move has been SLOW and GRADUAL however, which prevent anomie
2 of 33

Functionalism - Durkheim

  • agreed with Parsons in that society should change is a slow and evoloutionary way
  • he was concerned about how rapid social change would impact society
  • this could link to his study of suicide, as there may be an increase in ANOMIC and EGOISTIC suidcide due to lack of INTEGRATION and REGULATION
3 of 33

Functionalism - Merton

  • although he is a functionalist himself he challenges parsons theory, this is therefore and INTERNAL critisism
  • 1) parson ignores how FUNCTIONAL ALTERNATIVES work just as well e.g. lone parent families can effectively socialise their children just as well as the nuclear family can
  • 2) ignores how society can be FUNCTIONALLY AUTONOMOUS - parsons assumes all institutions are tightly connected but merton believes they can be seperate and function just as well e.g. religion often plays no part in some families but they both co-exist together
  • 3) ignores how society can be DYSFUNCTIONAL for some, some groups have CONFLICTS OF INTERESTS e.g. between w/c and m/c and the way they achieve their goals
4 of 33

Functionalism - Evaluation

  • Conflict theories e.g.g marxism argue functionalism cannot fully explain why societies change and stay the same, the 'social stability' is just powerful groups forcing their IDEAOLOGY upon us, therefore there is no true value consensus, its just an IDEALOGICAL SMOKESCREEN to stop the poor challenging their injustices
  • Social action theories - accuse functionalism of being deterministic, they see us as 'puppets on strings' who are unable to think for ourselves when in reality we ARE
  • Functionalists see society and people being of seperate existance, when in reality people MAKE society
  • Postmodernists claim functionalist are OUTDATED to claim societies are ORDERLY and STABLE, they claim we now live in a society where CHANGE, CHAOS and UNCERTAINTY are common
5 of 33

Functionalism - Research methods

  • they are structuralists so prefer research methods that allow the study of LARGE NUMBERS of people
  • they therfore prefer the POSITIVIST approach
  • this involves obtaining data from: structured interviews, official statistics, questionnaires and experiments
  • they like QUANTITATIVE DATA as it allows them to spot key PATTERNS and TRENDS (e.g. durkheim using official statistics to look at suicide)
  • patterns and trends allow the researcher to feel that their data is RELIABLE and OBJECTIVE
6 of 33

Traditional marxism - Karl Marx

  • the knew found KNOWLEDGE the ENLIGHTENMENT period gave us could have been used to help society progress for the better e.g. end religion
  • however the progression was full of CONFLICT, PAIN and MISERY (he therefore rejects the functionalist view that society can change harmoniously and gradually)
  • he was a SOCIAL REVOLOUTIONIST who saw sudden, radical change as inevitable - once the PROLETARIAT wake up from their FALSE CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS ony then will be see then end of this class ridden society and the emergence of a new, communist way of living
  • according to max people require material things and in order to require these things they need to WORK but production must also be ORGANISED therefore, there are people who do the organising and people who work
  • production is money driven (ECONOMY) this therefore, forms the INFRASTRUCTURE on which all other institutions are built e.g. family, education etc.
  • people who organise production have control over who can and cant have products, this gives these people POWER and the ability to OPRESS those who do not have access to the products
  • a two class system is therefore born: the BOURGEOISIE vs PROLETARIAT
  • since the P and dependent on the B they have no choice but to WORK HARD in order to survive
7 of 33

Marx - Evaluation

  • marx said very little about how the proletariat revoloution would come about
  • this so called 'promised' revoloution has not yet happened!
  • marx is accused of assuming inequality is ineviatably linked to social class. Feminists for example, claim power relationships based on GENDER are more important
  • marx assumed that class polarisation was occuring where the gap between the rich and the poor was widening, however, in todays society is hard to even tell
  • marx is accused of being DETERMINISTIC in assuming the economy always influences societies institutions
8 of 33

Humanist marxism - Antonio Gramsci

  • interested in looking HOW exactly the bourgeoisie have been able to CLING ON to their POWER and HOW capitalism has been able to continue to THRIVE
  • he claims a HEGEMONY exists - ideological leadership which keeps things the way they are and the B have CONTROL over this
  • gramsci rejected marx claim that changes in the economy would result in the working class 'waking up' and realising their exploition
  • instead the, CONTROL of peoples THOUGHTS and IDEAS remains a very strong BARRIER (similar to ideaology)
  • hegemony results in the ruling class holding onto their power but it will never be totally secure for 2 reasons:
  • 1) the ruling class are the MINORITY and must compromise with those below them e.g. on conditions at work, this highlights a weakness in their power
  • 2) the proletaiat have a DUAL CLASS CONCIOUSNESS which means they can partially see through their poor conditions - linked to neo marxism and the liberation theology
  • to overthrow the B the P must develop a COUNTER HEGEMONY which will allow the, to change the idea people have in society e.g. by forming a new political party with communist ideas
9 of 33

Gramsci - Evaluation

  • accused of being to IDEALISTIC in claiming changes peoples ideas will change society, this underestimates the power of the state to control people by force
  • has recieved SOME SUPPORT from other NEO-MARXISTS e.g. paul willis' study of 'the lads' showed that they COULD see through the IDEALOGY
  • gramsci has a more interpretivist approach in that he believes people do have SOME control over society
  • althusser claims gramsci is too willing to believe peoples actions can shape society, if people change societies STUCTURE it will change for everybody
10 of 33

Structuralist marxism - Louis Althusser

  • its NOT peoples SOCIAL ACTIONS which help to shape society but MATERIAL STRUCTURES
  • althusser rejects marx claim that the economy forms the basis of all institutions, he istead claims society is formed of the ECONOMY, POLITICAL and IDEOLOGICAL level, which are all independent from eachother
  • the STATE is also powerful and uses 2 types of FORCE to keep the poor in their place:
  • 1) REPRESSIVE STATE APPARATUS e.g. police, military, prison etc
  • 2) IDEOLOGICAL STATE APPARATUS e.g. education system, media, religion
  • in this way the ideology works in a similar way to gramsci's hegemony
  • howver, althusser rejects gramsci's claim that people have FREE WILL and the ability to change society
  • people are SUCKED IN by ideology and are victims of FALSE CLASS CONSIOUSNESS
  • e.g. very few people see the MYTH OF MERITOCRACY in the education system
  • change will only occur when CAPITALISM COLLAPSES in on itself
  • which will happen when the three parts of the social system (economy, political and ideology) become so dis-jointed they cannot cope
11 of 33

Althusser - Evaluation

  • some claim althusser is no different to marx, althusser merlely adds two different eliments (politics and ideology)
  • gramsci accuses althusser of ignoring how people can change their lives through rebellion and action
12 of 33

Marxism - Research methods

  • the same as functionalism
13 of 33

Liberal Feminism - Oakley

  • liberal means FREE and EQUAL the main basis of liberal feminism
  • intellectual advancements of the enlightenment period FREED the minds, women were not so lucky
  • SLOW, GRADUAL reforms can be made to improve the position of women
  • LAWS must be changed to give women the same rights as men
  • achieved through careful EDUCATION and realisation that biological differences do not mean women are not capable of getting the same things out of life as men and vice versa
  • oakley believes much of the mis-understanding surrounding men and women come from peoples failure to recognise the difference between SEX and GENDER
  • SEX is the BIOLOGICAL differences between men and women and GENDER is the CULTURAL differences between men and women
  • she claims differences in sex are FIXED but cultural differences are SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED e.g. the rights women have in one country vary country to country
  • for change to occur changes in the way gender is socially constructed can have a lasting impact
  • she claims the process of socialisation NEEDS to change as these will slowly produce wider CULTURAL CHANGES and provide a BETTER DEAL for women (and even men)
14 of 33

Liberal feminism - Evaluation

  • theres evidence that liberal feminist movements are working, there continues to be positive steps foward in society for women
  • other feminists REJECT the MARCH OF PROGRESS attitude of liberal feminists and claim they are overly optimistic about the liberation of women in society
  • radical feminists accuse liberal feminists of ignoring how deep rooted gender equalities in society are, and how womens subordination remains extremly oppressive
  • more revoloutionary RADICAL change is needed to end male domination


15 of 33

Radical feminism - Germaine Greer

  • PATRIARCHY is the biggest problem women face
  • patriarchy is universal and originates from women dependency on men to have a child, all men oppress women, all men benifit from womens unpaid labour and sexual services
  • radical feminist refer to SEX POLITICS where all relationships involve power and therefore exploitation
  • womens are victims of the way SEXUALITY is SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED
  • it encourages women to be represented as SEX OBJECTS who live to please mens urges e.g. ***********
  • RADICAL TRANSFORMATION is needed to LIBERATE women from patriarchy
  • women are therefore encouraged to:
  • 1) GERMAINE GREER- seperate themselves from men - if they live in matrilocal households it will begin to change societies cultural expectations of a 'typical household'
  • 2) raise awareness of womens oppression -  promote awarness of the harm patriachy causes
  • 3) encourage political lesbianism - the only non-oppressive form of sexuality
16 of 33

Radical feminism - Evaluation

  • marxist disagree as they claim capitalism opresses women not patriarchy
  • radical feminists ignore how female subordination can take many different forms across the world
  • it assumes all women are subordinated - this is not the case
  • their soloutions to the prolem of patriarchy are UNREALISTIC, the bioogical attraction between most men and women will make it difficult to form matrilocal housholds
  • patriarchy may already be in decline which radical feminist ignore - e.g. changes to the law
  • radical feminists are quick to condemn male violence against women but overlook how women can infact be violent against men
  • they also ignore violence in lesbian relationships
17 of 33

Marxist-feminism - Fran Ansley

  • reject the claim that men are the only source of oppression to women
  • CAPITALISM along with MEN'S help exploit them
  • womens involvement in UNPAID DOMESTIC work greatly BENEFITS capitalism
  • this happens in the following ways:
  • 1) HOUSEWORK is a cheap source of UNPAID LABOUR
  • 2) women are considered the RESERVE ARMY OF LABOUR who are moved in and out of work whenever it suits, this was certainly the case in ww2 when women only entered the labour market whilst the men where at war, and quickly asked to return to the home when they came home
  • 3) women are seen to be BABY-MAKING MACHINES who reproduce future generations of capitalist workers
  • 4) men take their anger out on wives when they return home from a fustrating day at work in this was FRAN ANSLEY claims they are the 'TAKERS OF SHIT' who are expected to absorb their husbands fustrations - thos links to domestic violence
18 of 33

Marxist-feminism - Evaluation

  • whilst marxist feminists are more able to identify how social structes oppress women it cannot explain why women are oppressed in NON-CAPITALIST societies across the world
  • marxism is accused of being SEX-BLIND they are unable to explain why women perform the role of domestic labour ad not men
  • they are accused of overlooking just how oppressive patriarchy is
  • they overlook of the division of klabour in households is becoming more EQUAL
19 of 33

Dual-systems feminism - Hartmann

  • attempts to bring together the economic system of marxist feminists and the sex-gender system of radical feminists
  • BOTH patriarchy and capitalism together help us understand womens oppression
  • she refers to PATRIARCHAL CAPITALISM - women perform work both in the home and in paid work
  • domestic labour limits their oppertunities to seek paid work and the lack of oppertunities for paid work keeps them in the home!
  • the two systems REINFORCE eachother
20 of 33

Poststructuralist feminism - Judith Butler

  • feminist view expressed so far ignore how being a 'woman' in itself is a SOCIAL CONSTRUCT
  • womanhood takes many DIFFERENT FORMS across the world
  • in post-modern society there are no absolutes and no certainties
  • new ways of thinking that came out of the enlightenment period are only ONE way of looking at things
  • there are many other ways which she calls DISCOURSES e.g. science, religion or medicine
  • feminists have wrongly believed for years that they stand to promote right for ALL women, but this is IMPOSSIBLE as being a 'woman' is different across the world
  • without realising it feminists are represented by white, western, middle class women who see the world through THEIR discourse - this is actually very limiting
  • e.g. womanhood in saudi arabia is defined by islamic discourse, in the UK it is defined by advertising and the media
  • feminists should look much deeper beneath the initial surface of womens oppression
  • they should UNPICK the different discourses and shed light on womens experiences
  • there is NO ONE WAY to look at the world
  • in understanding this feminists will be able to look at the lives of ALL women and will have  better chance of promoting their RIGHT and changing their LIVES 
21 of 33

Poststructuralist feminism - Evaluation

  • although they highlight the many differences between women across the world more TRADITIONAL feminists claim there are just as many (if not more) similarities e.g. they are all victims of patriarchy
  • more traditional feminists believe if what to be a 'woman' is, is broken down into too many ways it will weaken the feminist movement
  • some feminists claim that the opression of women isnt the product of the way we THINK about it, its a REAL concrete problem that needs to be tackled
22 of 33

Feminism - Research methods


  • research methods are used in a sexist way
  • many researchers look at the world through the eyes of a man
  • finding are assumed to apply both men and women but women arent actually used in the research e.g. studies of occupation where assumed to apply to the wives of the men studied too, questionnaires use sexist language with questions phrased as he rather than he/she


  • feminists such as ann oakley believe that it isnt possible to iron out sexism from existing research methods, instead a NEW FEMINIST METHODOLOGY is needed, which would involve sex free methodology that would enable men and woman to be on equal ground
  • e.g. when using interviews the methodology would include making sure that there was no hierarchy between the interviewer and the interviewee (no POWER differences)
  • this would lead to more VALID research as the individual would OPEN UP more
  • researchers should be given training to use research methods in a GENDER NUETRAL way
  • it may even be a good idea to show empathy for the individual
23 of 33

Social action theories


  • George Herbert Mead
  • Labelling theory
  • Erving Goffman


  • Alfred Schutz
  • Atkinson
  • Garfinkel


24 of 33

Symbolic interactionism - George Herbert Mead

  • the ways HUMANS BEHAVE is different from the behaviour of animals in the natrual world
  • animals behaviour is largely based on instinct, however, human behaviour is more COMPLEX
  • although we do have instincts that can influence our behaviour much of how we act is based upon how we INTERPRET the behaviour of others
  • we SEE a behaviour e.g. a clenched fist and then we READ it in a paticular way, helping us DECIDE how to respond e.g. the clenched fist could be a sign of anger or anxiety
  • the shared MEANINGS we hold partially come from being able to put ourselves in other peoples shoes (LOOKING-GLASS SLEF)
  • we aquire this by thinking how others see US - mead calls this ROLE-TAKING
  • e.g. at a party you may feel bored and want to leave after 10 minutes (the I) but we will unlikely do this as we imagine how other will view us, so you wait for an hour before leaving (the ME) in this way the ME neutralises the I
  • this enables us to see things from someone elses point of view
  • this helps us FULLY UNDERSTAND human behaviour
  • mead shows how our behaviour is controlled by US, not societies institutions
25 of 33

Labelling theory

  • see crime and deviance notes
  • labelling theory essentially shows how our behaviour is the product of how we interact with one another
26 of 33

Erving Goffman

  • we are VERY MUCH in CONTROL of our own behaviours, identities and sense of self
  • he uses the topic of DRAMA to emphasise his point
  • we are all as individuals ACTORS in society who act out SCRIPTS, using PROPS, resting backstage between PERFORMANCES, presenting to our AUDIENCES
  • if successful we give of an impression to others that we like them to see
  • in order to do so, though, there must be a GOOD PRESENTATION OF THE SELF
  • e.g. a pupil gives a different performance to his/her teachers than he does to his/her friends in the common room
  • goffman rejects the functionalist claim that our roles are tightly scripted by societies institutions
  • our behaviour is highly SUBJECTIVE
27 of 33

Symbolic interactionism - Evaluation

  • it does atleast recognise how we have SOME control over the ways in which we behave
  • structural theories accuse interactionism of ignoring the power societies institutions have over us
  • if the theory is true why do so many people follow the NORMS and VALUES of society
  • goffman creates the impression that people are manipulative, well-rehearsed actors - this is not true, people often act spontaneously and unpredictably
28 of 33

Phenomenology - Alfred Schutz

  • shared categories of meaning are 'TYPIFICATIONS'
  • this enables everyone to understand what behaviour means
  • e.g. raising your hand in the classroom has a different MEANING to if you did it at an auction
  • through socialisation we become CLEAR what these different meanings are
  • these do not help us UNDERSTAND the world they ARE the world
  • we have CREATED the social world we are part of, therefore it does not exist outside our minds
  • the external reality we claim to 'know' exists is our attempt at MAKING SENSE of the world
29 of 33

Ethnomethodology - Garfinkel

  • wa way of putting ethnomehodology into practice
  • garfinkel believes the ROLE of a sociologist os to investigate how people MAKE SENSE of the world
  • he looks at were meaning come from in the first place
  • what out behaviour means can be MISINTERPRETED by others e.g when we clench our fist
  • its therefore essential that we UNDERSTAND these behaviours to keep society in order
  • we need to RECOGNISE THE CONTEXT in which the behaviour is in - this comes from people using their common sense (REFLEXIVITY)
  • if we dont know what a behaviour means he calls it INDEXICALITY
  • there is no OBJECTIVE society as society is SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED, although meaning are potentially unclear (indexicality) people use their common sence knowledge to create a sense of ORDER (reflexivity)
30 of 33

Ethnomethodology - Evaluation

  • good evaluation of structuralist theories
  • some sociologist question how USEFUL em is, arent we aware our common sence doesnt explain human behaviour?
  • if our own existance is a social contruct and everything we do is an act of fiction isnt em fictisious too?
  • if society is a product of our imagination how can peoples behaviour be studied at all?
  • the common sense behaviour that em discusses is actually ruling class common sense rather than everybody in general, according to marxists
31 of 33

Social action - Research methods

  • INTERPRETIVIST METHODS are most suitable for trying to understand the COMPLEX nature of human behaviour
  • they therefore like methods such as: observations, detailed case studies and unstructured interviews
  • this allows the people being studied to TAKE CONTROL of the research situation - preventing the researcher controlling the direction of the research
  • this helps uncover the TRUE MEANING behind data
  • the researchers SUBJECTIVE INTERPRETATIONS are valuable in helping us understand the meaning behind peoples behaviour
  • this isn't possible when using positivist methods
  • phenomenologists still believe its impossible to know something for SURE
32 of 33

Structuraction - Giddens

  • combining social action and structuralist theories
33 of 33


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Sociological theory resources »