Theory and Methods- Revision Notes (Paper One and Three)

Theory and Methods 


  • Features: Macro Theory, focus on consensus and organic analogy 
  • Functional Prerequisites: Adaptation (standard of living), Goal Attainment (decision-making), Integration (social harmony), Latency (individual beliefs/values)
  • Evaluation: Some institutions are functional and dysfunctional; Parsons is too critical (Merton), Parsons overemphasises the level of consensus; members of society have different values 


  • Features: Macro Theory, Structural/Conflict Theory, focus on Bourgeoisie and Proletariat 
  • Stages of Society: Primitive Communism; no private property, Feudalism; lords exploiting serfs, capitalism; today’s society 
  • Views on Society: Bourgeoisie owns the means of production, influencing institutions, this constructs norms and values beneficial to the Bourgeoisie, leads to a false class consciousness. Some groups will recognise exploitation, become class conscious. Capitalism will drive down wages, pauperisation will occur, capitalism will be overthrown 
  • Evaluation: Crisis in capitalism has not occurred; its grown stronger through globalisation, rich minority and poor masses has not developed (polarisation)
  • Neo-Marxsim: Marxism underestimates the ability of the proletariat to resist the Bourgeoisie, more emphasis on choices people make rather than economic impact (Gramsci)

Interactionism/Social Action 

  • Features: Micro Theory, emphasis on people’s free will, focus on ways individuals come to be defined 
  • Symbolic Interactionism: Views are socially constructed, in order to react to meanings we need to know who we are (Looking Glass Self)
  • Role Taking: Imagine ourselves as other people, helps us to understand the actions of others (Mead)
  • Dramaturgical Approach: Everyone is always acting (Goffman)
  • Evaluation: Does not explain power differences in society and symbolic meaning origins 


  • Features: Macro/Structural Theory, Postmodern society features; consumption, individualism, global citizens, 1980’s society was changing rapidly 
  • Incredulity towards Metanarratives: People no longer believe a single theory can be used to understand society; society is based on individuals not structures, world is too complicated and rapidly changing (Lyotard)
  • Technical Language Games: Search for ultimate truth is abandoned and replaces by looking for what works on a small scale  
  • Key Changes: Decline in traditional identity sources, consumption of goods form our identities, hybrid identities, no single plan to improve society  
  • Simulacrum- Signs/images in the media are not based on reality; use them to model our behaviour, images create a hyper reality (Boudrillard)
  • Evaluation: People still terrorise other by imposing a theory on them (Islamic State)

Sociology as a Science 

  • Positivist- Yes: Sociology should be like natural sciences and use quantitative methods to discover laws about human behaviour; discover laws through observation and use the hypothetic-deductive model. If a study follows this model and produces quantitative data, it is scientific (Durkheim)
  • Falsification- Maybe: Instead of looking for evidence to prove a hypothesis, we should look to disprove a hypothesis as it forces us to learn more (deductive approach- Popper)
  • Interpretivists- No: Unable to objectively study society; collecting judgements rather than facts; should be looking for meanings behind social interactions. Too many competing theories to be scientific (Kuhn) 


  • Positivists- Value Free: Free of bias, can be considered a science; Sociology study phenomena that exists, constructs theories and tests them. Methods are objective as they are untainted by personal


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