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Social theory complete may 2014


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Rather long but as simple as I can get it for now. Constantly under revision. es

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Social theory complete may 2014

  1. 1.  To briefly explain, there are what are called Macro and Micro theories (perspectives) in sociology.  Macro looks at very large sectors of society or the society in its entirety.  Micro looks at elements that explain how the macro formations came about.
  2. 2.  Think of macro as taking a picture from an airplane at 30,000 feet. You see large squares, some green, some brown. You see blue pools of water. You see mountains, and you see cities. You begin to se patterns of where the squares are usually located in relation to where the cities are. And even some of the pools of water appear to be related to the cities.
  3. 3.  Now you are in a car driving through those areas you have seen from above. The green squares, you discover, are crops growing on farmland. The brown squares are farmland too, but fallow between plantings. The pools of water are not all the same. Some are reservoirs, and some are recreational lakes. One large on is even a lake of salt water.
  4. 4.  From the plane you saw the big picture. And in such a view of society we look at the big influences on society such as the economy, ethnic conflicts, power struggles. From the car you see the origins of the squares and that they were constructed by people, and not the other way around. The social world is constructed by people and society from this perspective is based upon the interaction of individuals and groups with each other.
  5. 5.  Conflict and Functionalism, both macro, work on the ideas of how societies evolve, change, and hold together in terms of economics, history, and politics.  Symbolic Interactionism is interested in how we create social structure through language and social interaction. The way humans construct the larger features of society.
  6. 6. But, a discussion of Social Darwinism and its most sinister spin-offs in more recent history is important to think about. What does the word “eugenics” mean to you? How about “The Bell Curve” by Herrenstein and Murray? (this article is a bit long, but look for the parts on how it is flawed.)
  7. 7.  Before we leave the world of Structural Functionalism, a word about Merton. His addition to the concept is important.
  8. 8. the consequences of a social process that are sought or anticipated. A manifest function of college education, for example, includes gaining knowledge, preparing for a career, and finding a good job that utilizes that education. (Citation lost)
  9. 9. the unsought consequences of a social process. Latent functions of your college years include meeting new people, participating in extracurricular activities, or even finding a spouse or partner. Another latent function of education is creating a hierarchy of employment based on the level of education attained. (Citation lost)
  10. 10. Again, the unsought consequences of a social process. This would be unintended consequences such as those, in the education example, of the creations of cliques and the reinforcement of class structure. Bullying. Stereotyping.
  11. 11. Unfortunately, functionalism was unable to explain a number of features of American society, such as poverty, social change, dissent, and the continuing influence and political and economic power of the wealthy.
  12. 12. Here is a really short list:
  13. 13. Thus we have the perspective of Conflict Theory
  14. 14.  Conflict view: Where functionalists see stability and consensus, conflict sociologists see a social world in continual struggle.  Think in terms of “who benefits” from social conflict. In ecological conflict between business and the environment, who generally wins? Who is really winning the war in Iraq?
  15. 15.  Marx viewed struggle between classes as inevitable.  Thus he applied the philosopher, Hegel’s concept of the dialectic, but applying it to the real world – materialism..
  16. 16. Dialectics is the method of reasoning which aims to understand things concretely in all their movement, change and interconnection, with their opposite and contradictory sides in unity. ~Encyclopedia of Marxism
  17. 17. Class struggle is the central contradiction to be resolved by Marxist dialectics, because of its central role in the social and political lives of a society.
  18. 18. John L. Heineman
  19. 19. John L. Heineman
  20. 20.  Conflict theorists are interested in how society’s institutions—including the family, government, religion, education, and the media—may help to maintain the privileges of some groups and keep others in a subservient position.  Does the crash of the US economy best fit the functionalist viewpoint or that of conflict theory?
  21. 21.  Emerged from the classic conflict perspective is the feminist perspective. It is one of conflict itself. This view sees inequality in gender as central to all behavior and organization.
  22. 22.  Drawing on the work of Marx and Engels, contemporary feminist theorists often view women’s subordination as inherent to capitalist societies. However a cursory view of middle eastern (and other) societies shows that it is not atypical for women to be in a culturally subordinate position to men in other cultures as well. That this happens in developed capitalistic societies is what is most remarkable.
  23. 23.  As in traditional understandings of conflict perspective, feminism looks at who benefits from the social arrangement. Clearly it is men who benefit from sexist practices. These practices go deep into our cultures and permeate the business climate as well.  Think about your home-life and professional life and the division of gender roles. How are they at times equal and unequal. Five minute writing and break into groups for discussion.
  24. 24. This is a micro theory. It is a view that looks at the interaction of individuals with one another in varying size groups. It is not necessarily at odds with macro perspectives but rather is a viewpoint of humans with agency.
  25. 25. 1863-1931
  26. 26. George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) is considered one of the founders of symbolic interactionism, though he never published his work on it (LaRossa & Reitzes 1993). It was up to his student Herbert Blumer (1900–1987) to interpret Mead's work and popularize the theory. Blumer coined the term “symbolic interactionism” and identified its three basic premises:
  27. 27. 1. Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things. 2. 2. The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society. 3. 3. These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters (Blumer 1969).
  28. 28.  First: Pragmatism is a wholly American school of thought that examines the human relationship to the environment, contrasting it with the relationship of other animals to their environment. What is real for humans always depends on our own active intervention – our own interpretation or definition.
  29. 29.  Second, to the pragmatist, knowledge is judged by how useful it is in defining the situation we enter.  Third, things in situations are defined according to the use they have for us at the time.  Fourth, it tells us something about how philosophers and social scientists should study the human being. Start with action. It is what human beings do in real situations that matters.
  30. 30.  Pragmatism and Symbolic Interactionism
  31. 31.  We must regard the human being in naturalistic terms. While a god may exist, nature should be understood on its own terms, as subject to natural laws.  Mead, as Darwin, saw human development as part of the evolutionary process.
  32. 32.  Certain elements of humans make them unique from other animals: a highly developed brain; highly developed vocal chords and facial muscles that make it possible to create many subtle and sophisticated sounds; a helplessness in childhood that makes it essential to rely heavily on society and socialization.  Such qualities, when combined, make humans able to use language, and language, in turn, allows them to reason.
  33. 33. But Mead went further than Darwin: To Darwin evolution in nature is passive. That is, changes in the environment and in genetic makeup together influence the changes in the animal kingdom. But for Mead: Once language and the ability to reason arose in nature, the resulting being was able to turn back on nature itself, actively directing how the natural forces act.
  34. 34.  Mead was a behaviorist because, as a pragmatist, he agreed that humans must be understood in terms of what they do rather than who they are.  Mead believed that without an understanding of mind, symbols, and self, human behavior cannot be understood for what it actually is.
  35. 35. Humans have a “permanent nature,” inborn or learned. The human is born, is shaped, and, as an adult, is directed.
  36. 36. Charles K. Warriner describes another view that he calls the “emergent-human view,” which in fact is the symbolic interactionist view we are describing here.
  37. 37. In this view the “actor rather than as a being, treats [the human being] acts as symbolic in character rather than primarily physical, and views interaction as the basic social and psychological process from which personalities and societies emerge, through which they are expressed, and by which they are maintained as continuities.” (From Warriner in Charon)
  38. 38. Further, it is “the symboling process, in the capacity of [the human being] to see things not as they are but as they have been or might be in the future, in the capacity of [the human being] to use sound and marks on paper as conventional signs and thus to communicate with others, in the capacity of [the human being] through these functions to create worlds that never existed in physical reality. (ibid)
  39. 39.  With interaction, people attempt to maximize benefits from the relationship and minimize disadvantages. Specifically, the “moral worth of an action is determined by its resulting outcome.” (WIKI)  Among others, attributed to John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1842).
  40. 40. Note that this is also attributed to Adam Smith (and others) and is used to justify elements of the capitalist system. Specifically: “unintentionally human selfishness oriented toward the good of society.” (
  41. 41. •Feminism •Critical Theory •Postmodernism
  42. 42. Gloria Steinem founder of Ms Magazine Liberal feminism
  43. 43. Ecofeminism
  44. 44. Liberal feminism
  45. 45. Socialist Feminism
  46. 46. Why do we need the study of feminism? Consider that women constitute the fifty-one percent minority but are still mostly dominated by a male majority.
  47. 47.  Adorno  Horkheimer  Expatriates of Germany during WWII
  48. 48.  An emphasis upon mass culture.  A dissatisfaction with sociology as not considering the agency of the individual.  Critical of Marxism because it did not consider the importance of culture.  Mass culture as a product of capitalist society cannot be truly representative of the people of that culture.
  49. 49.  There are many interpretations and definitions of postmodernism.  One states that it is everything after so-called “modernism” which is ending now or has already ended.
  50. 50.  Other interpretations and arguments posit that postmodernism is a phenomena unto itself and that it specifically represents the present (and probably the future).  It can be a positive phenomenon or a negative one.  Most positions are dystopic.
  51. 51.  On the positive side, the individual has agency (self direction and choice) and can navigate among the monolithic society.  On the other hand, the individual is constantly bombarded by corporate advertisements which reduce him to a mere consumer.  Science is greatly mistrusted as not being as value free as it claims, rather having an agenda that conforms to the status quo.
  52. 52.  We are no longer a goods-producing society, but rather one which disseminates images.  Consider the ones and zeros of the computer era. Most of what we look at and hear is digital. It is reduced to nearly nothing. And we pay for it with  Ones and zeros from our credit and debit cards.
  53. 53.  It differs from Conflict theory and Functionalism in that it does not assume history to be deterministic.  Much like Social Constructionism, the historical makeup of society is shown to be the work of people—groups and individuals and not some deterministic force. Which leads to the social construction of reality.
  54. 54. Which takes us to Social Constructionism (also related to, but different from, Social Constructivism which is a psychological phenomenon). Constructionism is a position largely attributed to Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman.
  55. 55. It is another micro perspective that asks how a social problem is defined rather than what the problem is. Also it challenges the objectivity of science and places importance on the subjective influence—much like postmodernism. #
  56. 56. Functionalism Conflict Perspective Interactionist Perspective View of society Stable, well integrated Characterized by tension and struggle between groups Active in influencing and affecting everyday social interaction Level of analysis emphasized Macro Macro Micro analysis as a way of understanding the larger macro phenomena View of the individual People are socialized to perform societal functions People are shaped by power, coercion, and authority People manipulate symbols and created their social worlds through interaaction Key concepts Manifest functions; Latent functions; Dysfunction Inequality; Capitalism; Stratification Symbols; Nonverbal communication; Face-to-face View of the social order Maintained through cooperation and consensus Maintained through force and coercion Maintained by shared understanding of everyday behavior View of social change Predictable, reinforcing Change takes place all the time and may have positive consequences Reflected in people’s social positions and their communications with others Example Public punishments reinforce the social order Laws reinforce the positions of those in power People respect laws or disobey them based on their own past experience Proponents Emile Durkheim; Talcott Parsons; Robert Merton Karl Marx; W.E.B. Du Bois; Ida Wells-Barnett George Herbert Mead; Charles Horton Cooley; Erving Goffman
  57. 57. Dialectics is the method of reasoning which aims to understand things concretely in all their movement, change and interconnection, with their opposite and contradictory sides in unity. ~Encyclopedia of Marxism
  58. 58. Class struggle is the central contradiction to be resolved by Marxist dialectics, because of its central role in the social and political lives of a society.
  59. 59. John L. Heineman
  60. 60. John L. Heineman