Sociology Overview

Sociology Overview

Functionalism is the theoretical perspective in sociology today that believes society is a whole unit made up of interrelated parts that work together. It is also known as functional analysis and structural functionalism. August Comet and Herbert Spencer first started this idea because they saw society as a living organism. They describe this idea by comparing the organs of an animal or person working together in the body like separate parts of society working as one. These “parts” will only function smoothly if they work together in harmony.

Mile Druthers furthered this idea by stating that society has any parts that are necessary to their own function within society. If all societal functions are fulfilled, society is in a “normal state”. Failing to do so results in an “abnormal” or “pathological” state. To understand this idea in relation to society, one must study the structure and function. Structure is how the parts fit together to make it whole, and the function is what each part does, and how it contributes to society.

This idea is not always supported because it suggests that there is a set structure of normality in society, and to change this is causing unnatural, negative affects. It is unrealistic to believe this because change is not always unnatural or negative. Change is vital for societal growth. Example of functionalism being arguable unethical is the belief that women becoming a part of the workforce causes strain on a marriage because it creates a divide in shared ties binding a couple together.

This is an offensive, small-minded and sexist belief that lacks a bigger picture and solely blames a change that is viewed as a positive, equal opportunity today. Symbolic internationalism is the idea that symbols, or attached meanings to things, are the key to understanding how we view the world and communicate with meaning. Without symbols, our life would be uncomplicated and as sophisticated as animals. There would be no such thing as family trees, and job titles.

Symbols define what our relationships are and what they mean. We are able to relate ourselves to other people through symbols, and define where we owe respect and obligations. We can also hold certain expectations through these symbols. Our actions in society are defined by the symbols we place on our relationships and other people, cause they give us a responsibility to the relationship we carry with that symbol. Refusing to adhere to this responsibility would be a breech of morality and social normality.

This idea of symbolic internationalism goes as far as to say that nothing would exist if we had no way of defining it to a symbol. Our lives depend on how we define ourselves and other things. We make sense out of life through our place in it. Change of the meaning of symbols changes our actions and the way we feel about things. This idea negatively affects society because it is through these changes and the meaning of symbols that we can cause more strain on ourselves and others to succeed these expectations, however unrealistic and stressful these expectations may be.

It is also extreme to believe that things and structure would cease to exist without symbols; we are biologically wired to link things together whether consciously or unconsciously. Conflict theory is the idea that groups within society are competing for scarce resources. This correlates with Darwinism, which is the belief that only the best, smartest and strongest will survive through natural selection. It is the complete opposite of functionalism, which believes that society functions as a whole with parts working together in harmony. This idea is often used to define the fight for equality between men and women.

This idea is not supported by those who are uncomfortable with the idea that fighting against unfair practices is in someway causing a negative conflict, where only the dominant idea will succeed. This idea in itself suggests that there is constantly an uneasy, underlying emotion between opposing ideas, whereas most people like to believe that it is okay for opposing ideas to exist. There is no perfect, or correct theoretical perspective. Each idea gives a valid view-point and focus on the features of social life that is necessary to analyze human behavior.

By combining ideas from each, we gain an overall picture of social life. For most of us, when we think of the scientific method, we think of mathematics. However, this idea is also used to create steps in scientific research. This is the method of using objectives, and systematic observations to test theories. Through this method, many secrets were uncovered that were concealed in nature. Because traditional, unproven answers were falling short, the scientific method was the next step to answering questions about social life. This resulted in the birth of sociology.

The process of applying this method to the social world is called positivism, which was first proposed by Augusta Comet. He began to wonder what creates social order, instead of anarchy and chaos, and what changes a set course in society? Just as the scientific method revealed gravity in physics, so would it uncover the laws of society. This discovery of socialism took place to not only uncover social principles, but to also apply them. Although Comet was the founder Of sociology and had stressed the use of the scientific method in research, he himself did not apply it.

It is not enough to draw conclusions from informal observations of social life; evidence of proven fact through trial and error must be implemented. First step to implementing the scientific method is to come up with a definite and straight-forward question to be asked in relevance to society, such as why are divorce rates so high today? Next step is to do historical, or background research to prove that there has been a change in a particular social behavior among the whole of society. One can do this by finding evidence of how life was before, or previously.

Based off of this background “check”, one can draw a reasonable hypothesis, or conclusion of what they believe the answer to their question may be. Next step is to test this hypothesis through experimentation, or a fair test. A fair test is when you only change one variable in an experiment, while all other conditions Stay the same. It is also important to keep a non-biased random selection of the sample group, unless specifically targeting a certain social group. Once you eave conducted all of your experiments, then you must analyze your data and draw a second, final conclusion based off of your finding.

The final step is to publish and communicate your results with other scientists to be further exploited. The main reason that drives sociologists to be interested in human behavior is how diverse the elements of culture are in various groups and parts of the world. These scientists are in constant search for the explanation as to why these differences exist, and change the way people behave and think. The most obvious and visible elements when compared to there cultures are the differences in language, beliefs, values, and social normality.

That is because these elements drive the way people think, and thus the actions that they make. Language is the primary way people communicate thought, but is not universal. We are separated globally by language. It allows us to be cumulative by moving us beyond our immediate experiences, and to learn from others. We are also able to share memories, create a future, and recall the past through the association of words to experiences, and the ability to communicate plans of action.

This sharing of events allows us to share similar understandings and perspectives about life. Through these similar perspectives, we can agree on shared, and goal oriented behavior. It is from these shared behaviors that we develop what we believe in, see as valuable, and expect from other people. These elements are called beliefs, values, and social norms. We give sanctions of positive, or negative reactions to approve, or disapprove of other people’s behavior. This drives others to conform to a culture in order to be accepted and fit in.

When people purposely rebel against these social norms, they create dysfunction and change among a set behavior within a culture. Our beliefs are usually passionately and emotionally invested in our thoughts and behaviors. Beliefs draw us to be who we are, and to make life choices in accordance to what we believe. This is very obvious in religions, which are more dominant in certain areas of the world. This separation defines many cultures because these beliefs are often the central reasoning for life, and create set guidelines for what a culture should value and desire.

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