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Application Of Sociological Perspectives

Application of sociological perspectives

Sociology is the scientific study of society and human behavior.  Sociology uses the sociological perspective,  which is an approach to understanding human behavior by placing it in a broader social context.  Unlike many of the social sciences, sociology does not focus on just one social institution.  Instead, sociology focuses on the whole social experience and how this affects people.  Sociologists examine social processes, social forces and social institutions.

A theoretical paradigm is an established theory that guides thinking and research in sociology. There are three main theoretical paradigms in sociology: structural functionalism,  social-conflict and symbolic interactionism.  Each of these can be applied to the study of minority relations.

Structural functionalism or functional theory

This is a macro theory, which means it looks to large-scale patterns of society to explain social phenomena.  Structural functionalism views society as a whole unit made up of inter-related parts that work together, rather like a person’s body, which has a number of systems.  Like the body, when one system does not work properly, the entire body or society becomes sick, or dysfunctional.  When the parts work together, society is stable.

The pioneers of structural functionalism were Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Herbert Spencer, Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton.  Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) was a French sociologist and is most famous for coining the phrase “anomie,” which means disorder, or a lack of social regulation.  Anomie occurs when people are not socially integrated or tied to their communities.  Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) is known for his belief that societies evolve from confusion to order, and only the most orderly societies will survive.  He called this Social Darwinism.

Robert Merton (1910-2003) did not agree with the organism analogy of structural functionalism, but likened the parts of society to a whole thing.  He maintained that there were three types of functions in society.  Manifest functions were the expected and recognized social consequences of a social pattern.  Latent functions were the hidden or unintended consequences of a social pattern, and dysfunctions were social patterns that upset the equilibrium in society.  Merton felt that whenever a small part of society was examined its functions and dysfunctions should also be examined to see how they are related to the larger unit.

A good example of a social pattern in minority relations that has these different types of functions is policing illegal workers. The manifest function is to uphold the laws.  Its latent function is the removal of cheap labor or labor for jobs that legal workers do not want to do.  Policing illegal workers can be dysfunctional in that it can have a negative effect on workers’ children and families, it can burden the resources of a federal agency.  

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