Theory and Theoretical Paradigms:
• What’s a “paradigm” and why use that word???
• Theory: statement of how 2+ facts are related
• We can USE theory to understand how things
remain “orderly,” why there is change, why there
is inequality, etc.!
• We use both macro- (society as a whole) and
micro-level (face-to-face interactions) theories
Let’s break down these words
• Macro
• Micro
• Functionalism
• Symbolic Interactionism
• Conflict Theory
Structural-Functional Paradigm:
• Macro level of analysis
• Like the human body or a machine, society is a
joint effort of many institutions working together
for the solidarity and stability of the whole
(Herbert Spencer)
• Social structures (family, education, religion,
government, work, medicine) have social
“functions,” meaning they contribute to the
operation of society as a whole
“Order” and “Change” in
• Order is maintained by group consensus,
shared values, and rituals that promote
social solidarity
• With slow change, institutions adapt to
restore order
• Social problems may arise when rapid
social change results in social
disorganization or social dysfunction
Dramatic representation:
Functionalism’s Downfall?
• William Graham Sumner: Applying Darwin’s
“survival of the fittest” to society, believed that we
should not intervene to eliminate inequalities in
society. Those “on top” deserved to be there, and
it was dangerous to change the prevailing social
• Because of it’s focus on order and stability, what
does this perspective ignore?
Conflict Paradigm:
• Macro-level of analysis
• Views society as in constant conflict and struggle
over scarce social and economic resources
resulting in inequality
• Asks “who benefits from this situation”
• Views society as divided between the “haves” and
the “have nots”
• The “haves” construct society and social
institutions to maintain their advantage
“Order” and “Change” in the
Conflict Perspective
• Order is the result of power and coercion by
those in charge
• Struggle and competition for economic and
social resources creates change
• Social problems result from conflicting
values, and largely from oppression on the
basis of class, race, gender, sexuality,
religion, age, ability, etc.
Dramatic Representation- Marx
Karl Marx (Conflict Perspective)
• Capitalism is the root of all conflict in society! It
creates a class of owners (bourgeoisie) and
workers (proletariat), resulting in the exploitation
of the working class
• Class struggles create an “us versus them”
mentality by dividing the world into the “haves”
and the “have nots”!
• Religion is “the opium of the people” preventing a
proletariat revolution
Max Weber (Conflict
• Built on the ideas of Marx, saying that we must
look at economics (wealth), power, and prestige
(as well as culture) to understand social problems
and inequality
• Additionally, he felt that ideas, values, and thought
systems affected economic development
– “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”
as an example
Dramatic Representation-Weber
Other types of Conflict:
• Feminist Theory: Fills the holes left by
Marx to understand inequality between men
and women
• Multicultural theory: Examine society in
terms of racial and ethnic inequality
Symbolic Interactionist Perspective:
• Micro level interactions
• Individual behavior is based on the symbols and
shared meanings we learn- in other words, on
what we “believe” not just what is objectively true
• So…society is “socially constructed” through
human interaction, and symbols change through
these interactions
• We learn these symbols during interactions with
other individuals and groups
“Order” for Symbolic
• Social interaction and shared beliefs
(subjective) create order
• Change results from changing belief
systems and ever-changing interactions
Why do we have inequality?
• Functionalism: It is functional! “Someone
has to do those jobs…”
• Conflict Theory: It is the result of struggle
over resources
• Symbolic Interaction: It results from the
socially constructed meanings or symbols
we create
• Functionalism: Hard time explaining change
(since it it a dysfunction); is a conservative view
that downplays inequality between groups
(defends the status quo)
• Conflict: Overlooks cohesion and stability, and
improvement in some social problems
• Interactionist: Reminds us that individuals create
social structure, but too subjective in interpretation
and is not a good explanation of inequality
(ignoring the effect of larger social structures and
How do you choose???
• Theoretical approach may change
somewhat depending on the type of
question or problem you are studying
• Use more than one approach to achieve the
best picture of the problem or issue
To test what we’ve learned
• Answer choices are functionalism, symbolic
interactionism, or conflict theory):
– Which sociological approach focuses on the
inequality that exists between different groups?
– Which sociological perspective would be most
likely to state that our education system
satisfies certain basic social needs crucial to the
functioning of our society?
To test what we’ve learned:
• How could you use each of the three
theoretical perspectives to explain the
criminalization of drugs in society?
Conflict perspective on Deviance:
• The wealthy, big business, and select government
leaders determine the law!
• The law:
– Protects and keeps the powerful in power
– Prevents rebellion using arrest and imprisonment
– Keeps the focus of the criminal justice system off of the
rich (WHITE COLLAR CRIME) and on the working
• Occasional publicity of white collar crime (Martha!) gives the
illusion of fairness in the criminal justice system
Symbolic Interactionist explanations
of Deviance:
• Differential association vs. Labeling theory
– Which is best for “Hooked: Illegal Drugs”?
Functionalism and Deviance:
• Durkheim: Deviance creates social order by
clarifying moral boundaries and norms, promoting
social unity, promoting social change (e.g., civil
rights movement)
• To stop dysfunction from occurring?
• To provide jobs in what institutions?

Theory and Theoretical Paradigms: Ehhh?