Key perspectives: Sociology

SociologyKey perspectives

Sociologists analyse social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives. Sociologists study everything from specific events (the micro level of analysis of small social patterns) to organisational and group structures (meso) to the “big picture” (the macro level of analysis of large social patterns). All developing into key perspectives.

Over the past 150 years or so sociologists have developed the ideas of the original European thinkers who gave us the conceptualisation of Sociology. But those original thinkers did give us the basis from which to see the world. Sociologists today still employ the three key perspectives:  the functionalist perspective, the conflict perspective and the symbolic interactionist perspective,.

These key perspectives offer sociologists theoretical paradigms for explaining how society influences people, and vice versa. Each perspective uniquely conceptualizes society, social forces, and human behaviour.

Functionalism

First emerging in Europe throughout the 19th century the key perspective of Functionalism cemented itself at the pinnacle of sociological theory. French Sociologist Emile Durkheim led the charge and is considered the most influential of the functionalists. Into the 20th century American sociologist expanded the work most notably Talcott Parsons leading it to dominate through the post second world war era.

According to the functionalist perspective, also called functionalism, each aspect of society is interdependent and contributes to society’s functioning as a whole. The government, or state, provides education for the children of the family, which in turn pays taxes on which the state depends to keep itself running. That is, the family is dependent upon the school to help children grow up to have good jobs so that they can raise and support their own families. In the process, the children become law‐abiding, taxpaying citizens, who in turn support the state. If all goes well, the parts of society produce order, stability, and productivity. If all does not go well, the parts of society then must adapt to recapture a new order, stability, and productivity.

Conflict

There are many conflict perspectives which get lumped under this same banner all looking differently at the nature, cause and extent of conflict (Haralambos and Holborn, 2013). However, the basis of the key perspective, which originated primarily out of Karl Marx’s writings on Class Struggles and Max Weber’s on Social Stratification, presents society in a different light than do the functionalist and symbolic interactionist perspectives. While these other perspectives focus on the positive aspects of society that contribute to its stability, the conflict perspective focuses on the negative, conflicted, and ever‐changing nature of society. Unlike functionalists who defend the status quo, avoid social change, and believe people cooperate to effect social order, conflict theorists challenge the status quo, encourage social change (even when this means social revolution), and believe rich and/or powerful people force social order on the poor and the weak.

Key perspectivesMarxism and Feminism are the most widely recognisable conflict theories in the 21st century. These perspectives see conflict as a common and persistent feature of society, and not a temporary aberration. Marxism sees conflict in an economic real where the means of production are owned by the powerful, the Bourgeois and the Proletariate are oppressed because they lack access to their own means of production. Feminists argue that the world is Patriarchal and the power in the world, whether financial, legal, physically or other is in the hands of men. This leads to the oppression of women as a subgroup in society with limited access to their own means.

Symbolic Interaction

Postmodernism has given rise to many key perspectives in sociological thought. One of the biggest concepts is that of symbolic interactionism. The symbolic interactionist perspective, also known as symbolic interactionism, directs sociologists to consider the symbols and details of everyday life, what these symbols mean, and how people interact with each other. Although symbolic interactionism traces its origins to Max Weber’s assertion that individuals act according to their interpretation of the meaning of their world, the American philosopher George H. Mead (1863–1931) introduced this key perspective to American sociology in the 1920s.

This meta-theory birthed within a post modernist framework has changed the way we view reality since the mid twentieth century. In a nutshell, “Post modernists reject the idea of universal truths about the world, instead suggesting that reality is a social construction. Therefore, all knowledge is merely a claim to truth, reflecting the subjectivity of those involved. Postmodernists focus on how truth-claims about the world are socially constructed. Thus there is no single reality or ultimate truth, only versions or interpretations of what is ‘real’, ‘true’, ‘normal’, ‘right’, or ‘wrong’” (Germov & Poole, 2015, 50-51).

Social Construction

Social Constructionism became a core theoretical framework with Austrian-American Sociologists Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s 1966 book, The Social Construction of Reality. Berger and Luckmann purport that all knowledge, including the most basic, taken-for-granted common sense knowledge of everyday reality, is derived from and maintained by our social interactions. When people interact with each other, they do so with the understanding that their respective perceptions of reality are related, and as they act upon this understanding their common knowledge of reality becomes reinforced.

According to Australian Sociology academics Germov and Poole (2015) social constructionism, “refers to the socially created characteristics of human life, based on the idea that people actively construct reality, meaning it is neither ‘natural’ nor inevitable. therefore, notions of normality/abnormality, right/wrong, and health/illness are subjective human creations that should not be taken for granted” (Germov & Poole, 2015, 549),

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Sociological Imagination

Sociological Imagination: Sociology

Sociological Imagination

One of the underpinning theoretical frameworks which guides the practices of youth work is that of Sociology. It helps us to look more deeply at the world our young people live, work and play within. One of the key thoughts within Sociology is the sociological imagination. The ability to look at an issue from an individual and social perspective. So lets find out more about this key framework.

C. Wright MILLS

Sociological ImaginationAmerican Philosopher and Sociologist, Charles Wright Mills was a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University from 1946 until his death in 1962, aged 45. Mills, a native Texan, was published widely throughout his career in popular and intellectual journals, and is a proponent of the conflict perspective within sociological thought. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War Two society, and advocated public and political engagement over disinterested observation.

Mills sociological work was heavily influenced by eminent German conflict theorists and fathers of sociology Karl Marx and Max Weber.

Mills is remembered for several books, among them ‘The Power Elite’, which introduced that term and describes the relationships and class alliances among the U.S. political, military, and economic elites; ‘White Collar’, on the American middle class; and ‘The Sociological Imagination’, where Mills presents a model of analysis for the interdependence of subjective experiences within a person’s biography, the general social structure and historical development.

Overview

The Sociological ImaginationIn 1959 one of the most important texts in sociological work was published by Oxford University Press. The book by American Sociologist C. Wright Mills “The Sociological Imagination” changed the landscape of sociological thought and research forever.

Mills conveyed that the core undertaking for sociology as a discipline and sociologists particularly was to discover and express the connections between the particular social environments of individuals (also known as “milieu”) and the wider social and historical forces in which they are embroiled. This approach challenges the structural functionalist approach to Sociology, as it opens new positions for the individual to occupy with regard to the larger social structure. Individual function that reproduces larger social structure is only one of many possible roles, and is not necessarily the most important. In Mills own words, “The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That’s its task and its promise”.

In ‘The Sociological Imagination’, Mills endeavored to reconcile two abstract conceptions of social reality—the “individual” and “society”—and thereby confronted the dominant sociological discourse of functionalism. In essence he asked where the convergence point is between an individual’s ‘personal troubles’ and societies ‘public issues’.

Private issues

Mill work on the sociological imagination looked at the dominant discourse of individuality and sought to understand the framework of an individual’s ‘personal troubles’. These private issues which are said to have nothing to do with the rest of society such as what you eat, who you vote for, which religion you follow or what type of job you have. For Mills these private issues were not just the sole purview of the individual, but a complex system of interweaving thought and ideas from everywhere.

Public issues

This interweaving system is what Mills coined as public issues. Why is it that individuals in poor communities seem to have children who follow in the same footsteps as their parents? Mills argues that it has little to do with the individual’s choices and much more to do with the systems and the power of the elites which guide the forces around the individual. There is an intricate relationship between the individual and society.

Examples

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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Sociology

What do youth workers need to know about sociology?

Sociology for youth workers As youth workers we draw on many different frameworks to help us make sense of the world our young people live in. One of the most used frameworks in our kit bag is sociology. Through the sociological lens we can analyse social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives. From concrete…

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Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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The sociological imagination and youth work

The sociological imaginationsociological imagination

As one of the main sociologists in history C. Wright Mills has contributed much to the study of humanity. Perhaps though nothing as important as the ‘sociological imagination’. The ability for people to see an issues from another’s point of view. Literally to imagine yourself in their shoes. The sociological imagination asks us to think about the world through the experience of individuals other than yourself. A core process that most people in society have never engaged in.

Currently governments around the world are spruiking the individualised perspective of society. That we are all responsible for our own destiny and the free market will even things out for us all. The big society supposedly looking out for the good of all. However the focus of these ideas is often either individual or societal focused. Rarely do we someone with an understanding of the individual and of society. This leads to things falling apart as we are seeing in the UK, Europe union and many other nations.

Enter youth work. We are trained to understand individual young people and the society they live in. We seek understanding of the societal issues which cause concern for our young people and we understand their individual concerns and wants. Youth workers have a great sociological imagination! For us it is beyond stupidity to focus on a person without looking at the context of their life. We look at the structures of inequality and the individuals strengths. We provide advocacy at a macro level and develop relationship with our young people at the micro level. Youth workers are awesome.

If you find your work focusing on one area more than the other I implore you to refocus your sociological imagination. If you are focusing too much on the individual begin to look at the societal. If you look at the societal side begin to look at individuals.

It is the only way we can understand fully.

Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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