Sociological Theoretical Perspectives

Compiled by David H. Kessel

Although there are many sociological theories, most fall under one or more of three major theories...structural functionalism, Symbolic Interactionism, and Conflict Theory. The latter theory, Conflict, can be further divided into two types...Marxian (or Dialectical/Critical) Conflict Theory and Weberian (or Formal) Conflict Theory. The following is a compilation of characteristics, concepts/terms/issues, and weaknesses/criticisms for each theoretical perspective. They have been compiled from numerous Introductory Sociology textbooks...both text and tables. Ritzer's Sociological Paradigms mentioned below can be found HERE

Structural Functionalism is derived from Durkheim and follows from The Social Facts Paradigm (Ritzer)

Symbolic Interactionism is derived from Blumer, Mead, and Goffman...originating from Weber...and follows from The Social Definition Paradigm (Ritzer)

Marxian/Critical Conflict Theory is derived from Marx...and follows from a combination/synthesis of Ritzer’s three sociological paradigms.

Weberian Conflict Theory is derived from Weber...and follows from The Social Facts Paradigm (Ritzer)


View of Society/Characteristics/Premises

-“natural laws” govern society
-organicism (biological analogy)
-macro/meso level analysis
-system of interrelated and interdependent parts
-parts must fulfill certain functions for smooth operation of society
-society is objective, stable, and cohesive
-order = consensus of members on common values
-parts have fixed social roles
-society has requisite (necessary) needs
-inequality is inevitable and functional for society
-social change is internal = disorganization
-social change = adjustments to return to balance/equilibrium
-social change = slow, gradual, and incremental
-social change = disruption of balance
-dysfunctions are some times functional for society

Weaknesses and Criticisms

-conservative and idealistic view of society
-underplays power differences among and between groups
-ignores conflict and diversity as inherent aspects of reality
-bias toward balance/equilibrium
-society is static (ahistorical)
-micro is only a dependent variable affected by meso/macro structures


-integration-interdependence-stability-equilibrium-organicism-dysfunctions-manifest and latent functions-social structure-institutions-exchange theory-functional prerequisites of system--behaviorism (conditioning)


View of Society/Characteristics/Premises

-micro level analysis
-ongoing process of social interaction (taking each other into account in discernable ways)
-individuals in face to face interaction create social consensus of meanings and definitions
-like a “stage” where people define and redefine meanings as they interact
-collective interaction
-perceptions of reality are variable and changing
-social construction of reality
-subjective---reality perceived in the minds of people
-inequality demonstrated through meaning of status symbols
-symbols of communication (language, thoughts, behaviors)
-change = no shared consensus...developing of new consensus

Weaknesses and Criticisms

-overstates subjective basis of society
-weak analysis of inequality
-ignores material differences between groups
-ignores structure and social forces
-not synergistic
-limits itself to micro level analysis with no connection to other levels


-interpretation-consensus-symbols-shared expectations-social construction of reality-shaping reality perceived by others-situational behavior-definition of the situation-social relations-looking glass self- dramaturgical theory-labeling theory-impression management-presentation of self-exchange theory- ethnomethodology-phenomenology



View of Society/Characteristics/Premises

-system of diverse groups struggling over scarce resources (wealth, power, prestige)
-macro/meso level of analysis
-objective, hierarchical, and fragmented
-characterized by social inequality
-different benefits for different categories of people
-order = coercion/constraints and power
-negotiation and compromise
-change is inevitable and continuous
-conflict promotes social change
-inequality is result of struggle over scarce resources
-change is internal to system of conflicts...differentiation of parts

Weaknesses and Criticisms

-understates degree of cohesion and stability
-little micro level analysis
-ignores competition
-is a “shadow” structural functionalism


View of Society/Characteristics/Premises

-inclusive of most of characteristics of Weberian Conflict Theory (above)
-conditions giving rise to conflict
-includes Micro level with active social actors creating Meso/Macro structures
-inclusive of all levels of analysis and reciprocity of them
-Change is about internal arrangements AND about the system itself
-Change is historical...temporal...ABOUT the system, not just within it
-Change can be revolutionary...often quick and total
-Change is inevitable given consciousness and material conditions

Weaknesses and Criticisms

-appears to be reductionist (i.e. economics)
-too open ended...appears to lead to chaos

Concepts/Issues/Terms (For BOTH types of Conflict Theory)

-interest-power-authority-dominance-conflict-coercion-patterns of inequality-privilege-social position- social class-class consciousness-vested interests-alienation-ideology-stratification-racism-sexism-crime- exploitation-class struggle-revolution-means of production

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