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Sociology, just like every social science, employs perspectives or theories to explain, evaluate, and interpret social phenomena.

A theory is a coherent statement that draws the connection between two or more seemingly different social phenomena and therefore help us understand and make sense of  our social world

As you may have observed from much of sociology literature, the term "perspective is used interchangeably with the term "theory" in sociology.

Sociological theory can be divided into two levels based on approach:
1. Micro-level theory which focuses on the face-to-face interaction of human beings
2. Macro-level theory focuses on widespread larger social processes

Many theoretical perspectives exist in sociology. However, for the scope of this post, we shall be focusing on just three theoretical perspectives.

These three major theoretical perspectives have come to dominate the framework for sociological thinking. These are structural-functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.

Let's explain each one of them

This is probably the dominant theory both in sociology and anthropology. This attempt to explain the relationship between parts of society and how these parts are functional.

Structural functionality theory, also called functionalism, is a macro-level theory. 

Functionalism sees society as a structure designed to meet the biological and social needs of members of society.

According to functionalism, society is just like the human body. Just like every part of the body work together to keep the body functioning, every part of society also works to keep society functioning.

The parts of the society, we refer to here, are social institutions.
Functionalism emphasizes that social institutions work together to maintain the overall social equilibrium. Social institutions like family, education are functionally integrated to form a stable system.

The structural-functionalist theory grew out of the works of French sociologist Emile Durkheim. Durkheim believed that sociologist has to look beyond individuals to study social facts.

Durkheim's social fact definition

Social facts are values, beliefs, customs, rituals that overstep the individual and can exercise social control.

Another prominent sociologist Robert Merton also noted that social process usually has functions or consequence on the continuous existence of the society.

Merton distinguished between manifest and latent functions. Manifest functions are those sought, intended, anticipated, and explicit consequences of a social process. 

The latent function is the unintended, unsought, implicit, hidden consequence of a social process.

To illustrate, the manifest function of high school would include learning, preparing for a job role. The latent function of high school includes meeting new friends, learning social skills.

Latent functions may be the beneficiary, neutral, and even undesirable. Social processes that have undesirable consequences on society are called dysfunctions

The dysfunction of high school would be truancy, drop-out, being unemployed.

Just like everything else, functionalism has also been criticized for its inability to account for social change. 

This is because functionalism is skeptical of change in society and social institutions which, of course, threaten the stability and solidarity that functionality seems to uphold. Therefore, functionalism is considered a conservative perspective.

In many ways, conflict theory contradicts functionalism. While functionality sees society as a framework for meeting the biological and social needs of the member, conflict theory sees society as a framework for competition for limited resources.

Conflict theory sees society has been made up of people of different interests stemming from their placement in the social structure.

This theory grew out of the writings of Karl max.

This theory holds that the most significant aspect of social order is the domination of some classes by others. 

Conflict theory sees society as being made up of individuals in different social classes who must compete for social, material, and political resources(money, partners, etc). 

According to conflict theory, society is continuously in conflict over limited resources. This conflict, in turn,  drives social change.

Conflict theory emphasizes that society is a dynamic entity constantly changing as a result of competition over scarce resources. In this respect, conflict theory is considered a progressive perspective.

Social institutions like government, education, and religion reflect this competition in their inherent inequalities and help maintain the unequal social structure.

Conflict theorist studying a social institution or phenomenon may ask " who benefit from society? What pulls society apart? How does society change? What structures encourage inequality?

Conflict theory, as expected, has been criticized for its too much focus on conflict to the neglect of social stability and solidarity.

Conflict theory emphasizes how social institutions contribute to social inequality. By doing so, it neglects the importance of social institutions for maintaining stability.

This is a micro-level approach that seeks to explain the interactions between individuals and society. Communication is thought to be the way people understand their social world.

The basic notion of symbolic interactionism is that human action and interaction are discernible only through the exchange of critical communications or symbols.

This theory was extrapolated by a trio of American sociologists: Williams I. Thomas, George herbert mead, Charles Horton Cooley.

Charles horton cooley, thomas william, george mead

According to this theory, people's behaviors are largely dependent on how they define others and themselves– a process Charles Horton cooley himself called looking glass self.

This implies that symbolic interaction is a framework for explaining how individual behaviors are shaped by their interaction with the rest of society.

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According to symbolic interactionism, individuals create a symbol(like gestures) on which they relied heavily to reach a shared understanding of their interaction

It is important to note that symbolic interactionism, unlike functionalism, emphasizes process, rather than structure. It stresses that human beings trying to make sense of their social world is the essence of social life.

Symbolic interactionism has been criticized for its narrow focus on interaction and communication. 

Theories are important for explaining social interaction, social change, social patterns. Sociological theories are divided into two scales, which are, micro-level theory and macro-level theory. 

A micro-level theory like symbolic interactionism seeks to study individual agents within society and their interaction.

A macro-level theory like structural functionalism and conflict theory, study larger societal process

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