Structural Funcionalism, Conflict Theory, and Symbolic Interactionism

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In this paper, I will discuss three different schools of thought that, while they may seem to explain the inner workings of society, by themselves they fail to satisfy completely. For each theory, I will discuss the basics and cover the main tenants of each. Then, I will discuss the ambiguities, inadequacies and irrelevance to reality based on our current understanding of modern society. Structural Functionalism In the Functionalist School of Thought, society is viewed as being a complex structure of inter-related parts, analogous to a living being, with many different organs contributing to the daily functioning and health of the entire organism. From evolving societies still going through the processes of differentiation of social classes, or to complex societies that have reached near perfect homogeneity, these social systems play a comparative role in the super-organism known as society, as lungs and kidneys play in a simple organism such as a rat. For example, in the human body, the defense against hostile invaders and interceptors of “criminal” cells is the immune system. In society, the analogue to this would be police and military. They serve the same function, defense from the hostile outside world, and the policing of errant variables inside the social organism. So what are these structures? Well, according to a good majority of functionalist theorists (primarily Talcott Parsons), these structures are social institutions such as schools, post delivery systems, economy and governments. Each of these individual institutions are vital to the functions of society, no matter how far removed the processes of one were from another. If one falters, the rest will feel repercussions leading to a stacking effect that would inevi... ... middle of paper ... ...ner, or subtle, such as how to behave in a social situation based solely upon the symbols given by others. These interpretations are aptly called the “definition of the situation” theory of symbolic interaction. Definition of the Situation further relies on the human perspective of self, compared to the outside world similar to Charles Horton Cooley’s “Looking Glass Self”. Works Cited Elster, J., (1990), “Merton's Functionalism and the Unintended Consequences of Action”, in Clark, J., Modgil, C. & Modgil, S., (eds) Robert Merton: Consensus and Controversy, Falmer Press, London, pp. 129–35 Parsons, Talcott (1951) The Social System, Routledge, London Parsons, T., & Shils, A., (eds) (1976) Toward a General Theory of Action, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Parsons, T., (1961) Theories of Society: foundations of modern sociological theory, Free Press, New York

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