Sociologists use theory to study society. In science, theory is used to develop a deeper understanding of the universe. Although abstract, sociologists use theory to expand on original ideas and develop practical solutions to problems. In sociology, there are three main sociological theories or perspectives: functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist. Each of these perspectives has a distinct worldview, or interpretation, of the social world and human interaction:
- The functionalist perspective presents the world as a system of inter-related parts, where all parts must work together for society to function.
- For example, if we looked at sports teams, the functionalist perspective would argue that sports teams serve a purpose for society. They have a particular utility that helps society function properly. What purpose do sports teams have? Do they provide us with entertainment? Some people with jobs? Do they help to form a bond between people who otherwise would not be connected? The functionalist perspective would see all of these reasons as important functions of sports teams.
- The conflict perspective disagrees, seeing society as an arena made up of groups competing over scarce resources in which there are issues of power and structural inequality.
- The conflict perspective would see sports teams as groups competing over scarce resources. Those resources may be a title, fans, finances, or athletes. With this struggle between teams, some come out on top and others at the bottom. Thus, there is inherently inequality in sports teams.
- Symbolic interactionism examines the symbols and social meanings we attach to individuals, behavior, objects, or interaction in face-to-face exchanges on a daily basis. The focus is more microcosmic than that of both functionalism and conflict perspective.
- Since the symbolic interactionist perspective is a micro-level perspective it will look at the interactions that go on between individuals and small groups in sports teams. Are there symbols that exist between players on teams? Think of the gestures that are used by baseball players as an example. This perspective also looks at how communication differs for people on sports teams than it does for those in other groups. In football, for example, tackling is an acceptable form of interaction. That is not the case in an office setting.
As you can see, each of these three perspectives proposes a framework for interpreting encountered social phenomenon.
Demonstration of Proficiency
By successfully completing this assessment, you will demonstrate your proficiency in the following course competencies and assessment criteria:
- Competency 1: Examine how theory and sociological concepts apply to everyday life.
- Describe a current issue or event related to the learner’s field.
- Examine an issue or event from the functionalist perspective.
- Examine an issue or event from the conflict perspective.
- Examine an issue or event from the symbolic interactionist perspective.
- Competency 6: Compose text that articulates meaning relevant to its purpose and audience.
- Develop text using organization, structure, and transitions that demonstrate understanding of cohesion between main and subtopics.
For this assessment, search the Internet or print resources for a popular (as opposed to scholarly) article concerning a larger issue or event that has occurred in the last six months to a year related to your field or the field you are considering working in (business, healthcare, technology, criminal justice, et cetera). For example, if your field of study is healthcare management, you could choose a recent article concerning the cost of prescription medicine.
Search for a popular article (magazine or newspaper) about an issue or event related to your field of interest.
Write an essay in which you complete all of the following:
- Part 1 – Describe a current event or issue related to your field (1–2 paragraphs).
- Describe the current event or issue objectively. What is the main issue?
- Part 2 – Examine this event or issue from the three sociological perspectives: functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist.
- Address all three theories in your essay.
- Use at least two scholarly sources when explaining your theories.
- Examine how each perspective might explain or understand this event or issue.
- Use the article you’ve chosen to support your use of the perspectives and to provide examples to highlight theoretical ideas.
- It is expected that you use the vocabulary and concepts for each theory (for example, manifest and latent functions when discussing the functionalist perspective).
- Written communication: Develop text using organization, structure, and transitions that demonstrate understanding of cohesion between main and subtopics. Write in a professional style using references and correct grammar, usage, and mechanics. Written communication is free of errors that detract from the overall message.
- Sources: Cite at least two scholarly sources.
- Length: 2–3 pages, not including title and reference pages
- Format: Include a title page and reference page. Use in-text citations to cite your sources. [Example: Writing becomes better as the child matures (Britton, Thomas, & Miller, 1996).]
- Font and size: Times New Roman, 12-point.
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