06 Sociology 101 Essay

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Major Paradigms in Sociology:
Functionalism
Joseph Padget
SOCY 101:
Introduction to Sociology

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Theory or Paradigm
Several major explanatory paradigms exist within sociology that help to organize research in the discipline
 They provide common terminology for explaining social behavior
 They create an emphasis on some questions above others
 They offer identifying markers that quickly orient others to a researcher’s key concerns

Referred to as ‘Perspectives’ or ‘Explanatory Paradigms’
 They are not formal scientific theories
 Metaphors, loose models, ‘lenses’
 Can be formalized into theories to some extent

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Theory or Paradigm
Paradigms
 Default to metaphor and narrative explanation and to some degree need to be understood in the context of their original or main authors/inventors
 Are fuzzy – can and have been interpreted multiple ways by different people across times and places because they lack strict formalization
 Can act as a point of identity for researchers who share similar views and approaches

Theories
 Highly systematic and are intended to be easily understood across times and places without historical/contextual references
 Intended to be precise, thus they typically contain explicit definitions that offer the meaning of terms WITHIN THE THEORY ITSELF
 Detached from the value beliefs of individual researchers

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Micro or Macro
Some are more macro, others more micro, and a few apply in a fairly general way across this spectrum
 Macro-level explanations deal with society level, nation level, global phenomena  Micro-level explanations deal with interactions in small groups, the smallest being the dyad, moving up to mid-sized groups like social club meetings or workplace groups

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Major Paradigms in Sociology
Three major paradigms have come to dominate sociology
Functionalism, a.k.a. Structural Functionalism
Symbolic Interactionism, a.k.a. Symbolic Interaction Perspective
Conflict Paradigm a.k.a. Conflict Theory

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Functionalism
To understand Functionalism, one need understand EVOLUTION and SELECTION
Evolution – the change in inherited characteristics of organisms over successive generations
Selection – process whereby a trait of a type of organism becomes more or less common in a population as a function of how well that trait serves survival and reproduction of organisms that bare the trait

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Functionalism
Evolutionary processes are often explained in terms of ‘survival of the fitest’
Those organisms that are best adapted to their surroundings survive and reproduce at a higher rate than organisms that are not as well adapted
‘Fit’ organisms pass on their traits more so than do the ‘unfit’

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Functionalism
Herbert Spencer takes this evolutionary approach to explaining biological organisms and apply it to the study of social behavior and social organisms
Just as an animal has organs that work together to ensure survival, so to do social organisms have parts that work together to ensure the function of the whole

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Functionalism
To some extent, philosophers through time and certainly early sociologists centered their analysis of society around answering the ‘Hobbesian Question’ –
How do humans, who are embroiled in a survival of the fitest struggle, cohabit together peacefully?
Why don’t we all take what we want, kill one another, and essentially live like base animals acting on primal urges?

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Functionalism
Thomas Hobbes, and many others, answer this by saying that –
 Societies develop social structures that regulate human behavior collectively in one way or another (through force and/or cooperation, see Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes)

Hobbes refers to the state of nature as a “war of all against all”
 The life of man would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”
 Everyone would live in fear of atack, thus be unable to pursue anything beyond…