Sociology is often criticised for being similar to common sense, but sociology differs from common sense in a number of ways. Common sense is based on the main beliefs of a society, whereas sociology gathers evidence to examine and analyse the main beliefs of society. An example of this would be sociological research into suicide (Durkheim, 1897) which gathered evidence to determine the causes of suicide rather than use the common sense assumption that it was depressed people who killed themselves. This research shows that sociologists also analyse society from a critical angle which differs from common sense assumptions. Sociology is also compared with other social sciences. It is similar to Psychology in the way it observes social norms and behaviours, but differs because sociology takes a more holistic view of this, for example studying the relationship between the family and education. It also shares Political Theories’ interest in power and governance but looks also at the wider social processes involved, which contrasts with the more reductionist view of political theory.
Sociologists use social structure to demonstrate the way society is made up. They research social institutions such as education and the media to discover how they contribute to societies overall construction. An example of this would be research into the benefits of social media in higher education (Jadu, 2009).
Stratification is used to describe the inequality between different groups in society, for example race, gender or class. Horizontal stratification is a difference of power based on social group. Vertical stratification is the division of roles within society based on social group. An example of this being used is the research into the importance of class systems in Nordic countries (Brooks et al 2010).
Social processes are used to explain the way society regulates behaviour and promotes conformity. Socialisation is the process of preparing for society, both primary in the family and secondary in education. Social control is the way society maintains social norms and values. An example of this would be research into the relationship between family attachments and deviancy (Dornbusch et al 2001). Sociologists have different perspectives when trying to understand society. The three main perspectives are functionalism, conflict theories and symbolic interactionism.
Functionalism is a macro perspective, meaning it takes a holistic view of society. It assumes that society is made up of interrelated social institutions which work as a collective in order to maintain stability; For example, educating young people in order for them to contribute to the economy later in life. It also assumes that the basis for society is a set of core values and beliefs, which maintain social order and stability. Functionalists have attempted to explain social problems such as suicide (Durkheim 1897) by relating it to a breakdown in the connection people have with society, thus creating a problem. A more contemporary view of functionalism would be the economic functionalism of Milton Freedman and free market economics, which assumes that free markets always work towards an equilibrium or stability.
One advantage of this is functionalism provides a holistic view of society, which can be backed up with evidence. An obvious critique of this perspective is that it ignores the history behind institutions, for example the monarchy, which has no function in today’s society. A conflict theorist would argue that functionalism promotes the status quo by ignoring power structures within society, although the point can be made that functionalism promotes cooperation between different social groups to benefit the collective.
Conflict theory is another macro perspective based on the belief society is divided hierarchically into groups which are stratified in terms of power along class, gender and