Sociology is very plainly defined as the study of human society. While this may sound like a very straight forward and basic definition, society is actually a very complex system that is designed to help shape all of us in various ways throughout our lives. Society helps to shape our thoughts, emotions, the way we behave and perceive things, and can even help us to better understand ourselves as individuals. In a sense, it is a sociologists’ job to help determine what makes a society “tick”, and to explain social behavior and the effects it has on society as a whole. In order to do this, a sociologist must first come up with a specific theory on human behavior and then sets out to conduct research in order to test these theories. Depending on the particular theory being researched, there are three theoretical approaches that are used as a guide to help organize their thoughts and findings.
The first theoretical approach that a sociologist may use is called the Structural-Functional Approach. This is a macro-level approach which is mainly based on the idea that society is one very complex system in which the different parts work together to promote a sense of stability and order. This approach seeks to answer questions such as, how is society held together?, what are the major parts of society?, and what does each part do to help society work? Pioneers in this approach include sociologists such as, Auguste Comte, and Herbert Spencer. Comte actually coined the term “sociology”, and believed that society operates according to certain laws and is based on science. Spencer made a comparison between society and the human body. He believed that just as the many parts of the human body work together to keep the body alive and working, society works in much the same way in that the different social structures work together to preserve society as a whole. The issue with this approach is that by putting the focus on unity and stability, it doesn’t leave much room for issues dealing with inequalities such as race, social class, gender, and ethnicity which can cause conflict within society.
The second approach available to sociologists is the Social-Conflict Approach which recognizes the inequalities in our society that may generate conflict. There are two subtypes to this approach, the Feminist Theory which focuses on the inequalities between men and women, and the Race-Conflict theory which focuses on the inequalities between different races and ethnicities. Pioneers in this approach include people like Jane Addams, a feminist, who founded “Hull-House” in Chicago in 1889 which provided assistance to immigrant workers. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Ida Wells Barnett (race-conflict theory), was born to slave parents but became a teacher and newspaper publisher. She campaigned to put an end to the lynching of black people. Some of the questions that are asked by this approach are, how does society divide a population?, how do disadvantaged people challenge the system to seek change?, and how do advantaged people protect their privileges? Critics of this approach say that it largely ignores how shared values and