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Sociology: Theories

Kemasha Nicole Elms

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Andover College

Dr. Carol Shepherd

December 3rd, 2018

To effectively examine the prominent social theories, we must first aim to comprehend the meaning of a structural society. The most comprehensive definition being “the characterization of human societies as a set of interrelated and interlocking features that make up an organized whole.” (Jones, Branbury & Le Boutillier,2011, p. 256). Structural sociological theories were based on an extensive view of societies functionality. This approach was positivist (attempted to be explained through scientific analysis). The three main structural sociological theories are Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism.
In a functionalist society, sociologist like Durkheim and Parsons believed that all institutions played an imperative role, which contributed to the solidarity and stability of society. This sociological theory is compared to the human body, where, the organs do not function independently. Instead, it is a collective and collaborative approach to ensure the body effectively functions. (Holborn, Haralambos, & Heald, 2008). Societies survival was based on basic needs being meet. The family, church, the economy, schools and the government were not seen as separate isolated unit, but essential pieces in a harmonious structure. Functionalism places emphasis on societal rules, norms and values, which are associated with the roles each individual play in society. Functionalism views conflict as “temporary disturbances in the social system”. (Holborn, Haralambos, Heald, 2008). Minimal attention was paid to the differing interest of individuals, as it was felt that the common interest was greater. It can therefore be concluded that in a functionalist society, there is a great level of interdependency and not much consideration for individual needs or progression within the social classes. Critique has been directed to at this structural theory, specifically relating to complex societies where different religions existed. Robert K Merton argued that the functionalist justification, that society functions as a single unit and actively promotes integration cannot be the case where such religious differences exist.
A Marxist society is defined by its strong economic base (infrastructure). Marxism is based on the works of Karl Marx, who defined society as a structure that is interrelated but not harmonious. A Marxist society is based on private ownership of business, used as a means of production; resulting in distinguished differentiation between social classes characterized by social inequalities. There is prominent ongoing conflict and exploitation. (Chapman, 2002). Marxism highlights social class division and how that related to the standard of living within the social classes. This sociological theory gives enlightenment on social exploitation where the lower social class suffers as opposed to those within the higher social class. This is as a direct result of the unequal distribution of wealth. It was felt that this was a leading cause of the social unrest and struggle. Marxism concludes individuals are both the “producers and products of the society” meaning we create the society we live in. (Browne,2001.).
Feminism is a sociological theory that sees our society as patriarchal and male-stream. Feminist view social division as existing between men and women, with men being the superior gender. Influential feminist like Germaine Greer and Selma James worked toward the eradication of gender disparities and increased women’s rights . Black feminist, like Kimberly Crenshaw, argued that race must be included in the equation when discussing gender inequalities. It places emphasis on intersectional identities and deviated from feminism being based on the rights of white middle class women. Audre Lorde explained that sexism, class oppression, gender identity and racism must be acknowledged when discussing feminism as they are indistinguishably bounded together. Feminism highlights the exploitation of women, promotes women equality; to gain the right to access the same jobs, wages, and political influences like men. The different strands of feminism aim to expunge male-stream and promote the value of women within society. (Holborn, Haralambos, ; Heald, 2008)

Evaluation of the three main structural social theories revealed several similarities and differences. In the first instance, all three approaches are based on a macro views of society and take a scientific approach in explaining how society functions. Feminism and Marxism share the common view that there is division within society. Their difference exists as feminist believed that the division existed between men and women, where men are the superior sex. Marxist believed the division existed between social classes. Feminism and Marxism differ from functionalism as functionalist does not place an emphasis on social disturbances as they do. Functionalist argued that social disturbances rectified themselves as society evolved. Feminism and Marxism both identify a significant degree of exploitation within society. Functionalism and Marxism share the common view that our social structure is connected. The sociological approached differs however, as functionalism is based on the interconnection and dependency on each aspect of society and as such, society is unable to operate effectively without contributions for all institutions. Marxism contradicts this by arguing that the economy is the primary determinant, affecting the other institutions. It was argued that changes to the infrastructure (economic base) would cascade to the superstructure. (Holborn, Haralambos, ; Heald, 2008). Marxism views the division in society as required for the maintenance of society. Is it mostly fixated on the infrastructure of society (economic base); highlighting the importance of the economy and explaining how these changes cascade through the remaining social institutions for the preservation of society. This was contradictory to functionalism as it focused on cultural analysis in society. Functionalism concludes that the continuance of social order exists through inherited social norms and values dictated by one’s position in society. It was eluded that society can be positively altered through social organization. (Jones, Branbury & Le Boutillier, 2011).
Youth culture is defined as “the features of a subculture, such as style of dress, music, speech and behavior seen as specific to young people.” (Chapman,2002 p.163). Abercrombie et al. 2002 expounds on this by stating that youth cultures is characterized by peer groups, leisure and consumption and is subject to change.
Functionalist believed that youth culture was a mandatory transitional period that all young people experienced. Parsons associated youth culture with providing a sense of belonging and identity, which provides important psychological support during this transitional process. Functionalist argued that youth culture bridges the gap of the associated stresses and pressures that accompanies the transitioning from childhood into adulthood. Social structures, like schools, are viewed as imperative as they perform their positive function of socializing societies young people. Schools are also viewed as that pillar of society that educates young adults and sets to impart specific skills to match their workplace and economic need. This essential component aids in the maintenance of a harmonious society that promoted and maintained social equilibrium. Both Durkheim and Parsons believed that schools promoted and enforced value consensus, which allows for social control and solidarity and counteracts crime and deviance. Functionalist took an idealistic view and a macro sociological analysis of youth culture; it does not acknowledge the existence of separate sub youth culture like rockers, rasta, punk etc.
In Marxist societies, social class has a direct link to the youth culture experience. Marxist sociologist conducted critical cultural studies to seek to explain sub youth cultures and what they represented throughout the generations. The experience of young adults of the working class in a capitalist society, are said to be more problematic that than the young persons of the bourgeois. Their educational failures resulted in low paid jobs and taking up their ascribed role at the bottom of the social structure. In these capitalist societies, the bourgeois use social institutions like school to control and limited the power of the working class through hegemony, which constitutes part of the hidden curriculum. Marxist view the transitioning of these young working-class adults as being difficult to control, as they lack full adult responsibility. It is said that this contributes to the constant conflict within these capitalist societies. These deviant behaviors contribute to the emergence of sub youth culture which differs through the generations but are said to be a unified response to common issues. Karl Marx took gave no consideration to additional factors that contributed to oppression. Marxists acknowledged the difference in circumstances that affect youth culture through the generations. For example, Hall and Jefferson conducted a critical culture study in 1976 on the Teddy boys. This semiotic study focused on their Edwardian styled clothing, suede shoes etc., which was associated with the bourgeois. It was concluded that this showed that these working-class young adults had contempt towards the those belonging to the higher social class.
Historically, it has been instilled and engrained in female young adults that her place in is the home. That she should be seen and not heard. Youth culture was predominantly male stream and all references to youth culture prior to _____ was associated with males. The emergence of androgynous youth cultures, like new romantic and emo, was one of the first instances where this had changed. Following that, women were given recognition for their contributions to youth culture through music. For example, Vivienne Westwood being credited for her contribution to punk. Additionally, the introduction of female bands and musicians like Madonna and the Spice Girls had a tremendous impact on youth culture promoting “girl power”. The introduction of female bands and musicians into mainstream media, saw an increase in women in the media. It must also be noted that there was a significant increase in the female sexuality during the 90’s. Postmodern feminism promotes “otherness” and individuality. Mainstream media is a major influencer in relation to commercial beautification and sexuality and its message to female young adults. This effect is clearly noted as we can see increased openness and acceptance and promoted female empowerment.

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