Sociological Perspectives Essay

There are three major perspectives in sociology and this essay will discuss and analyse two of them. One being consensus and the other conflict. It will compare the two and give an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of both. It will also give an example of how sociology can be useful in a health setting.

In functionalism Emile Durkheim used the comparison of society to living organisms to help people understand how a society works, in functionalism each institution can be understood by the role and function it plays in society, “given that the parts of society are interconnected and interrelated, each part will affect all the other parts and for the system to survive there will be compatibility between the parts”

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(Ref: Making sense of society, Marsh et all)

“Durkheim suggested there to be a form of SOCIAL SOLIDARITY at the basis of every society. Durkheim argues that people’s social ideas do not come from inside their heads nor from Mr. God! Rather ideas are socially created and socially inherited through the generations”

(Ref: )

Karl Marx strongly believed that there where two classes to society, the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariats. The Bourgeoisie are the factory owners or the people who owned the factories and they did not take part in the means of production and the Proletariats are basically the workers, they provide the benefits and the wealth to the owners. “Marxist theorists suggest that the Bourgeoisie for their own gain exploit the Proletariats. This is where the idea of class conflict has arisen”

(Ref. )

“Marx’s theory was a ‘grand theory’. Marx’s theory took a ‘macro-sociological’ approach to society and social phenomenon. Marx’s theory is an attempt to explain the ‘bigger picture’ of modern societies”

(Ref: )

The two perspectives both have different values of society, and whilst one believed that society was made up through family the other strongly believed it was the rich who would get richer and the poor would get poorer. “for Marx, there are two essential components of society: First, the economic base or substructure that provides the material needs of life, and second, the superstructure, basically the rest of society including the family, the education system, ideas and beliefs, the legal; system and the political system”

( Ref: Making sense of society, Marsh et all)

“Durkheim argued that without the regulation of society, individuals would attempt to satisfy their own desires and wishes without regard to their fellow. This societal regulation or constraint had to be based on a shared set of values” (Ref: Making sense of society, Marsh et all)

Functionalism and conflict both have their own ideas as to how society is run, and both have their strengths and weaknesses.

A strength seen by a Marxist may be that the bourgeoisie (factory owners) have much more power and influence than the proletariats (working class), an example of this would be that members of society who are privileged and rich, are able to attend the public school and therefore have the advantage of holding major positions in the state, industry and banking, and own the mass media.

However, a strength seen by a functionalist may be “while we choose to behave in certain ways, in reality the choices are made for us. The kind of possibilities of thought and experience available to us are not invented by us individually, they are learned” (Ref: Making sense of society, Marsh et all)

Strengths and weaknesses differ on each side, what may seem right to one group may seem totally the opposite to another.

A weakness or criticism of a functionalist may well be that they present a “deterministic view of social behaviour. Some versions of functionalism picture human beings as products of the social system, their behaviour determined by the social structure”

(Ref: Sociology in focus, Taylor et all)

Weaknesses in the conflict perspective could be that Marx predicted the working class would get poorer. This does not appear to have happened, even though the inequalities in wealth and income continue to exist. Standards of living have been greatly improved since the time of Marx, and the working class lead a far better lifestyle than he predicted.

The two perspectives which have been discussed both have their opinions and views on how society is run. “ Durkheim believed that social order was based on a core of shared values. This belief is a key aspect of the functionalist approach” (Ref: Making sense of society, Marsh et all)

“Marx’s theory can be said to be ‘Holistic’. It is holistic because the theory attempts to explain human relationships from the vantage point of the wider and larger social structures of society rather than the individuals who live those relations.” (Ref: )

“Karl Marx, like Durkheim, was concerned with the broad questions of what held societies together and how societies change over time. And, as with functionalism, Marxism is a structural theoretical perspective: it concentrates on the structure of society and explains individual actions in terms of the social structure in which they are located. Both functionalism and Marxism stress the crucial and pervasive influence of society” ( Ref: Making sense of society, Marsh et all)

Sociology has various involvements with society; sociology of health is one of these and has been widely discussed. The inequalities of health and care are often publicised, a good example of this would be the Black report, “The Black Report, published in 1980, showed that there had continued to be an improvement in health across all the classes (during the first 35 years of the National Health Service) but there was still a co-relation between social class, (as measured by the old Registrar General’s scale) and infant mortality rates, life expectancy and inequalities in the use of medical services” (Ref: )

“good health is a fundamental goal for people and the societies in which they live. Individuals hope for a life free from illness and pains, and societies, through the acts of governments, promote policies designed to counteract ill health”

(Ref: Moon ; Gillespie, 1995)


Making Sense of Society, An Introduction to, I. Marsh and others. 1996, Published in the USA by Addison Wesley Longman Publishing Company, New York.

Sociology in Focus, P. Taylor and others. 1995, Printed and Bound by The Bath Press, Lower Bristol Road, Bath, UK.

Society ; Health, An Introduction to Social Science for Health Professionals, G. Moon ; R. Gillespie. 1995, Published by Routledge, 11 New Lane, London, UK.

Sociological Perspectives Essay

Sociological Perspectives
The following paper will present a compare and contrast paradigm of the respected theories of Goffman and Garfinkel with Giddens as a counterbalance.

            Goffman’s theory of dramaturgy relies on people’s functions and reactions in society, “For example, many service occupations offer their clients a performance that is illuminated with dramatic expressions of cleanliness, modernity, competence, and integrity. While in fact these abstract standards have a different significance in different occupational performances, the observer is encouraged to stress the abstract similarities” (page 3).  For Garfinkel also the function of an individual in society is witnessed through common culture, “Socially-sanctioned-facts-of-life-in-society-that-any-bona-fide-member-of-the-society-knows depict such matters as the conduct of family life, market organization, distributions of honor…and the presence of good and evil purposes behind the apparent workings of things” (page 76).

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The theory of structural analysis according to Gidden’s article “Agency, Institution, and Time-Space Analysis” to a more succinct recognition according to modern sociological thought.

            Giddens differentiates society into two stratifications: action (which emphasizes the subject) and structural analysis or institutional analysis (which emphasizes the object).  In the subject according to Giddens  it is the locus of sense experience who is attributed with social change and structure, while with the object the social mores are what influence the knower.  This is the duality of structure in micro and macro sociological analysis (the micro with the subject, the macro with the object), as Giddens states, “In sociology it has taken the form of an oppositions between theories which emphasize human agency or ‘action’ and theories which emphasize ‘institutional analysis’ or structural analysis” (page 335).

            Giddens further explains the definition of this dualism in attributing a dichotomy of roles for both action and institution.  Action by Giddens is defined through capability and knowledgeability.  With the definition of capability Giddens means the possibility of action or the otherwise unacted action, “…whenever we speak of human action we imply the possibility that the agent could have acted otherwise” (page 336) and by knowledgeability he means exactly that; the social members being knowledgeable about the workings of their society.  This dualism of social structure must be adhered to in order for the social characters to perform actions on a diurnal social encounters in either a practical conscious manner or as Giddens states in a discursive conscious manner (which is more subtle and less in the forefront of cognition) (Giddens 336).

            Giddens states of institutions in the manner in which he wants the reader to define them, “By institutions I mean structured social practices that have a broad spatial and temporal extension:  that are structured in what the historian Braudel calls the longue dureé of time, and which are followed or acknowledged by the majority of the members of a society” (page 337).  Thus actions accordingly are performed in institutions almost without conscious effort by the actors as in Giddens’ example of the linguist asking the layperson to define the structure by which their conversations exist, but the structure has been so ingrained in the social construct of language that it is known intrinsically by the actor and thus supercedes definition by society as Giddens states of Merton, “Rather than concentrating his attention on ‘action,’ he is primarily concerned with how social forces operate ‘behind the backs’ of members of society so as to effect specific outcomes either stabilizing society or leading to social change” (page 337).

            With the above definition of Merton’s views in mind the dualism in social action may be seen as defined by the terms manifest and latent functions.  Giddens disregards manifest action as too broad in terminology.  Giddens goes on to state that symbolic interactionism is the crux by which Goffman’s theories are defined and in this theory through social encounters such as face-to-face, and the second theory implored in the paper is functionalism (page 339) both of which add to social institutions on micro and macro levels of dualism.

            Giddens tries to explore the dual definitions of action theory and institutional analysis as not predisposed to hegemony in sociological thought but rather, “I do not think that the dualism that I have described between action theory and institutional analysis can be resolved merely by declaring that there can be a sort of sharing-out of the tasks of sociology.  The problems involved lie at a much deeper level than that.  Micro-sociological analysis cannot be identified ipso facto with action theory, or macro sociological analysis with the theory of institutions” (page 339).            Giddens further explains of this dualism that structure in both functional and symbolic interactionism play their role in this dichotomy of sociological thought.  Structural functionalism as expressed by Giddens plays a vital role in institutional analysis.  Giddens also states that social structure, “…the patterning of relationships between individuals or collectives can be best dealt with by the notion of system.  Social systems (and overall societies as encompassing types of social systems) consist of reproduced relationships between individuals and (or) collectives” (page 340).  Thus, Giddens defines succinctly the duality of structure as presented in micro and macro and further explained through action and institutional analysis.

            Garfinkel states that social order is a challenge of social norms in which an individual has “presupposed knowledge of a social structure” (page 77) just as Goffman states in preference for ingrained mores of society, “ …it is to be noted that a given social front tends to become institutionalized in terms of the abstract stereotyped expectations to which it gives rise, and tends to take on a meaning and stability apart from the specific tasks which happen at the time to be performed in its name. The front becomes a “collective representation” and a fact in its own right”(page 4).  This is another comparison point between the authors; both state that social meaning hinges on the implicit understanding of the actors or collective society members the boundaries of cultural codes which have been ingrained in them through habit, repetition, etc.

            Goffman’s dramaturgy is defined by comparing society and social intercourse related to actors performing on stage, “…ordinary social intercourse is itself put together as a scene is put together, by the exchange of dramatically inflated actions, counteractions, and terminating replies” (page 6).  The term anticipatory socialization is the cohesion between Goffman and Garfinkel for as Garfinkel states, “…a body of knowledge of social structures is somehow assembled.  Somehow, decisions of meaning, facts, method, and causal texture are made” (page 78).  This relevant as it reflects a person’s personal frame of reference.

            Through frame of reference Garfinkel’s documentary method can be usefully employed and Goffman’s dramaturgy becomes viable.  Thus, the two sociologists become engrossed in interaction through predetermined sets of mores which are increasingly ingrained in an individual through the social drama of life.  Goffman goes on to define his dramaturgy through unmeant gestures, “…it was suggested that the performer must act with expressive responsibility, since; many minor, inadvertent acts happen to be well designed to convey impressions inappropriate at the time”  (page 11).   These unmeant gestures are further defined in Garfinkel’s methodology when he expresses the reactions of the subjects in finding out that they had been deceived of which the participants responded by being chagrined.

Garfinkel further states of social meaning through invisible theatre and every day life or realistic theatre, “References that the subject supplied were to social structures which he treated as actually or potentially known in common with the advisor.  And then not to any social structures known in common, but to normatively valued social structures which the subject accepted as conditions that his decisions, with respect to his own sensible and realistic grasp of his circumstances and the ‘good’ character of advisor’s advice had to satisfy” (page 93).

Thus, social meaning is centered around a predisposed frame of reference which is found, as Garfinkel states in common cultural norms.  These norms are further developed through Goffman’s dramaturgy in the fact that social members, or the collective react to each other in predetermined responses that have been sanctioned through social order has being the appropriate response to certain situations.


Garfinkel, S.L.  Studies in Ethnomethodology.

Goffman, Erving.  The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday, 1956, pp.            22-30, 70-76.


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