SOCA01H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Naimans, Symbolic Interactionism, Macrosociology
Sociology Lecture 2
Theoretical approaches to sociology
Monday October 22nd 5-7
Detailed information will be posted on Portal - READ CAREFULLY!
No class on October 18th - instructor will hold additional office hours.
Thomson & Naiman:
Two levels of social structure
Sociologists analyse two levels of social structure that frame and influence human agency:
∙ Microstructures (patterns of intimate social relations formed during face-to-face interaction)
∙ Macrostructures (overarching patterns of social relations in whole societies)
∙ Other sociologists also consider mesostructures and global structures.
∙ C. Wright Mills (1959)
∙ Sociological imagination shows the connection between personal troubles and public uses. Social
problems can only be addresses if this connection is understood.
∙ Naiman: personal troubles should be connected to issues of distal power.
Elements of the sociological approach
∙ Theory: a tentative explanation of some aspect of social life stating how and why specific facts are
∙ Research: the process of carefully observing social reality to test the validity of a theory.
∙ Values: ideas about desirability/worth of attributes, people, objects, and processes.
Value free sociology is impossible. But a sociologist’s biases must be declared and minimized by rigorous
research method (Naiman).
Main theoretical approaches in sociology
∙ Structural functionalism (Thomson: functionalism): How is social order supported by
∙ Neo-Marxism (Thomson: conflict theory): How is social inequality maintained and challenged?
∙ Symbolic interactionism (Thomson: microsociology ): How do people create meaning (understand
events) when they communicate in microlevel settings?
∙ Feminism: What are the social sources of patriarchy (a social system of male dominance) in both
macro and micro settings?
∙ Post-modernism: What diverse understandings of society (individual and collective) human actors
Functionalism (19th c. Anthropology) and structuralism (1940s American sociology)
∙ Mostly macrosociology
∙ Naiman: an “order theory”
1. Human behaviour is governed by stable patterns of social relations (social structures). Most patterns
have a function in maintaining society.
2. Social structures are basing on functional interdependence (like organs in a body) or shared values
(difference between functionalism and structuralism).
3. Re-establishing equilibrium is the best way to solve social problems.
4. Problem: explanation of change (difference between functionalism and structuralism; structuralism
has a strong preference for stability over change).
∙ Conscience collective (collective consciousness) exists in all societies.
∙ Traditional societies are based on mechanical solidarity: members re similar and share similar values.
∙ Moderns societies are based on organic solidarity because of developed division of labour, members
are dissimilar. Solidarity is based on their awareness that all are necessary to the functioning of
∙ Anomie: people are exposed to diverse values and uncertain which to follow. Transitory.
∙ Religion: “god is society experiencing itself as a group.”
∙ Ritual – collective effervescence.
Marxism and Neo-Marxism
∙ Sometimes also called “critical theory”
∙ Naiman: a “change theory”
∙ Mostly macrosociology
∙ Marx: focus on class inequality, based on relations of production.
∙ Conflict & change are normal
∙ Theory should be critical of existing society and serve progressive social change.
∙ Max Weber: Focus on power and struggle for power.
∙ Class, status, and power are interconnected.
∙ Weber: valid sociological research must include both careful study of social-structural processes
(facts) AND understanding of the situation from the standpoint of the actor (Verstehen).
∙ Took hold largely in North America
∙ Focus is on agency: face-to-face interaction in micro-level settings, subjective and intersubjective
interpretations of reality.
∙ Mead: “taking on the role of the other”
∙ People help to create their social circumstances and do not merely react to them.
Video “Mark steel lectures – Karl Marx”
Part 2: Marx moved to Paris after government closure of Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung.
∙ “New labour”, “the third way” (the centre-left), Anthony Giddens.
Part 3: Das Kapital, 1871 Paris Commune
∙ Exploitation: unpaid surplus value = profit. Rate of exploitation increases over time.
∙ Cyclical crises of capitalism – unemployment.
∙ Workers of the world, unite!