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SOCI 1010 Lecture Notes - Talcott Parsons, Symbolic Interactionism, Conflict Theories

Course Code
SOCI 1010
Timothy Mc Cauley

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Sociological perspective
- Suicide – antisocial act, an individual act. However, Durkheim found other causes of
suicide that were not just individual. Durkheim’s book “Suicide?” was revolutionary
because it looked at social causes of suicide.
Sociology’s Four Main Theoretical Traditions
1) Functionalism: How is social order supported by macrostructures?
- Religion, family or economy are based on two things: rules and norms.
- Example of rule: No smoking in the classroom
- Example of norm: Professor stands and talks while students sit and write notes; norms
are unwritten rules that all institutions work with
S.D. Clark (Canadian functionalist, U of T, 1919-2003)
- Human behaviour is governed by stable patterns of social relations (“social structures”)
- Social structures can either maintain or undermine social stability (i.e. family conflict
can be a result of economic instability)
- Suggests social structures are based mainly on shared values
- Argues that re-establishing equilibrium – best way to solve most social problems
Talcott Parsons (best known functionalist)
- Best known for identifying how various institutions must work to ensure smooth
operation of society as a whole
Robert Merton
- Proposed that social structures have both manifest and latent functions
- Example: School exists to support achievement of schools, but an unintended function
is that it reinforces the status quo. Everyone is considered an equal in the system but there
is also a “hidden” curriculum where some people succeed and some don’t – is it related to
race, gender, etc?
2) Conflict Theory: How is social inequality maintained and challenged?
Karl Marx
- Conflict theory originated in the work of Karl Marx (Germany)
-Historical or dialectical materialism
- Struggle between classes to resist and overcome opposition of other classes (Proletariat
vs. Bourgeoisies)
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- Marx believed workers would become aware of their exploitation (i.e. develop class
consciousness) and revolt as a result
-Bring about a socialist (communist) society
C. Wright Mills
- Laid foundations for modern conflict theory in the late 1960s
- 1960s: with its growing civil unrest – that conflict theory took hold in North America
- Conflict among classes, nations, races and generations was the very essence of society
(Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement)
-Gave rise to important contributions to conflict theory
3) Symbolic Interactionism: How do people create meaning when they communicate in
micro-level settings?
-Interaction of lecture hall: not just students and professors, but people outside of the
classroom, building, and campus
- Two-way process: interpreting other people’s language (body)
- We communicate on the level of symbols
- Focuses on interpersonal communication in micro-level social settings
- Emphasizes social life is possible only because people attach meaning to things
- Stresses people help to create their social circumstances, not merely react to them
- Arose out of influence of Weber, Mead and Goffman
- People attach meaning to things to gain a clear sense of the significance of their actions
(e.g. role of Protestant ethic in early capitalist development – Protestant had to prove that
s/he was going to be saved by God)
Max Weber
- Weber noted growth of the service sector of economy, with its many manual workers,
managers and professionals
- Weber is interested in status moreso than class
- Occupational groups stabilize society because they enjoy higher status (eg. Wearing or
owning certain symbols that shows your wealth such as a BMW and Louis Vuitton)
- Liberal theory, whereas Marx’s theory is radical
- Showed that class conflict is not the only driving force of history
- Argued politics and religion also are important sources of historical change
- Emphasized importance of verstehen (empathetic understanding) which is an attempt to
understand people’s motives and meanings
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