Theoretical Perspectives and Methods of Social Research
THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES AND
M ETHODS OF SOCIAL RESEARCH
I. Why Focus on Mexico?
A. The United States and Mexico share a 2,000-mile border. Hundreds of millions of
people cross each week to work, shop, socialize, and vacation.
B. The border includes fences and other barriers to prevent undocumented immigrants
from crossing into the United States from Mexico.
C. The three major sociological perspectives and methods of social research are helpful
to assess the border barriers. The three perspectives help us to describe and think
about the fences and their purposes.
1. Theoretical perspectives: Frameworks for thinking about what is going on in
the world around us.
II. The Functionalist Theory
A. Core Conc1: Functionalists focus on how the “parts” of society contribute in
exp1. Functionalists are inspired by Émile Durkheim.upting an existing social order.
B. Functionalists focus on the existing order and how it is maintained.
C. Functionalists argue that all parts of society—even those that do not seem to serve a
constructive purpose, such as poverty, crime, undocumented immigration, and drug
addiction—contribute in some way to the larger system’s overall stability.
D. Sociologist Robert K. Merton (1967) introduced other concepts to the functionalist
perspective that help us think about a part’s overall effect on society, not just its
contribution to order and stability.
1. Manifest functions: a part’s anticipated or intended effects on order and
2. Manifest dysfunctions: a part’s anticipated disruptions to order and stability
3. Latent functions: the unanticipated or unintended effects on order and stability
4. Latent dysfunctions: unanticipated or unintended disruptions to order and
III. The Functionalist Perspective on Border Barriers
A. Functionalists ask, “What are the anticipated and unintended consequences of the
border barriers?” Functionalists apply the concepts of manifest and latent functions
and dysfunctions to answer this question.
1. Manifest functions of border barriers
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a. A reported decrease in the number of undocumented immigrants
apprehended crossing the newly secured areas of the border
b. Success in forcing undocumented entries away from secured urban areas
to less populated unsecured areas and through rough terrain and climates
to give Border Patrol agents a strategic advantage
c. An overall drop in the reported crime rate on the U.S. side of the border
from 30 percent higher than the national average to 12 percent
2. Latent Functions of Border Barriers
a. Cooperation between Mexican and U.S. officials in launching the Border
Safety Initiative Program to prevent injuries and fatalities of those
crossing the desert and other rough terrain to enter the United States
b. The creation of the Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue team,
which responds to all incidents involving people in distress, not just
incidents involving undocumented immigrants
c. A border barrier that doubles as a volleyball net, allowing U.S. and
Mexican volleyball players to face off as part of goodwill festivals and
other cross-border celebrations
3. Manifest Dysfunctions of Border Barriers
a. Increased apprehensions of undocumented immigrants in border counties
not secured by barriers
b. A reported crime rate that was higher than the national average in some
thinly populated counties with unsecured barriers
c. Increased fatalities as undocumented immigrants now risk their lives to
enter the United States through the desert and other inhospitable terrain
d. Increased numbers of undocumented immigrants paying smugglers, or
coyotes, to guide them into the United States.
e. An increase in illicit businesses that facilitate undocumented immigrants’
entry into the United States
4. Latent Dysfunctions of Border Barriers
a. Dramatic disruptions to the grazing, hunting, watering, and migration
patterns of wildlife
b. Some barrier construction sites were not subjected to environmental
c. Decrease in the number of undocumented workers returning home to
Mexico after completing seasonal work in the United States for fear that
they may be unable to cross back into the United States to work.
d. Redirected flows of undocumented immigrants to areas of the United
States unaccustomed to this movement, fueling the perception that the
United States is being “invaded” by undocumented migrants
e. Disruptions to economically and socially interdependent border
communities now separated by barriers.
IV. The Conflict Theory
A. Core Concept 2: The conflict perspective focuses on conflict over scarce and valued
resources and the strategies dominant groups use to create and protect the social
arrangements and practices that give them an advantage in accessing and controlling
12 Theoretical Perspectives and Methods of Social Research
1. Conflict theorists ask this basic question: Who benefits from a particular
social arrangement, and at whose expense?
2. Conflict theorists focus on conflict as an inevitable fact of social life and as
the most important agent for social change.
3. Conflict theorists try to identify dominant and subordinate groups, as well as
practices that the dominant groups have established, consciously or
unconsciously, to promote and protect their interests.
a. Facade of legitimacy: An explanation that members of dominant groups
give to justify the social arrangements that benefit them over others.
4. Conflict theorists draw their inspiration from Karl Marx, who focused on the
means of production.
B. The Conflict Perspective on United States-Mexico Border Fences
1. Conflict theorists would point out that the fences divide a high-wage economy
from a low-wage one.
a. The barriers are just one of many measures that the United States has put
in place over time to control the flow of low-wage undocumented labor
from Mexico, but not eliminate it.
b. The barriers serve as a potent political symbol used to convey the illusion
that United States is in control of its borders during a time of almost
intolerable economic uncertainty.
2. Conflict theorists have no trouble answering the question, “Who benefits from
the construction of the 700 miles of barriers, and at whose expense?” The
answer is clear: American politicians, employers, and defense contractors are
among the clear beneficiaries.
V. The Symbolic Interactionist Theory
A. Core Concept 3: Symbolic interactionists focus on social interaction and related
concepts of self-awareness/reflexive thinking, symbols, and negotiated order.
1. Symbolic interactionists focus on social interaction ,everyday events in which
people communicate, interpret, and respond to each other’s words and actions.
2. These theorists ask, when involved in interaction, how do people involved in
interaction “take account of what each other is doing or is about to do” and
then direct their own conduct accordingly? This process depends on:
a. Self-awareness - the process of observing and evaluating the self from
b. Symbols - any kind of physical phenomenon to which people assign a
name, meaning, or value
c. Negotiated order - The sum of existing expectations and newly negotiated
B. The Symbolic Interactionist Per