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Lecture Two
Sociological Analysis: Theoretical
Studying the Social World
The major theoretical approaches are important to
compare and contrast because they make different
assumptions about the social world and have
different answers
Sociologists ground their research and analysis in a
theoretical approach to:
Ask the right questions
Guides research methods
Organize empirical observations and conclusions
Some sociologists use ONLY one approach all the
time and some use the perspective that best
addresses the question at hand.
Functionalist approach believes that society
works toward equilibrium and stability
According to functionalism society is a system of
interrelated parts – economy, family, religion,
mass media, etc.
Each of society’s parts function to maintain the
stability of the larger system
Main questions asked by functionalists: How do the
institutions (parts) of society contribute to social
stability and/or instability?
Marxist/Conflict Theory
In contrast to functionalists who focus on order and
stability, the conflict approach focuses on conflict
and social change.
According to the conflict approach, society is based
on conflict between social groups
Patterns of inequality create social stability in some
circumstances and social change in others
Social conditions are the expression of the ongoing power
struggle between groups
The main question asked by the conflict approach
is: Who benefits from a particular pattern or social
arrangement and at whose expense?
Symbolic Interactionism
In contrast to functionalism and conflict theory,
which assumes that people’s group membership
determine their behavior (race, class, etc.), symbolic
interactionism focuses on how people’s ideas/values
shape their behavior
Symbolic Interactionism assumes that social life is
possible because people attach meaning to it.
Main question asked by symbolic interactionsim is:
how do individuals communicate and interact to
make social life meaningful?
Feminist Theory
View socially constructed categories - like
gender, race, and class – as key factors in
the inequality that shape society
Social interaction
Social institutions
Intersection of race, class, and gender
Main question asked by feminist theorists is:
what is the basis for inequality in society?
Rational Choice Theory
Instrumental (rational action) behavior is the
key variable to explain social life
Self-interested behavior
People make rational, self-interested decisions
based on the circumstances presented to them
Main question asked by rational choice theorists
is: how does individual self-interst shape
Social life is influenced by images and
Reality is what we make it to be
There is no history
Meaning is created and constantly in flux
Main question asked by rational choice theorists
is: how do we make meaning in life and how are
we affected by images/symbols?
Putting them into practice…
How do we explain the gender wage
Is education the great equalizer?
High School Diploma:
BA/BS Degree:
men = $32K women = $22K (68%)
men = $51K women = $36K (70%)
men = $77K women $56K (72%)
How do we explain the wage gap?
Use the theory
assigned to your
group to explain the
gender wage gap.
1 = Structural
2 = Conflict Theory
3 = Symbolic
4 = Feminist Theory
5 = Rational Choice
6= Postmodernism