Part 3

Part 3: Classic Perspectives of Sociology

One of the goals of sociology is to explain why social events occur. In this section, we will learn about some of the classic theories and theoretical perspectives of sociology. It is important to get a thorough understanding of these perspectives as they will be used throughout the semester.

Sociological Theory

sociological theory is defined as a set of statements that seek to describe, explain or predict social events. Throughout this course, we will learn about a number of different theories that attempt to explain social phenomenon. A theory is not an opinion. It is based on extensive research. As we have mentioned, the scientific method is the approach that sociologists take to understanding society. Usually, a theory is established after extensive research has uncovered that a pattern of relationships exist between two or more variables. A variable is anything that can be measured. A variable can measure anything from a person’s religiosity to a country or region’s death rate or suicide rate.

Theoretical Perspectives

There are many different theories of sociology and some of them fall under a certain viewpoint, or perspective. Sometimes, when a sociologist becomes interested in understanding a social event, he or she will frame their study according to a certain viewpoint. A theoretical perspective or theoretical paradigm, is defined as an overall view or image of society. The three classic perspectives of sociology are Structural Functionalism, Conflict and Symbolic Interaction. Each has a different approach to understanding society.

Perspectives on Education

Functional Analysis of Education

Perspective: Level: Focus: Image of Society: Key Concepts:
Structural-Functionalism Macro – broad view of society. Looks at large structures in society. Order and stability Society is a system of interrelated parts that work to create stability Social institutions 

Organic Metaphor

Manifest Functions

Latent Functions


Social-Conflict Macro – broad view of society. Looks at large structures in society. Power differentials and inequality Different groups in society are in conflict with one another over scare resouces Means of production 

Racism, Classism, Sexism




Symbolic-Interaction Micro – street level approach to understanding everyday behaviors. Interaction rituals and symbolic meaning Society is the product of everyday interactions. Self-Identity 

Symbolic Behavior




Social Construction of Reality

“Education is vital for the operation of society. It reinforces social norms and values to all members of society which ultimately creates stability and cohesion. Subjects on American History and Social Studies pass on the values of freedom, liberty and justice. Social norms such as how to dress, and interact with your peers are taught to students at an early age in the classroom. Also, children are taught the student role which involves social expectations for how they should behave. Without learning this important role, the classroom would be chaotic and instruction would be impossible.

The student role is carried out throughout an individual’s life especially when he or she goes to work. If future workers are not taught to respect authority and follow rules the workplace would not function properly. In Industrial Societies, the Division of Labor is carried out through the system of education. Children are prepared to work in certain fields or occupations. This is very important in modern, industrialized societies where the Division of Labor increases and where skills are no longer passed down from one generation to the next.”

Conflict Analysis of System of Education

“The ideas passed down through the system of education are the ideas of the ruling class. Students are taught to be obedient workers and never question authority. These rules benefit the wealthy owners of capital who need a large surplus of workers who will be willing to work for low wages. A class system is also established through the system of education. In pre-modern societies, only the wealthy could afford to get an education. In other words, education was a luxury. In Modern societies, education is a necessity is you want to have a good job with decent wages. When schools place students in certain groups based on their ability in the classroom, often these groups are based on race, class and gender. Thus, social divisions are created.

One other important criticism of the system of education is that certain groups benefit more from the institution than others. Wealthy children are placed in private schools away from the influence of the masses and they are often prepared to be leaders in society. Middle class students are likely to receive a good education in the public school system if their parents can afford to move to the suburbs where the better schools are located. Members of the working and lower classes are more likely to have negative experiences in school where they are placed in lower tracks and where their peers ridicule them for not having brand name clothes and for practicing poor hygiene.”

Symbolic Interaction Analysis of System of Education:

“The system of education is created through the everyday interactions of individuals. Children interact with their peers and these interactions color their perception of who they are as an individual. Interactions with teachers are also likely to influence how students perceive themselves and their abilities. If a teacher expects a child to do well in school, their student will more than likely conform to those expectations. Often, race class and gender play a prominent role in these interactions. Studies have shown that regardless of the teacher’s race, they often expect African American and Hispanic American students to perform more poorly academically. This can also be true when it comes to gender as well. Young girls see female teachers as role models and are likely to want to become teachers themselves. Or, teachers may expect girls to do very well in subjects like English and boys to do well in math and science. These expectations create a ‘ Self Fulfilling Prophecy ’ for many children.”