Sociological Theory

Sociological Theory

In sociology, sociological perspectives, theories, or paradigms are complex theoretical and methodological frameworks, used to analyze and explain objects of social study, and facilitate organizing sociological knowledge. Sociological theory is constantly evolving, therefore it can never be presumed to be complete. It can involve analysis at a macro-level, which focuses on social structures shaping the society or at a micro-level which is a close-up study on social interaction taking place in specific situatons.


The idea of the sociological perspective was thought of by Peter Berger. He stated that the sociological perspective was seeing "the general in the particular" and that it helped sociologists realize general patterns in the behaviour of specific individuals One can think of sociological perspective as our own personal choice and how the society plays a role in shaping our individual lives.

What is a theory

A theory is a statement as to how and why particular facts are related. C. Wright Mills' theory of the sociological imagination related to the sociological perspective is how personal issues could become public issues. When sociologists create or construct theories, two basic questions arise. The first pertains to what the sociologists wants to study (including global issues, issues between genders, etc), and the second question pertains to how the facts of this study will be connected.


Perspectives also relate to core assumptions regarding the ontological nature of the social world. Theory is thus informed by historical debates over positivism, and anti-positivism, debates over the primacy of structure and agency, as well as debates relating to other fundamental key concepts in the social sciences and humanities in general (e.g. materialism, idealism, determinism, dialecticism, modernity, globalization, post-modernity, etc.).

Sociological theory vs. social theory

Some researchers have suggested new subcategories because the field of sociological theory is very broad. Kenneth Allan suggested the terms sociological theory and social theory. Social theory, according to Allan, focuses on commentary and critique of modern society rather than explanation. Prominent social theorists include: Jürgen Habermas, Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, Erving Goffman, Michel Foucault, Dorothy Smith, Alfred Schutz, Jeffrey Alexander, and Jacques Derrida. Note however, that these authors' theories are very different. Several of the authors were in fact very empirical in their studies. For example, Erving Goffman had committed himself to a psychiatric ward in order to study the micro-sociology of institutionalized madness.

In contrast, the focus of the sociological theory is an attempt to create an abstract and testable propositions about society. It often heavily relies on the scientific method, which aims for objectivity, and attempts to avoid passing value judgments. The Social theory is often closer to Continental philosophy, more subjective, and is much more likely to use the language of values and judgment: referring to the concepts of "good" or "bad". Prominent sociological theorists include Talcott Parsons, Robert K. Merton, Randall Collins, James Samuel Coleman, Peter Blau, Marshal McLuhan,Immanuel Wallerstein, George Homans, Harrison White, Theda Skocpol, Gerhard Lenski, Pierre van den Berghe and Jonathan H. Turner.

There are prominent scholars who could be seen as being in between social and sociological theories, such as Harold Garfinkel, Herbert Blumer, and Claude Lévi-Strauss.

Further development

Sociological theory is constantly evolving and therefore can never be presumed to be complete. New sociological theories build upon the work of their predecessors and add to them, but classic sociological theories are still considered important and current.

The field of sociology itself and sociological theory by extension is relatively new. Dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries (see history of sociology), it is closely tied to a much older field of social sciences (and social theory) in general. Sociology has separated itself from the other social sciences due to its focus on society, (-- a concept that goes beyond nation,) as it includes communities, organizations and relationships.

Some of the key developments that have influenced sociological theory are: the rise of individualism, the appearance of the modern state (Elazar, Daniel J.), industrialization and capitalism, colonization and globalization, and the world wars. Sociology was born as a result of three striking changes in Europe: "the rise of factory-based industrial economy, the explosive growth of cities, and the spread of new ideas about democracy and political rights".

New Industrial Economy During the middle ages in Europe, most people either worked on farms close to their homes or in small-scaled manufacturing. However, by the end of eighteenth century, this trend changed due to the invention of heavy-duty machines powered by water/steam which were being used in factories and mills. This was called the "industrialization revolution." Eventually, people started moving out to cities to become part of the anonymous crowd of the city's labor force. This migration broke their ties with traditional way of life which focused on community life and values. This shift to industrialization and capitalism led to the expansion of cities and development of labor movements. Early sociologists were intrigued by the vast differences in social interactions, views, and problems as they recognized it and termed this movement: capitalism and industrialization.

Growth of Cities Due to the invention of industrial machinery, there were increasing demands for wool in textile mills. To fulfill these demands, landowners participated in the "enclosure movement". Landowners incrementally fenced-off areas of their land to increase grazing lands for sheep. This left little choice for the farm-workers who consequently moved to the cities to find enough work. These migrant workers faced crime and pollution in cities. The sudden increase in migration also led to overpopulation and homelessness. Living in the city, migrant workers faced a new social world with its own set of problems.

Political Change In the middle ages, most Europeans viewed the ladder system of society as an expression of God's holy plan to be the traditional view. The aristocracy occupied the top tier of society while slaves were at the bottom. However, the eighteenth century was also a period where philosophers started questioning the validity of this traditional view; These included prominent sociologists like John Locke, Adam Smith and Thomas Hobbes. As a result, there was a shift in thinking from moral obligations to personal pursuit. This shift was also facilitated by industrialization and the emergence of people who had acquired wealth through capitalism and not just through inheritance. Consequently, as cities grew, people started to value individual rights and individual freedom in determining social status. The French Revolution was another great push in breaking the old political and social traditions. The French social analyst, Alexis de Tocqueville noted the change brought by the French Revolution as "nothing short of regeneration of the whole human race" (1955;orig.1856). These revolutions inspired a lot of political and religious change. As an alternative to capitalism, people started to reach for socialism, a system where wealth is equally distributed among all workers. One of the most prominent sociologists against capitalism was Karl Marx who participated in political activities to protest the capitalist system. Additionally, feminism began to emerge during the progressive era from the revolutions, and the abolitionist movements. Even though female sociologists such as Harriet Martineau and Marianne Weber were often neglected, they still managed to contribute greatly to sociological theories studied today. Sociologists also developed a desire to understand more about religion, and debate sociology's place in the sciences.

A New Awareness of Society All these changes together: the industrialization, growth of cities, change in political scenario of Europe brought about by individualism contributed to the birth of new discipline of Sociology. Sociology was born in England, France and Germany--where the impact of the changes were the greatest.

List of sociological theories

What are theoretical perspectives

Theoretical approach is a basic image of society that guides thinking and research.

Major theoretical perspectives

Traditional / classical theories

Social Conflict is the struggle between segments of society over valued resources Due to social conflict, it turned a small population into capitalists in the nineteenth century. Capitalists, are people who own and operate factories and other businesses in pursuit of profits. However, capitalism turned most people into industrial workers, whom Marx called proletarians. Proletarians are people who sell their labour for wages. Conflict theories draw attention to power differentials, such as class, gender and race conflict, and contrast historically dominant ideologies. It is therefore a macro level analysis of society that sees society as an arena of inequality that generates conflict and social change. Karl Marx is the father of the social conflict theory, which is a component of the four major paradigms of sociology. Other important sociologists associated with this theory include Harriet Martineau, Jane Addams and W.E.B. Du Bois. This sociological approach doesn't look at how social structures help society to operate, but instead looks at how "social patterns" can cause some people in society to be dominant, and others to be oppressed. However, some criticisms to this theory are that it disregards how shared values and the way in which people rely on each other help to unify the society.

Structural functionalism or Functionalism is a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. This approach looks at society through a macro-level orientation, which is a broad focus on the social structures that shapes society as a whole. This approach looks at both social structure and social functions. Functionalism addresses society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions and institutions. Important sociologists associated with this approach include Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Herbert Spencer, Talcott Parsons, and Robert K. Merton. A common analogy, popularized by Herbert Spencer, presents these parts of society as "organs" that work toward the proper functioning of the "body" as a whole. A criticism for this approach is that it disregards any inequalities that exists within a society, which in turn causes tension and conflict and the approach ends up being politically conservative. So in order to focus on this topic, the social conflict theory was made.

Interpretivism or Symbolic Interaction; also known as Interactionism, is a sociological theory that places emphasis on micro-scale social interaction to provide subjective meaning in human behavior, the social process and pragmatism. The approach focuses on creating a framework for building a theory that sees society as the product of the everyday interactions of individuals. Society is nothing more than the shared reality that people construct as they interact with one another. This approach sees people interacting in countless settings using symbolic communications. Therefore, society is a complex, ever-changing mosaic of subjective meanings. However some criticisms to this approach are that it only looks at what is happening in one particular social situation, and disregards the effects that culture, race or gender may have on the people in that situation. Some important sociologists associated with this approach include Max Weber, George Herbert Mead, Erving Goffman, George Homans and Peter Blau.

Major contemporary theories

Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. The theory focuses on how gender inequality shapes social life. This approach shows how sexuality both reflects patterns of social inequality and helps to perpetuate them. Feminism, from a social conflict perspective, focuses on gender inequality and links sexuality to the domination of women by men.

A feminist is considered as someone who is in support of social equality for men and women. Examples of feminists are Harriet Martineau and Jane Addams.

Basic feminist ideas include:

  1. Working to increase equity: Moves to increasing the equity between men and female in the society.
  2. Expanding human choice: Moves to expand the choices men and women can make in the society. Therefore, breaking limits and bounds.
  3. Eliminating gender stratification: Moves to remove unfairly set limits set on peoples ability, what they can do or not do, because of the persons gender.
  4. Ending sexual violence: moves to reduce/eradicate violence against a particular sex.
  5. Promoting sexual freedom: Moves to allow sexual groups more freedom.

There has been some opposition towards feminism. Some people say feminism reduces social roles and fails to realize the fact that men and women think differently and have different strengths.

Postmodernism is a theoretical perspective approach that criticises modernism and believes anti-theory and anti-method and has a great mistrust of grand theories and ideologies. Due to human subjectivity, theorists believe that discovering the objective truth is impossible or unachievable. This is due to a perspective that sees society as ever-changing along with the assumption that truth is constantly subject to change. A post-modern theorists purpose is to achieve understanding through observation, rather than data collection. This approach uses both micro and macro level analysis. A question that is asked by this approach would be, "How do we understand societies or interpersonal relations, while rejecting the theories and methods of the social sciences, and our assumptions about human nature? or How does power permeate social relations or society , and change with the circumstances? " An example of a famous Post Modernist is Michael Foucault. He was a french philosopher and one of the most influential post modernist of all time.

Other theoretical perspectives

Positivism Positivism is a philosophy developed by Auguste Comte (widely regarded as the first true sociologist) in the middle of the 19th century that stated that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge, and that such knowledge can only come from positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific method.[45] Society operates according to laws like the physical world. Introspective and intuitional attempts to gain knowledge are rejected. Though the positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of western thought from the Ancient Egyptians to the present day.

Antipositivism (also non-positivist or interpretive sociology) is the view in social science that the social realm may not be subject to the same methods of investigation as the natural world; that academics must reject empiricism and the scientific method in the conduct of social research. Interpretivists hold that researchers should focus on understanding the meanings that social actions have for the people being studied.

Middle-Range Theory is an approach to sociological theorizing aimed at integrating theory and empirical research,developed by Robert K. Merton. It is currently the de-facto dominant approach to sociological theory construction, especially in the United States. Middle-range theory starts with an empirical phenomenon (as opposed to a broad abstract entity like the social system) and abstracts from it to create general statements that can be verified by data.

Mathematical Theory is the use of mathematics to construct social theories. Mathematical sociology aims to take sociological theory, which is strong in intuitive content but weak from a formal point of view, and to express it in formal terms. The benefits of this approach include increased clarity and the ability to use mathematics to derive implications of a theory that cannot be arrived at intuitively. The models typically used in mathematical sociology allow sociologists to understand how predictable local interactions are often able to elicit global patterns of social structure.

Socialization is the means by which human infants begin to acquire the skills necessary to perform as a functional member of their society, and are among the most influential learning processes one can experience. Sociologists use the term socialization to refer to the lifelong social experience by which people develop their human potential and learn culture. Unlike other living species, humans need socialization within their cultures for survival.

Structure and Agency Theory The question over the primacy of either structure or agency in human behavior is a central debate in the social sciences. In this context, agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. Structure, in contrast, refers to the recurrent patterned arrangements which influence or limit the choices and opportunities available.

Critical Theory is any sociological theory that aims to critique and change society and culture, not simply to document and understand it.

Ethnomethodology examines how people make sense out of their social lives in the process of living, as if each individual were a researcher engaged in inquiry. It is the study of how people attempt to make sense of their everyday surroundings. Harold Garfinkel (1967) is the one who devised this approach. It begins by pointing out that everyday behavior rests on a number of assumptions. Those assumptions are usually predictable due to the reaction of people or their behavior in everyday reality.

Interpretive sociology is a theoretical perspective based on the work of Max Weber, proposes that social, economic and historical research can never be fully empirical or descriptive as one must always approach it with a conceptual apparatus.

Network theory is a structural approach to sociology that is most closely associated with the work of Harrison White, who views norms and behaviors as embedded in chains of social relations.

Social phenomenology is an approach within the field of sociology that aims to reveal what role human awareness plays in the production of social action, social situations and social worlds. In essence, phenomenology is the belief that society is a human construction. The social phenomenology of Alfred Schütz influenced the development of the social constructionism and ethnomethodology. It was originally developed by Edmund Husserl.

Postcolonial Theory is a post-modern approach that consists of the reactions to and the analysis of colonialism.

Rational Choice Theory models social behavior as the interaction of utility maximizing individuals. "Rational" implies cost-effectiveness is balanced against cost to accomplish a utility maximizing interaction. Costs are extrinsic, meaning intrinsic values such as feelings of guilt will not be accounted for in the cost to commit a crime.

Social Constructionism is a sociological theory of knowledge that considers how social phenomena develop in particular social contexts.

Dramaturgy or Dramaturgical Perspective is a specialized symbolic interactionism paradigm developed by Erving Goffman, seeing life as a performance. As "actors," we have a status, which is the part that we play, where we are given various roles. These roles serve as a script, supplying dialogue and action for the characters (the people in reality). They also involve props and certain settings. For instance, a doctor (the role), uses instruments like a heart monitor (the prop), all the while using medical terms (the script), while in his doctor's office (the setting). In addition, our performance is the "presentation of self," which is how people perceive us, based on the ways in which we portray ourselves. This process, sometimes called impression management, begins with the idea of personal performance.

Anomie Theory also known as normlessness; where society provides little moral guidance to individuals. It is difficult for individuals to find their place in the society without clear rules or norms to help guide them. Sociologist Emile Durkheim observed that social period of disruption. The economic depression results in greater anomie and higher rates of suicide and crimes. Merton theorizes that anomie (normative breakdown) and some forms of deviant behavior derive largely from a disjunction between “culturally prescribed aspirations” of a society and “socially structured avenues for realizing those aspirations. In other words, a gap between people’s aspirations and their access to legitimate means of achieving them results in a breakdown of values, at both societal and individual levels. In The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim described anomie as one result of an inequitable division of labour within the society; such inequality, Durkheim wrote, causes a breakdown or lack of rules in society and results in class conflict. In Suicide, Durkheim viewed anomie as an outcome of rapid social and economic change and hypothesized that it explained a particular kind of suicide that occurs when individuals experience marked and sudden changes in their social condition. Broadly speaking, then, during times of great upheaval, increasing numbers of individuals’ ‘cease to accept the moral legitimacy of society,” as sociologist Anthony R. Mawson, University of Keele, UK, notes.

Grounded Theory is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the generation of theory from data.

Thomas Theorem refers to situations that are defined as real are real in their consequences.[69] Suggests that the reality people construct in their interaction has real consequences for the future. For example, a teacher who believes a certain student to be intellectually gifted may well encourage exceptional academic performance.

Social-exchange analysis says that the interaction that occurs between people can be partly based on what someone may "gain and lose" by being with others. For example, when people think about who they may date, they'll look to see if they other person will offer just as much (or perhaps more) than they do. This can include judging an individual's looks and appearance, or their social status.

The foundations of society

There are seven (7) different aspects/foundations of society:

  1. Culture - Culture refers to the way of life, which includes what people do (such as forms of dance) and what people have (such as clothing) that has a particular meaning in their society.  Culture is not only about what we see on the outside, but also includes what is inside - our thoughts and feelings. This can be summarized by the two components of culture: material and non-material culture. Material culture refers to the physical things created by members of society such as jewellery and clothes. In contrast, non-material culture refers to the ideas created by members of a society an example being religion and language. Non-material culture also includes elements such as symbols, values, beliefs, and norms. Some symbols are used in the forms of words, gestures, and actions to express meanings and to communicate with one another. Values are abstract standards of behavior and beliefs are specific statements that people hold to be true. The general guidelines of behavior are called norms and they fall under two categories: mores (norms that have moral significance), and folkways (are norms for routine, casual interaction). Ideal culture is the social patterns mandated by cultural values and norms. Real culture is actual social patterns that attempt to approximate cultural expectations and ideals. Being exposed to alien cultures can result in Culture Shock where personal disorientation occurs when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life. This can be caused by immigration, traveling to a new country, or social movements within one's own country.
  2. Society - Society refers to people who interact in a defined territory and share a culture. All human beings live in societies. Societies change or evolve over time, and differ around the world in many important ways. Some major sociologists that contributed to the understanding of the society are Gerhard, Jean Lenski, Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim.
  3. Socialization - Socialization refers to lifelong learning, through social experience, that contributes to the development of the personality and allows full participation in society. Sociologists use the term socialization to refer to the lifelong social experience by which people develop their human potential and learn culture. The social experience is also founded upon personality which is a person's fairly consistent patterns of acting, thinking and feeling. It is also found that personality depends on the way that person develops which in turn depends on the role of nature as well as nurture.
  4. Social Interaction in Everyday Life – Sociology points to the many rules that guide behavior in everyday situations. The more we learn about the rules of social interaction, the better we can participate in society. Social interaction is essentially the process by which people act and react in relation to others. Some interactions that people face in everyday life are emotions and language.
  5. Groups and Organizations – A social group is two or more people who identify with and interact with one another. We carry out much of our daily lives as members of small groups, such as sports teams, and large organizations, such as the businesses where we work. Both small groups and large organizations operate according to general rules. The social group is further broken into two types: the primary group (a small personal group) and the secondary group (a large impersonal group). People today are more engaged in formal organizations, which are the large secondary groups organized to achieve their goals efficiently, such as companies and government agencies. There are three types of formal organizations, utilitarian organizations, normative organizations and coercive organizations. Peter Blau points out that intergroup contact is influenced by social diversity in three ways. The first influence on inter-group contact is that large groups turn inward. The second one is that heterogeneous groups turn outward. The third one of the influences is that physical boundaries create social boundaries. In the process of evolution of formal organizations, there appeared a new structure of formal organization which is called as bureaucracy by Max Weber. Bureaucracy is an organizational model rationally designed to perform tasks efficiently.
  6. Sexuality and Society – Sexuality is constructed by society and is an important part of our everyday lives. It is also a theme found throughout most areas of social life. Although sexuality is biological, society (including patterns of culture and inequality) shapes how we experience sexuality. The social issues and controversies involving sexuality these days are gay rights, teen pregnancy, abortion, prostitution, pornography, and sexual violence such as date rape. Sexuality does not just shape a person's thoughts about himself/herself but also creates others' thoughts on that person.
  7. Deviance – standing out by not conforming to what is expected or normal – is a reflection of both individual choice and the operation and norms of society. Deviance is the recognized violation of social rules and cultural norms. Norms guide almost all human activities, so the concept of deviance is quite broad. It ranges from minor infractions such as bad manners to major infractions such as serious violence. There are two theories of deviance: biological and psychological theories. Biological theory helps explain human behavior in context of biological instincts whereas psychological theories helps understand deviance in context of " unsuccessful socialization". While they both focus on individual abnormality. Both of these theories provide limited understanding of crime and other deviance because most violations are done by normal people. The third theory of deviance is the sociological theory which views all behavior as well as conformity as the product of the society. These sociologists point out that what is deviant from place to place is according to cultural norms, behavior and individuals become deviant as others define them that way and what and who a society defines as deviant reflects who has and does not have social power.

Three research orientations in sociology

  1. Scientific sociology - Also known as positivist sociology, and is the study of society that is based on the systematic observation of social behavior on the basis of empirical behaviour. It sees objective reality as "out there" and uses quantitative data. Requires carefully operationalizing variables and ensuring that measurement is both reliable and valid. Scientific sociology observes how variables are related and tries to establish cause and effect. It is more suited for laboratory research and focuses more on the things that people do (their actions). This type of research orientation corresponds to the Structural-Functionalist approach, by observing the different social structures that make up society itself.
  2. Interpretive sociology - The study of society that focuses on the meanings that people attach to their social world. It sees reality as constructed by people in the course of their everyday lives. It favours qualitative data and is well suited to research in a natural setting. This type of research orientation corresponds to the Symbolic-Interaction approach and relies more on qualitative data. The founder of interpretative sociology was Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). He gave the concept of understanding in people's world of meaning.
  3. Critical sociology - The study of society that focuses on inequality and the need for social change. Critical sociology rejects the principle of objectivity by claiming that all research is political. Thus research is motivated by making this desired change. This type of research orientation corresponds to the Social-Conflict approach. Two prominent types of conflict analysis are gender-conflict and race-conflict approach. The gender conflict perspective focuses on inequality between men and women while the race-conflict approach looks at conflict between people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Karl Marx, the founder of critical sociology, did not believe that society functioned as a natural and objective system. He rejected this concept, claiming that it produces a perspective that maintains the status quo instead of trying to change it.

Important sociological concepts

The major theoretical perspectives

  • Social-Conflict Theory: Reasons that civilization is a fight for power, is that connecting groups are struggling for limited means. Society is structured to benefit a few at the expense of the majority (acting as an arena of inequality, generating conflict and thus social change). Social Conflict theory is studied on a Macro level. Some factors like social class, race, ethnicity, age, gender and sexual orientation can result in an unequal distribution of money, education, power, and social prestige. Most sociologists use this approach not just to understand society, but to make societal changes that would reduce inequality. For example, Karl Marx used this approach not only to understand society but to cause changes that will reduce inequality. He stated, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it".
  • Gender-Conflict Approach: The inequality and the conflict between men and women are focused in this viewpoint. This approach is closely connected to feminism, the advocacy of social equality for women and men. This approach highlights the positions of power men hold over women in our society. This inequality can be seen at home and in the workplace where the men usually hold more power.

Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) is regarded as the first woman sociologist. She supported the Abolitionism movement, worker union right and she was particularly concerned about the position of women in society and fought for changes in education policy, so that women could look forward to more in life than marriage and raising children.

  • Race-Conflict Approach: The inequality and the conflict between people of different racial and ethnic groups are focused in this viewpoint. For example, white people in relation to people of colour, have several advantageous opportunities at schooling, income, social status and better health care. An important contribution to understanding race in the United States was made by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963). W.E.B. Du Bois studied the Black community, stood up against racial inequality and believed that sociologists should work towards solving the problems of society.
  • Interpretive sociology: This theoretical perspective, based on the work of Max Weber, proposes that social, economic and historical research can never be fully empirical or descriptive as one must always approach it with a conceptual apparatus.
  • Structural Functionalism: Also known as a social systems paradigm, sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. This theory focuses on how it is essential that elements of a society work together in order to function fully as a whole. Robert K. Merton (1910-2003) pointed out that any social structure has functions that are more obvious than others. Consequences of any social pattern that are recognized and anticipated are called manifest functions . Latent functions are the unrecognized and unpredictable consequences of any social pattern. He also identified social dysfunctions as patterns that may disrupt the operation of society or produce undersirable results. The structural functional approach is a macro level orientation in terms of the level of analysis, as it focuses on broad social structures that shape society as a whole. It is also a classical approach. Questions that this approach may ask would be: "How is society held together? What are the major parts of society? How are these parts connected?and What does each part do to help society work?" Sociologists involved in this approach include Auguste Comte, Émile Durkheim, and Herbert Spencer.
  • Symbolic Interactionism: Examines how shared meanings and social patterns are developed in the course of social interactions. Society and reality is constructed as people interact with each other. It is a micro level analysis becuase it focuses on individual patterns. Also, this approach perceives society as an "ongoing process". Social-Interactionists would ask a question such as: "How do people experience society? How do people shape the reality they experience? and How does behaviour change from individual to individual and meaning change from one situation to another?" Important sociologists related to this topic are Max Weber, George Herbert Mead, Erving Goffman, and Peter Blau.

Different kinds of sociology

The sociology of criminology

  • The general theory of crime: States that the main factor behind criminal behaviour is the individual's lack of self-control.

  • Differential association theory: The theory was developed by Edwin Sutherland and it examines the acts of a criminal from the perspective that they are learned behaviours.
  • Labeling theory: It is the main idea that deviance and conformity result not so much from what people do as from how others respond to these actions. It also states that a society's reaction to specific behaviors are a major determinant of how a person may come to adopt a "deviant" label. This theory stresses the relativity of deviance, the idea that people may define the same behavior in any number of ways. Thus the labelling theory is a micro-level analysis and is often classified in the social-interactionist approach. Bryant, Lee. "The Labelling Theory." ., 2000-2012. Web. 24 Feb 2012.
  • Control theory: The theory was developed by Travis Hirschi and it states that a weak bond between an individual and society itself allows the individual to defy societal norms and adopt behaviors that are deviant in nature.
  • Rational choice theory: States that people commit crimes when it is rational for them to do so according to analyses of costs and benefits, and that crime can be reduced by minimizing benefits and maximizing costs to the "would be" criminal.
  • Social disorganization theory: States that crime is more likely to occur in areas where social institutions are unable to directly control groups of individuals.
  • Social learning theory: States that people adopt new behaviors through observational learning in their environments.
  • Strain theory: States that a social structure within a society may cause people to commit crimes. Specifically, the extent and type of deviance people engage in depend on whether a society provides the means to achieve cultural goals.
  • Subcultural theory: States that behavior is influenced by factors such as class, ethnicity, and family status. This theory's primary focus is on juvenile delinquency.
  • Psychopath: serious criminals who do not feel shame or guilt from their actions. They do not fear punishment and have little sympathy for the people they harm. These individuals are said to have a psychological disorder as psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder. They exhibit a variety of maladaptive traits such as rarely experiencing genuine affection for others. They are skilled at faking affection, are irresponsible, impulsive, tolerate little frustration and they pursue immediate gratification. Robert Hare, one of the world's leading experts on psychopathy, developed an important assessment device for psychopathy, the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. For many, this measure is the single, most important advancement to date toward what will hopefully become our ultimate understanding of psychopathy (McCann, Weiten, 641).
  • Containment theory: when an individual has a stronger conscience it will make one more tolerable to frustrations and therefore are less likely to be involved in criminal activities.
  • White-collar crime: defined by Edwin Sutherland as crime committed by persons of high social position in the course of their occupation (Sutherland and Cressey, 1978:44). The white-collar crime involves people making use of their occupational position to enrich themselves and others illegally, which often causes public harm. In white-collar crime, public harm wreaked by false advertising, marketing of unsafe products, embezzlement, and bribery of public officials is more extensive than most people think, most of which go unnoticed and unpunished.
  • Corporate crime: refers to the illegal actions of a corporation or people acting on its behalf. Corporate crime ranges from knowingly selling faulty or dangerous products to purposely polluting the environment. Like white-collar crime, most cases of corporate crime go unpunished, and many are not never even known to the public.
  • Organized crime: a business that supplies illegal goods or services, including sex, drugs, and gambling. This type of crime expanded among immigrants, who found that society was not always willing to share its opportunities with them.  A famous example of organized crime is the Italian Mafia.
  • Hate crime: a criminal act against a person or a person's property by an offender motivated by racial, ethnic, religious or other bias. Hate crimes may refer to race,ancestry,religion, sexual orientation and physical disabilities. According to Statistics Canada publication, "Jewish" community has been the most likely the victim of hate crime in Canada during 2001-2002. Overall, about 57 percent of hate crimes are motivated by ethnicity and race, targeting mainly Blacks and Asians, while 43 percent target religion, mainly Judaism and Islam. A relatively small 9 percent is motivated by sexual orientation, targets gays and lesbians.

Physical traits do not distinguish criminals from non criminals, but genetic factors together with environmental factors are strong predictors of adult crime and violence. Most psychologists see deviance as the result of "unsuccessful" socialization and abnormality in an individual personality.

Sociology of science and technology

Sociologists have been active in developing theories about the nature of science and technology:

  • "Institutional" sociology of science (Robert K. Merton) (1960s)
  • Sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) (1970s)
  • Social construction of technology (1980s) - variant of SSK focusing on technology studies.
  • Actor-network theory (1980s)
  • Normalization Process Theory (2000s)
  • Theories of Technology

Social movements

Sociologists have developed various theories about social movements [Kendall, 2005]. Chronologically (by approximate date of origin) they include:

  • Collective behavior/collective action theories (1950s)
  • Relative deprivation theory (1960s)
  • Value-added theory (1960s)
  • Resource mobilization/Political process theory (1970s)
  • Frame analysis theory (1970s)
  • New social movement theory (1980s)
  • New cultural theory (1990s) -- James M. Jasper, Jeff Goodwin et al.

Types of Social Movement:

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