Theoretical perspective refers to a set of assumptions about certain realities and informs questions that people ask and the kind of answers they arrive at as a result.
In essence, theoretical perspectives can be described as lenses through which people look to focus or distort what they see. Theoretical perspectives can also be viewed as frames that serve to include and exclude certain things from peopleÌ¢âÂã¢s views. There are many examples of theoretical perspectives, the most common being the field of sociology because it makes assumptions that social systems such as societies and families exist and that culture, roles and statuses are real.
Theoretical perspectives are important elements in research because they help people to organize their thoughts and ideas so that they can be clearer to others. Many sociologists use more than one theoretical perspective simultaneously in research.
There are two main approaches to studying society. The macro perspective focuses on the big picture of social structures, patterns and trends while the micro perspective focuses on the small details of individual experience and everyday life. Although the two perspectives may seem to compete, they are in fact complementary and mutually dependent.
The Functionalist Perspective According to the University of Minnesota, this perspective operates on the macro theoretical level and was formulated by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, considered one of the founding sociologists. This theory tries to figure out how social order could be possible and if society can maintain stability. The writings of Emile Durkheim formed the foundation of the functionalist perspective. However, other sociologists including Herbert Spencer, Robert K. Merton and Talcott Parsons later contributed to this perspective and refined it.
The concerns of this theoretical perspective were bolstered by the Industrial Revolution. This revolution started in Europe and later spread to the U.S. It led to the rise and growth of cities as people migrated from their farms into the cities to find work in the factories. As cities grew, living standards became poorer, leading to the rise of violent mobs in Europe and the U.S. This was evidence of the breakdown in social order foreseen by the functional perspective.
The Interactionist Perspective This perspective was formulated by the American sociologist George Herbert Mead, notes the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It operates on the micro level of theoretical thinking and seeks to understand how meaning can be generated through social interactions. The main idea behind this theoretical perspective is that meaning is derived from everyday social interactions. Therefore, meaning is a social construct. A prominent branch of the interactionist perspective is symbolic interaction, developed by American sociologist Herbert Blumer. This theory focuses on how people create meaning by using symbols like clothing to communicate with each other and how people create and maintain cohesion with those around them.
The Conflict Perspective Derived from the works of Karl Marx, the conflict perspective assumes that conflicts are the result of uneven distribution of resources and power between groups in a society. Social change is caused by conflicts that arise because of the inequalities within society. According to R.J Rummel of the University of Hawaii, the conflict perspective stipulates that power takes various forms including control of material resources and wealth, politics and institutions that make up society. In addition, power can be measured in terms of an individualÌ¢âÂã¢s social status relative to others in terms of gender, race and class among other factors.