What Is the Sociological Perspective?

Hamed Saber/CC-BY 2.0

The sociological perspective is the study of human life, social interactions and how those interactions shape groups and entire societies. The sociological perspective is rooted in three foundational theories.

Introduction to the Sociological Perspective

The sociological perspective requires one to consider the role of societal expectations and social environments, and how they shape a person’s actions and thoughts. By examining the sociological perspective, it’s possible to gain a deeper understanding of society and its people and to question the social environment that may go unnoticed. Social environments and factors that are studied include gender, ethnicity and age. Additional factors include income and education. One of the goals of the sociological perspective is to show how deeply a person is affected by society and its social forces, even when it comes to what may seem like personal issues. By seeing the world through the sociological lens, it’s possible to explain social behavior.

The three major sociological perspectives are the symbolic, functionalist and conflict perspectives. Each theory helps one gain a better understanding of what shapes a person’s life and social interactions.

The Symbolic Perspective

Also known as the symbolic interaction theory, this is a perspective that places a large emphasis and symbolic meaning on the social interactions that humans develop. This theory was introduced by philosopher George Herbert Mead, but can be traced back to Max Weber. It examines the meanings that people impose on objects, events and behaviors.

The Functionalist Theory

This is a theory from Emile Durkheim that analyzes how social order is possible and how society remains stable. It states that each part of society functions to provide stability for the whole society. The institutions of society, like the government, are the strongest parts. If a society is disorganized, it must change to stabilize itself. The goal of the Functionalist Theory is to maintain the societal order.

Conflict Theory

Conflict theory is derived from the works of Karl Marx, and it studies how power and coercion affect social order. Marx believed that those with the greatest political, economic and social resources would hold the most power in society. These powerful people would maintain social order through domination. However, when people gain power, it is considered to be done at the expense of others. This theory is heavily political and does not take into account any sort of social unity.

Research Methods for the Sociological Perspective

Sociologists employ several research methods when investigating sociological perspectives. These include qualitative and quantitative research, which translates into conducting surveys and interviews. Methods of inquiry also include participant observation (which requires one to be an observer of a group without interfering with one’s surroundings), content analysis, comparative analysis and historical analysis.

Contemporary Sociological Perspectives

There are several contemporary sociological perspectives that have developed in the latter part of the 20th century. Two of the most notable perspectives are feminism and sexuality. Feminism sociology discusses topics including institutionalized heterosexuality, capitalist patriarchy and equality. The sociological perspective on sexuality discusses society’s role in influencing gender identity and analyzes the roots of sexuality in a cultural context. This field of study has advanced the societal understanding of what sexuality is and has expanded the definitions of sexuality and gender identity.