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Introduction to Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1714 words Published: 15th Sep 2017

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Edward Cordero

The first theoretical perspective in sociology is called Functional Analysis. Functional Analysis is the theory that society is made up of different parts that collaborate to promote unity and equality. Functional Analysis is sometimes referred to as “functionalism and structural functionalism” (Henslin, 2012, p. 24). Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, both outstanding sociologists, developed this theory because they believed society is similar as living organisms. By comparing society to living organisms and their organs, Comte and Spencer concluded that in order for a humans or animals to function properly, their organs must work together. In this case, in order for society to be prosperous, people must work as a team to make it happen. Emile Durkheim saw nothing different about Comte and Spencer’s judgement. He also stressed the idea that society is made up of many parts that works together to “fulfill their functions” (Henslin, 2012, p. 25). What differs Durkheim from Comte and Herbert is that he acknowledged society as being “normal” (Henslin, 2012, p. 25) if each part of society is working together as a team. If society does not collaborate, then it is deemed an “abnormal or pathological state” (Henslin, 2012, p. 25). Robert Merton developed a scale to measure the consequences of people’s action in a society. If a person does something that is purposeful to society, it is called a manifest function. If a person does something that is not planned to help society change, it is called a latent function. A negative consequence that causes damage to society is called a dysfunction. When functionalists conduct their research, it is important that they target large groups such as: industries, organizations, or structures because Functional Analysis is a macro analysis. Macro-level analysis is supposedly designed to target “large scale patterns in society” (Henslin, 2012, p. 28). Situations that attract functionalists’ attention can include “how the parts of society fit together to make the whole and what each part does, and how it contributes to society” (Henslin, 2012, p. 25). Functional Analysis is important because this is the area that helps sociologists examine and explain social phenomena that can have a positive or negative impact.

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The second theoretical perspective of sociology is the Conflict Theory. The Conflict Theory is the idea that society is made of different groups that compete each other for scarce resources. The Industrial Revolution that transformed Europe has prompted sociologist Karl Marx to develop this perspective on social life. Marx believes that in a society, a higher class group exists and controls the lower class. According to sociologist Lewis Coser, he believes “conflict is most likely to develop among people who are in close relationships” (Henslin, 2012, p. 27). Therefore, if a negative change occurs in the arrangement on how power or privilege is distributed in their society, it could lead to conflicts. Conflict theorists also focuses on large groups when conducting research because Conflict Theory is a macro analysis. They target structures, groups, countries, and even cultures. The strength of the Conflict Theory is that it allows conflict theorists to examine the change of a circumstance and understand the conflict that comes along. This allows better understanding on why events, such as protests, occur in society today. When conflict theorists conduct research, they look at “how opposing interest run through every layer of society” (Henslin, 2012, p. 27) or what causes inequality in a society. What also gains their attention is when they try to understand how the upper class controls their power on the lower class.

The third theoretical perspective in sociology is called Symbolic Interactionism. Symbolic Interactionism is the theory that society uses symbols that have meaning to communicate with one another and to understand the world around them. Sociologists, George Herbert Mead and Charles Cooley, teamed up to design this theory to better understand our social life. Symbolic Interactionism is considered to be a micro analysis. Micro analysis involves a small group when examining how an individual uses symbols to communicate and interact in society. The Conflict Theory is important because it helps conflict interactionists “analyze how social life depends on the ways we define ourselves and others” (Henslin, 2012, p. 23). Since Symbolic Interactionism focuses on an individual and their interaction with others, this could help lead them to understand social order and change in a society. What attracts conflict interactionalists is when they examine “how people make sense out of life and their place in it” (Henslin, 2012, p. 23). They look at how each society dresses differently or how each social order is different. Most importantly, they might find it interesting on how symbols, despite having different meaning in every society, creates social life.

I will be applying the theoretical perspectives of sociology to the Dakota Pipeline Protest, an event that has been affecting a society in the U.S. When applying Functional Analysis to the Dakota Pipeline Protest, researchers would first want to know what the manifest function of the Dakota pipeline is. The manifest function of the Dakota pipeline project is to build a 1,200-mile-long pipeline, from North Dakota to Illinois, that will transport about 470,000 barrels of crude oil each day. This is considered the safest way to transport crude oil in regards to environmental concerns. The Researchers might also be interested in the dysfunctions of the pipeline. The dysfunction of the project is that the pipeline is projected to go under Lake Oahe. Any rupture from the pipeline could cause a huge environmental effect. Researchers would also be curious about the organizers. They might consider questioning their reason for introducing the project, as well as the benefit of the pipeline. The organizer of the Dakota pipeline, Energy Transfer Partner LP, is the company that wants to engage in this business of transporting oil. They got the approval to push forward with the project because it is the safest and the most environmental-friendly way to transport oil. Finally, researchers might also want to examine what the possible latent functions of this project will be. A possible latent function of the project is that it can lower fuel prices in the U.S. and cause a boost in the economy. This can also lead to low cost on electricity bills or air fares.

When applying Conflict Theory to the Dakota Pipeline Protest, researchers might want to first examine who is the high and low class. The high class in this event would be the Government officials as well as the organizers of the project. The low class would be considered the group that disapproves the construction of the Dakota pipeline. In this case, the low class would be the Native American tribes from all over the United States. Researchers would also examine what is the cause to the inequality that is taking place. According to the Native Americans, they have been living in the area where the pipeline is projected to go across. The Government does not consider the fact that this is a sacred area for them and that Lake Oahe is life for them. Lake Oahe provides them their daily water supply and they strongly believe water is life. Researchers would also be curious about what else the Native Americans are trying to protect and why do they still have the interest to keep protesting, despite the physical abuse from the Government. Besides the water, the Native Americans have ancestors who were buried around the area. It is disturbing for them to witness a construction going on in the area that is valuable since their ancestors. Finally, conflict theorists would want to know exactly if this pipeline is absolutely necessary for society and whether excessive force should be used against the protestors. Excessive force has been used on the Native Americans. Government authorities are authorized to use police dogs, pepper spray, and tear gas. These people are simply protecting their land and they have every rights to voice their concerns. They have the right to protest.

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Symbolic interactionists would be interested in studying the symbols that are being used by the Native Americans in the Dakota Pipeline Protest. Researchers might probably want to first verify if it is just Native Americans that are involved in the protest. They must interview individuals and question their race. They must try to examine how the project is affecting individuals’ society and to determine if it is only Native American who are voicing their opinions. Researchers would definitely interview individuals to find out how meaningful the land is to them. It is important for the researcher to understand what the land symbolizes because that is the foundation of the protest. They might also examine if the symbolism of the land differs to each individual involved. Symbolic interactionists might also study the clothing of the Native Americans, as well as the songs they sing traditionally on the construction site. Based on the media, some Native Americans wore traditional clothing to represent their ancestors and to show that they will continue to fight for them. The traditional songs are sung near the construction site to promote unity. The weapons that the Native Americans use to counter the excessive force from the Government might also attract researchers. Instead of using guns or modern day weapons, the Native Americans are seen using sling shots, horses, or even their flags as weapons. The researchers might want to interview individuals face to face and question them on their choice of weapon. Based on videos from media, it shows that these Native Americans are taking pride into their culture.

Work Cited:

Henslin, J. M. (2012). Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. NJ: Pearson.


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