Sociological Perspectives

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Sociological Perspectives

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sociological perspectives, theories, or paradigms, complex theoretical and methodological frameworks used to analyze and explain an object of social study.

Theory is informed by epistemological discussions as to the most reliable and valid methods to use in the conduct of social science. Perspectives also relate to core assumptions regarding the ontological nature of the social world.

Theory is thus informed by historical debates over positivism and antipositivism, 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, postmodernity, and so on).

Three (Two?) Major Perspectives in Sociology

Sociologists analyze social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives. From concrete interpretations to sweeping generalizations of society and social behavior, sociologists study everything from specific events (the micro level of analysis of small social patterns) to the “big picture” (the macro level of analysis of large social patterns).


Some of the major general sociological theories (and their variants) include:

Conflict theory: focuses on the ability of some groups to dominate others, or resistance to such domination.

Critical theory: aims to critique and change society, not simply to document and understand it.

Ethnomethodology: examines how people make sense out of social life in the process of living it, as if each were a researcher engaged in enquiry.

Feminist theory: focuses on how gender inequality has shaped social life.

Functionalism: focuses on how elements of society need to work together to have a fully functioning whole.

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.

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

Social phenomenology: The social phenomenology of Alfred Schütz influenced the development of the social constructionism and ethnomethodology.

Positivism: Social positivists believe that social processes should be studied in terms of cause and effect using 'the' scientific method.


Sociological positivism

Postcolonial theory

Rational choice theory: models social behavior as the interaction of utility maximizing individuals.

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

Structural functionalism: also known as a social systems paradigm, addresses the functions that various elements of the social system perform in regard to the entire system.

Symbolic interactionism: examines how shared meanings and social patterns are developed in the course of social interactions.

Dramaturgical perspective: a specialized symbolic interactionism paradigm developed by Erving Goffman, seeing life as a performance



Differential association theory

Labeling theory

Rational choice theory (criminology)

Social disorganization theory

Social learning theory

Strain theory (sociology)

Subcultural theory

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 Jasper, Jeff Goodwin et al.

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 (1970s)

Social construction of technology (1980s) - variant of SSK focusing on technology studies.

Actor-network theory (1980s)

Normalization Process Theory (2000s)




Adams, Bert N. and R. A. Sydie. 2001. Sociological Theory. Pine Forge Press

Babbie, Earl R. 2003. The Practice of Social Research, 10th edition. Wadsworth, Thomson Learning Inc., ISBN 0-534-62029-9

Michael Hughes, Carolyn J. Kroehler, James W. Vander Zanden. 'Sociology: The Core', McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-240535-XOnline chapter summary

Ritzer, George and Douglas Goodman. 2004. Sociological Theory, Sixth Edition. McGraw Hill.

(...) links

American Sociological Association - Theory Section

European Sociological Association: Social Theory Research Network (RN29)

International Sociological Association: Research Committee on Sociological Theory (RC16)

Sociological Theory (journal)

Cliffs Notes - Three Major Perspectives in Sociology

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