Functionalism, Conflict and Interactionism in Sociological Theories - 2220 Words | Research Paper Example (2023)

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The functionalist theory
  3. The conflict theory
  4. Interactionist theory
  5. Reference List
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Sociological theories are a group of connected ideas that create an opportunity for systematization of knowledge within a social society. The knowledge received here is then applied to the social world to make predictions of what is likely to happen in the future.

Sociology being part of social sciences, it enables the process of analyzing the way of lives of human beings, the causes of their behaviors, and most probably realize how they are likely to behave in the future (Murphy, 2008). The various disciplines of sociology define the clear interaction of people in their social lives. Through these discipline still, it is possible to understand why human beings live and organize themselves as a one big society.

This essay paper will be discussing about how certain aspects of sociology such as functionalism, conflict and interactionism affect the social setting of education. The analysis of the education institution and its structure would be done, and the factors that lead to formation of such social settings. Although education in the society is related with all positive outcomes, several theorists have different views concerning it both negative and positive. Racism is one of negative outcome gotten from education system as well as status in the society

From the beginning, education has been very important in our society. Much value has been placed on the education institutions both big and small, as they are very crucial to anyone’s life (Ballantine, 2007). Through education, people learn positive attitudes, good moral values, and behaviors that are acceptable by every one in the society. Educational institutions are seen as places for human endeavor to come up with greater opportunities in people’s future.

To some other people in society, education is seen as a capable path through which one can overcome handicaps, achieve social equality, and acquire wealth and high-level status in the society. For a long duration of time, the impact of education to the society has faced several challenges and continuous arguments. The background and the standing point of education in the society are explained well by functionalism, conflict, or interactionism theories.

The functionalist theory

This theory mainly focuses on the major ways through which education benefits the entire community, through provision of the most important and relevant knowledge. Functionalists take educations main role as to enlighten the people in the society, and the next generation.

Durkheim is the core founder of functionalist theory and understands education as one form of socializing people into society’s conventional (Anderson & Horward, 2005). The founder of this theory used to refer it as moral education due to its act of bringing people together from various localities, to form a more united and strong social structure. Other important roles as described by functionalists are passing on core values and social factors.

The main values practiced in American education are like those characteristics that hold up the political and economic systems that resulted to the current system of education. That is the reason why the young generations of Americans are rewarded for acting according to the schedules, following the right paths, meeting the targets, and obeying the rules of law.

According to the functionality theory, the most important value considered in an American classroom is individualism. Individualism allows the exercise of liberty rights demonstrated as independent actions of every individual.

Through a well-established curriculum, students are assisted to come up with their identities and self-esteem. This is quite different from the Japanese students, who are brought up with an idea of putting more value to the community instead of individuality. The culture of valuing community makes these Japanese students to feel ashamed incase one points them out.

Their social esteem is mainly on bringing honor to the community and not to themselves. Competition is another aspect that is learnt by students according to the functionalists. The factor of competition starts from class work, to games, and even on how well to spend the leisure time (Vissing, 2011). Competition is facilitated by rewarding and giving special prizes to the winners.

Sorting is another benefit that is associated with education within a society. Through this process of sorting out students according to their capability and level of their knowledge, the society gets the right people for every activity. Students with the highest capability are allocated to the most crucial occupations. The performances of the students are used to determine the capability of a student as early as possible.

Networking is another important function of education, and it takes place mainly in high schools and colleges. Sorting and networking are initiatives of making things happen like they bring couples together with some common interests, education, and even in characters.

To some extent, education is defined to have two roles of preserving and changing the culture of people (Orcutt, 2010). When students continue progressing through higher institutions of learning, they become open-minded due to much exposure in the outside world. This leads to most educated individuals to be more liberal, while those with low levels of education remain conservative.

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High level of education places people on the cutting edge likely to encounter changes in knowledge and in values as well. The final and also important function of education is family replacement. This is achieved through career development, various education disciplines, whereby most of the family members are involved in school curriculum.

The conflict theory

According to the views of the conflict theory, the main purpose of education in the society is maintaining social inequality as well as the power of those who rule in the society. Both the functional and interactionist theories focus on the positive aspects of society that contributes to its stability, while on the other hand, conflict theory focus on the negative and conflicted society full of dynamic changes (Orcutt, 2010).

The conflict theorists challenge the status quo while the functionalists work tirelessly to defend the status quo, as well as avoiding dynamic social changes that are likely to occur in the society. Theorists who were involved in conflict theory shared some similarities with functionalists, such as education as a beneficial factor to the entire society. Almost all the theorists considered education as an essential factor to the community.

The only difference between the conflict theory and functionalism theory is that conflict theorists considers the education system as meant to achieve the status quo of the learned people, and making the less fortunate as obedient workers. Functionalists and conflict theorists have a common idea about how education comes up with an aspect of sorting (Murphy, 2008). The only difference is on how that sorting is realized.

According to functionalists, sorting exercise is based on merits, whereby the best performers get more demanding posts and vice versa, but the conflict theorists claim that sorting is based on class and ethnic lines. The conflict theorists argue that schools train those already working as an effort to make them accept their levels as lower class members within the society while on the other hand; conflict theorists refer to this role as hidden curriculum in educational institutions.

Conflict theorists put extra efforts to come up with some ideas of supporting and defending their position. To begin with, these theorists claim that the property taxes are used to finance most of the schools; hence the schools found in well off districts have more money at their disposal.

In most of such areas, they are occupied by white people. Through their wealthy, it would be possible for these people to afford higher salaries, attract well-qualified teachers, and do regular purchases of the most appropriate texts and employ better technology (Vissing, 2011).

Those students who are lucky to attend such schools, are at an added advantage of joining the best colleges, and would end up in better paying professions. However, the students in poorer neighborhoods do not have access to such benefits, and their chances of joining a good college are limited. Most of the time, such students are engaged into technical training because they are the minority students in the society.

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The conflicts theorists claim that school tests especially IQ testing were prepared in such a way that they will favor the white. This implied that the method of sorting students was not fair at all, as the so called intelligence test actually were cultural knowledge tests. This resulted to cultural biasness.

Conflicts theorists concluded that cultural neutrality is impractical as all the school tests contained a knowledge base that was culturally sensitive (Murphy, 2008). To some extent, conflict theorists considered education as a powerful means of sustaining power structures and creating a submissive work force for entrepreneurship.

Interactionist theory

These analysts limit their studies of education to what is directly observed happening in classroom, where the actual learning is taking place. This theory is also referred to as symbolic interactionism, due to its nature of using symbols such as face to face interactions.

Its level of analysis is micro unlike that one of conflict and functional, which have a macro level analysis. According to the information gotten from interactionist, they claim that people have a tendency of attaching meanings to symbols. It’s the nature of people to act according to what they interpreted their symbols.

When people are communicating verbally, words that they exchange serve as main symbols of that conversation (Orcutt, 2010). The major focus according to interactionist theory is on how teacher’s anticipation influences the students’ performance, their attitude and insight. The key actors on this theory are Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson whereby they initiated their research by examining a certain number of students with standard IQ tests.

This was followed by another tests consisting of students who were anticipated to improve their abilities over the coming year. When the IQ tests were repeated after a certain period, those students scored higher IQ marks (Vissing, 2011). The researchers based their research on the fact that they had chosen average students randomly.

They related their research with the notion that, when teachers had some expectations from a group of students, probably of a better performance, it occurred. This aspect of a person falsely assuming something, and in the real sense that thing happens in future is referred to as self-fulfilling prophesy.

When you believe that something will happen, and that thing happens is what the facts of this theory are based on. Theorists thought that teacher’s perception ought to be very positive on the students, so that whatever he or she anticipates about their performance turns out positive. This was an almost study like the one Ray Rist did in 1970.

The class set up in which the study was done was of African American teachers and students (Vissing, 2011). Students were allocated to tables depending on their abilities. Better students were allocated a table near the teacher, the average students at the middle, and the weakest students at the far end. After allocating the students tables, researcher discovered that that arrangement depended on the teachers’ perception on the students’ skills level.

Another observation made by the researcher was that, the group of students that teacher referred to as better were all from higher social classes, while the group that was referred to as weak were all from poor backgrounds.

Researcher monitored the students throughout the year, and realized that those students who sat next to the teacher received full attention and their performances were good (Ballantine, 2007). The students who were placed far away from the teacher continued performing poorly. The labels that were given to students during their first week in kindergarten followed them throughout their life in school as better, average, and weakest.

The interactionist theory has something in common with functionalist, conflict theory and sociological theory that education is crucial to the people in the community. Interactionist had the same views with conflict theorists, who claimed that social classes were a great factor in grouping the students (Vissing, 2011).

However, the main unique feature of interactionists is about the teachers’ perception on their students, unlike the rest three theories. The issue of competition among all theories is common as the students are encouraged to compete with one another in efforts of motivating them.

In conclusion, various theorists tried as much as possible to define the roles and importance of education in the society. They had some similarities and at times happened to differ in their thoughts. It is evident that through education system, both positive and negative issues were realized within the community.

People were getting enlightened through the knowledge they acquired in school and opportunities of joining good colleges were created. Students who performed well also got good chances in better paying jobs. However, some students were treated as inferior and education failures on basis of their backgrounds. Students from wealthy families were favored and got the best opportunities over those from poor families (Ballantine, 2007).

Overall, the benefits of education to the society outweighed all the challenges. People within the society embraced the change and accepted to be enlightened by education. The views of theorists were the guiding rules of the people in the society, whereby some people took them positively and others negatively accordingly.

Between 1940s and 1950s, the American sociologists ignored the conflict theory and preferred the perspectives of functionalism theory. This was vice versa towards early 1960s when they started gaining some interests in conflict theory. Moreover, all the three major sociological theories have gained importance over the time, due to their different perspectives (Murphy, 2008). Many critics have been associated with conflict theory due to its nature of having a negative view of the society.

Reference List

Anderson, M., & Horward, F. (2005). Sociology: understanding a diverse society. New York: Cengage Learning.

Ballantine, J. (2007). Schools and society: a sociological approach to education. Michigan: Pine Forge Press.

Murphy, R. (2008). Sociological theories of education. New York: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Orcutt, J. (2010). Deviance and social control. Retrieved from The Anomie

Tradition Explaining Rates of Deviant Behavior:

Vissing, Y. (2011). Introduction to sociology. Web.

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