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Sociology Notes and Topics on Sociology

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Old Wednesday, February 21, 2007
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Default Social Change

1) FUNCTIONALISM (relates to Linear development models of social change)
Theory of order and stability or Equilibrium theory: concept of stability is a defining characteristic of structure, defines activities that are necessary for the survival of the system, i.e. society has functional requisites or imperatives where different functional requisites produce differentiated structures that specialize in accomplishing the requisites.
  • Parson’s Evolutionary Theory - types of change:
  • System maintenance – most common: restoring a previous pattern of equilibrium
  • Structural differentiation- very common: increasing differentiation of subsystem units into patterns of functional specialization and interdependence
  • Adaptive upgrading: new mechanisms of integration, coordination and control are developed to incorporate the integrative problems by having structural differentiation
  • Structural change – least common change: when key features of the system, e.g. basic cultural values, goals, distribution
Key evolutionary universals that were evident in transition from pre-modern to modern societies (describes modernism but does not explain it):
  • social stratification
  • bureaucratic organization
  • cultural legitimation of existing structural arrangements
  • money economy and markets
  • generalized or universalistic social norms
  • democratic associations
Tension-management system (society is not an equilibrium system): if there are strains or tensions, organization will initiate compensatory, adjustive or counterbalancing actions to counter disruptions change will be confined to internal features, if these strains are so severe or prolonged that such actions cannot compensate, organizational features will be altered or destroyed and entire organization changes

  • Deals mainly with gradual evolutionary change, less able to deal with revolutionary, fundamental, rapid transformations, or emergence of new values
  • Sources of strains ambiguous unless exogenous in origin
  • See change as good - views modernism as a benevolent trend. Societal growth produces differentiation, and problems with increased complexity stimulate adaptive change with new coordination and control mechanism. Increased bureaucratic specialization and complex division of labour in mass societies provide rationality, efficiency, high levels of mass consumption, decline in cultural parochialism and forms of intolerance and superstition
Mass society theory - Functionalist critique of modernity
  • along with modernity have erosion of traditional life and culture
  • replacement of local community with bureaucratic depersonalization and anonymity
  • weaker and impersonal ties of functional interdependency
  • argued that mass developed societies are in a process of demassification.
2) CONFLICT THEORIES (relates to Dialectical models of social change)
Strains are inherent in social structures. Source of strains/contradictions is the inherent scarcity of certain goods and values. Thus inequality is source of conflict.
  • Marxism
  • Neo-Marxism - differs from Marxism in the following ways:
  • Sources of conflict - traditional Marxism too narrow an understanding of structural basis of conflict, doesn’t always derive from struggles in control of the means of production; other conflicts based on politics, religion, ethnic or ideological differences, e.g. class, status and power
  • Role of culture: symbolic realm of ideas, values and ideologies are semi-autonomous and not merely derivative of material base (Critical theorists analyze cultural and cultural ideologies in modern society as manifested in popular literature and mass media); culture is viewed as symbolic formations and ideologies that become tools in social struggles between various groups and classes, i.e. ideas and values produce solidarity and unity (as functionalists agree) but also social control associated with interests of particular groups; same as Marxism, i.e. dominant culture stems from dominant groups in society; production of culture is one way that existing system reproduces itself; when there is widespread disillusion, disbelief or cynicism about dominant symbols in society, a legitimacy crisis - change occurs
  • Inevitability of revolutionary change: neo-Marxists less deterministic about outcomes, not simply total system transformation or revolution, nor inevitable; one result of contradictions could be reaffirming of dominance, or ongoing stalemate, or gradual reform and piecemeal changes
Conflict can be:
  • unregulated: e.g. terrorism, sabotage, disorder
  • regulated by social norms: e.g. economic boycotts, parliamentary debate, marketplace competitions
  • intense conflict: high degree of mobilization, commitment, emotional involvement
  • violent conflict: random, unorganized
  • pluralized conflict: many conflicts but not necessarily related and thus not much change, gradual
  • superimposed conflict: dyadic conflicts, large cleavage between us and them, dramatic/intense change, not necessarily
Conflict can result in:
  • stability as ongoing stalemate OR
  • defeat of established or insurgent groups OR
  • total or partial system change
Any settlement of conflict is only temporary; each restructured system carries within itself the seeds of its own transformation – thus a dialectical theory. Unlike Marxism which sees a utopian society with no conflict in the end, neo-Marxists are anti-utopian. Conflict is engine of change - has both destructive and creative consequences, destroy old orders, create new ones.

Ralf Dahrendorf
Saw combination of functionalism and conflict theory, human societies are stable and long lasting yet they also experience serious conflict. Social control in general is broadest basis of conflict in society. All social systems have association of roles and statuses which embody power relationships, some cluster of roles have power to extract conformity; power relationships tend to be institutionalized as authority – normative rights to dominate; i.e. some have authority to give orders, others obliged to obey.

  • What about change not rooted in conflict? E.g. cultural or technological change
  • Sees only dichotomous authority relations rather than continuous gradations of relationships
  • What of non-institutionalized power relationships – deals with authority, only one form of power; what of violence, or age/gender/race and associated conflicts not based on economics
Derived from Weber whose focus was not solely on overt behaviour and events but also on how these are interpreted, defined and shaped by cultural meanings that people give to them, i.e. interpretive understanding of social action – verstehen. All types of interpretive theories focus on way actors define their social situations and the effect of these definitions on ensuing action and interaction; human society is an ongoing process rather than an entity or structure, as humans interact they negotiate order, structure and cultural meanings. Reality is an ongoing social symbolic construction put together by human interaction.

For Functionalists and Conflict theorists, the starting point of sociological analysis of change is structure.
For Interpretivists, change itself (interaction, process, negotiation) is the starting point, and structure is a by-product and temporary. Social change is the constant creation, negotiation and re-creation of social order. Social change can be understood by looking at change in meanings and definitions. Groups, societies, organizations become real only insofar that the actors believe they are to be real, thus a negotiated consensus about what is real emerges; i.e. society is literally a social construction, an outcome of historical process of symbolic interaction and negotiation. In complex societies, there is only a partial consensus on what constitutes objective social reality, instead there is a virtual tapestry of contending realities.

When external factors change, this does not automatically produce social change. Rather when people redefine situations regarding those factors and thus act upon revised meanings, i.e. alter social behaviour, then there is social change.

  • Not much said about structural sources of redefinitions,
  • Argue humans are less constrained by external factors, thus these theories are less deterministic
  • Doesn’t say whether actors seek to reconstruct reality by engaging in cooperative joint action or conflict with others so consistent with either functionalism or conflict theory.
4) Multiple perspectives and change: Reconciling agency and structure
Structures have potential to operate, agents (individuals) have potential to act; combination of agents working within, creating and being limited by structures is referred to as human agency. Praxis is the interface between operating structures and purposely acting agents, i.e. the combination of actions of people and operation of structures in the actual outcomes of social interaction or in praxis.
  • Buckley’s morphogenesis: unique capacity of social systems to elaborate or change their form, structure or state, emphasizing the active, constructive side of social functioning
  • Archers’ double morphogenesis: both structure and agency are conjoint products of interaction, agency is shaped by and reshapes structure where structure is reshaped in the process.
  • Etzioni’s active society: society is a macroscopic and permanent social movement engaged in intensive and perpetual self-transformation
  • Touraine: making of society and history is carried out by collective action, through the agency of social movements
  • Gidden’s Structuration theory: replaced static concept of structure with dynamic notion of structuration - more later.
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Last edited by Last Island; Wednesday, February 21, 2007 at 05:04 PM.
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