Theories of Social Dynamics
My textbooks claim that the goal of sociology is to improve society, “Since its inception, sociology has been considered a means to understand and improve what is wrong with the world” (Leon-Guerrero 2014 p. 457). The principle of the “sociological imagination” proposed by C. W. Mills is that the sociologist explores the relationships between the individual and society (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014). The texts also present a very important concept; the tension between individual responsibilities called “agency” and “structure” or the larger forces beyond our control, “Sociologists take a strong interest in the relationship between structure and agency. On one hand we all have the ability to make choices….on the other hand, the structures that surround us impose obstacles or opportunities for us” (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014 p. 5). I really appreciate the way they present this concept. I am one who leans towards personal accountability for actions. I believe that a society that emphasizes personal accountability is healthier than one that gives people excuses for misbehaviors. This should be balanced by the realization that people have limited choices imposed by structural systems. These dynamics are apparent daily in American society as minority groups claim to be victims of systems of oppression and majority groups claim that minorities are just seeking excuses to justify their poor behavior. We will examine specific cases later.
If the goal of this study is examining our social problems then we are going to be absolutely honest about when individuals are making choices and to what extent they are responsible for the results of those choices, balanced with structural obstacles. We must look at choices made by society as a group choice and impose accountability for these. We must hold corporations accountable. The concept of agency is vital in analysis and finding solutions. Most modern sociology leans towards holding the structures responsible for social problems and dismissing individual accountability. This is a significant difference in approach and may define the conflict between conservative and liberal approaches.
Foundations of Sociology
Two founding fathers of modern sociology were Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) whose branch of sociology is called functionalist, and Karl Marx (1818-1883) whose thoughts were foundational in the social conflict branch of sociology.
Durkheim used a metaphor comparing society to a biological body in which every part is necessary. Functionalist theory adapts evolutionary principles by seeing all the parts of society as evolving to serve a purpose. Example; humans have two arms and not three because a third is a hindrance. He could view institutions such as marriage, the educational system, capitalism, and the military as necessary and benign for our world. His theory led him to this reasoning; “since deviance is universal, it must serve a social function – if it did not serve a function, it would cease to exist” (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014 p. 16). Maybe he was just seeing these objectively without casting them as harmful. He was concerned about the ways that industrialization and urbanization would affect society. He observed the social solidarity that people in villages had because they all shared similar values and norms. He observed waves of migrants moving into the new industrial centers such as London and foresaw the breakdown of social solidarity because of a lack of common norms, or “anomie” (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014). This seems very insightful to our American problems. He was optimistic that the new society would form new shared norms. However, in America today our new norms seem to be socially destructive or very shaky at best.
The evolutionary principle of natural selection or survival of the fittest supported the theories of Marx. He viewed the essence of all things as struggle, “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles” (Marx & Engels 1888, p. 11). He viewed the capitalist structures as oppressing workers. He saw social conflict as the norm, and that social evolution would eventually lead to a state where, “all societies would advance to the same final destination; a classless, stateless society” (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014 p. 449). Marx focused upon economic principles as the base for conflict but modern sociologists recognize other contributing factors such as gender, status, religion, or race. Feminist sociology is categorized by the texts as a subcategory of conflict theory, with patriarchy as the oppressive structure.
Each of these theories is unashamedly biased. The functionalist view is biased towards preferring the majority. The Marxist social conflict perspective views capitalism as oppressive without considering its positive aspects. It also views human nature as negatively controlled by competition and does not consider the aspect of human nature that rises above conflict. The feminist perspective assumes that male leadership is always oppressive and ignores aspects of gender roles that are imbedded within nature. I value each of these perspectives for significant observations into our society. The textbooks were clear that none of the theories present absolute truth but are merely lenses for viewing society (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014 p. 15). The common theme seem in all of the social theories seems to be power; power to control a society and its norms, structures, and laws. That is the nature of our struggle in society.
Since the texts treats these theories as subjective I began taking some freedom to form my own sociological theory to analyze society. It is very biased towards creationism and personal accountability. My social theory begins with a premise that life was created as good, but humans distort things to create oppressive structures. Capitalism is not inherently oppressive but because of greed capitalism needs to be restrained. Gender roles are part of nature as based upon biology, but humans distort nature and use gender as a means of oppression. Even in race; it is natural to value and appreciate one’s own group, but racism is when we elevate our group others or oppress members of another group or race. My theory is interested in discerning the relationship between agency and structure. It holds to the premise that a healthy society is one in which individuals and groups are held accountable for their actions. It attempts to recognize systemic structural problems and hold those institutions accountable which is the beginning of change. It seeks to recognize the significance of the contribution of agency that all humans make to their own life and to society. I will continue working on my sociological lens but this is my starting point.
Chambliss, W. J., & Eglitis, D. S. (2014). Discover sociology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Leon-Guerrero, A. (2014). Social problems: Community, policy, and social action (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Marx, K. (1888). The communist manifesto (F. Engels, Ed.; A. Lutins, Trans.) [Release date 1993 Etext #61]. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/23905