The founding fathers of sociology developed various theories to help in studying the social world with the aim of giving meaning to social phenomena. The concepts of such theories were used to explain the relationship between individuals and the factors that held the society together.
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Consequently, the scholars developed different theories that represented their views about the society. The theories are still being used to explain the events that occur in different communities. Thus this paper will focus on the application of various sociological theories in real life situations. The theories and their applications are as follows.
Theorists and their Concepts
Michael Foucault: Sexuality and the Queer Theory
Foucault studied the history of the concept of sexuality from the seventeenth century. His aim was to disapprove the hypothesis that the “Western society has seen repression of sexuality and that sexuality has been unmentionable” (Johnson, 2008). According to Foucault, sexuality has always been viewed in two different ways. In the Asian civilization, sexuality is considered to be an art and a unique experience.
However, it is kept a secret so that its power can be preserved. The western society on the other hand considered it to be a science. Thus the truth behind it should be confessed (Johnson, 2008). This means that even though sexuality has always been viewed as something sinful, there is always a compulsion to confess one’s sexuality in order to acknowledge its existence.
This theory is applicable in explaining the ongoing debate on the legitimacy of homosexuality and guy relationships. Even though such relationships have been declared sinful, those who engage in them still confess their sexual orientations publicly. Due to enlightment, the society has changed its perspective on sexuality by accepting those who engage in unnatural sexual acts (Calhoun, Gerteis, & Moody, 2007).
Thus today, pervasion is viewed as a form of identification rather than an attribute. It is for this reason that individuals are classified as homosexuals or heterosexuals. In the context of the debate on the legitimacy of homosexual relationships, Foucault argues that sexuality is a social construction rather than a natural occurrence. This means that people hold different opinions on unnatural sexual acts. Thus it is not possible to achieve consensus on the legitimacy of homosexual relationships.
Dorothy Smith: Institutional Ethnography
Institutional ethnography is a sociological concept of inquiry that focuses on making new discoveries instead of mere testing of various hypotheses or using a particular theory to find empirical evidence. According to this concept, language is the medium through which ideas and thoughts are exchanged between individuals and the realms of the society (Calhoun, Gerteis, & Moody, 2007).
This means that language is used to make discoveries on how various social institutions function. The aim of institutional ethnography is to help individuals to integrate new discoveries with existing knowledge in order to participate effectively in the institutions that they act in.
This concept can be applied in understanding the functioning of the political system as an institution (Johnson, 2008). For example, the recently introduced health care reforms Act (PPAC) in the US, was based on the concept of institutional ethnography.
Through the use of language such as written texts, the citizens complained of the inefficiencies of the health care system. The government used the same procedure to discuses and to develop policies that addressed the health care issues. Thus written texts formed the link between the people and the government.
Besides, the Act was developed as a written text that defines the new health care laws. This means that the texts act as the basis for controlling or coordinating the activities of the health care system. Thus language in this case played three roles which include identifying the weaknesses of the health care system, formulating the response strategies and coordinating the activities of the health care system.
Herbert Marcuse: Classical Theory (One Dimensional Man)
‘One dimensional man’ is a classical sociological theory that was written by Herbert Marcuse in response to the lack of freedom in the society (Calhoun, Gerteis, & Moody, 2007). He argues that technological advancement have led to a comfortable, democratic, reasonable and a smooth society.
However, all these accomplishments have been realized at the expense of freedom. Thus the rights and freedom of speech, thought and consciousness continue to decline as industrial development continues. This means that alternative modes of realization should be put in place in response to the current societal capabilities.
Herbert’s theory and its concept of freedom can be used to explain the unrest that is currently being witnessed in the Arab world. Arab countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa are currently facing a lot of political challenges as citizens seek to over through their local governments.
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The aim of these unrests is to help the citizens to regain their freedom and rights. As the countries developed, economic and political systems that are beyond the control of the citizens were created. This led to domination as the leaders used social institutions to serve their interests at the expense of the citizens.
Democracy which is a product of modern civilization has not helped to save the situation since it does not eliminate the position of the ruler or the ruled. This means that democracy only facilitates the election of leaders in a fair manner but can not guarantee better leaders. Thus the economic and political developments in the troubled Arab countries led to comfort and prosperity. However, it created a social system that undermines the freedom and rights of the citizens (Johnson, 2008).
Talcott Parsons: Structural Functionalism
Structural functionalism is a sociological perspective whereby the society is interpreted as a structure with various parts that are interrelated (Calhoun, Gerteis, & Moody, 2007). Under this theory, the society is addressed as a whole by focusing on how its constituent parts (elements) such as norms, institutions, traditions and customs function together.
According to Persons, the nuclear family is “the basic building block of the society” (Johnson, 2008). He argued that the society is coherent and resembles an organism whose various organs (social institutions) unconsciously work together in a quasi-automatic manner in order to realize social equilibrium.
Persons’ theory and its concept of functionalism, is applicable in the development of the modern industrialized society. Industrial development especially in the Western society has led to the creation of various social institutions such as politics or government, modern economy and formal education.
These institutions are interdependent since they support each other. For example, the government enforces the laws that govern other institutions, the economy provides the revenue that supports other institutions and education provides the knowledge that informs decision-making in every institution.
The industrialized society is thus held together by the constitution which defines the shared values. The significance of the individual in this case is thus seen in terms of the status of their position in regard to social relations as well as the behaviors that are linked to their status (Johnson, 2008).
Emile Durkheim: Mechanical and Organic Solidarity
Solidarity relates to the various types of integration and the level to which they occur in societies or groups and their neighbors. It refers to the social ties that bind members of the society together (Johnson, 2008). Solidarity in various societies is based on different factors. Mechanical solidarity is the result of the homogeneity among individuals.
This means that individuals feel connected as a result of similarities in lifestyle, education or religious affiliation. Thus mechanical solidarity is common in traditional or less developed societies. Organic solidarity is the product of specialization in work and the interdependence among individuals (Johnson, 2008). Thus it is common in the industrialized society that is characterized by high levels of specialization.
The concept of solidarity applies in regional integration or globalization as a social phenomenon. Initially, different countries were independent and strived to produce all goods and services that were just enough for their citizens. This was thus mechanical solidarity. However, this became difficult due to scarcity of resources and internal inefficiencies.
Consequently, various countries began to specialize in what they could best produce. They also produced surplus goods which were exported in exchange of what they could not produce. This means that countries became dependent on each other and this led to solidarity (Johnson, 2008). This type of solidarity has led to regional integration and globalization.
It is therefore an organic type of solidarity that is based on economic and political ties. Thus even though different countries hold different values and pursue varying economic and development policies; solidarity has been maintained at the global level due to the interdependence among countries.
Max Weber: Theory of Rationalization
Rationalization is a “process whereby various social actions are based on teleological efficiency considerations or calculations instead of being informed by emotions, tradition, customs or morality” (Johnson, 2008). Weber explained the concept of rationalization in his work titled “the protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism” (Johnson, 2008).
In this work, he explained that some religious denominations such as Calvinism are focusing on rationalization in order to fulfill their salvation needs. He also studied bureaucracy and pointed out that leadership or authority is shifting towards rationalization. Thus most societies especially in the developed countries are using the rational-legal system of authority. The overall effect of increased rationalization is the creation of a social system that is based on rules and rational control.
The concept of rationalization informs the management of modern organizations especially in the private sector that focuses on profits and efficiency. The management policies that govern such organizations are based on economic considerations in order to facilitate effective goal achievement.
This means that the goals of the organizations are being prioritized and the management policies override the values of the individuals (employees). Besides, the organizations have adopted the rational-legal form of authority in order to facilitate effective succession in leadership (Johnson, 2008).
The rules and regulations that govern the organizations have become the masters of the employees since they are beyond the control of the latter. This has led to dehumanization as employees become increasingly alienated from the organizations that they work for. Thus rationalization has created a social system in the workplace that deprives the employees of the freedom to engage in what they deem to be right.
Ralf Dahrendorf: Class Conflict Theory
Dahrendorf studied class conflict in the post-capitalist society. According to Dahrendorf, the post-capitalist society is characterized by “a diverse class structure and a fluid power system” (Calhoun, Gerteis, & Moody, 2007). Thus the inequality that exists in the post-capitalist society is more complex than it was during Marx time.
He also argues that capitalism has greatly changed especially with the emergence of the public companies whereby ownership does not lead to automatic control over means of economic production. Thus class conflict has shifted to a straggle between those who exercise authority and those who obey. Class conflict in the post-capitalist society has been institutionalized. Besides, elaborate distinctions have been made in regard to skill levels, income, life chances and prestige.
Dahrendorf’s perspective on class conflict applies to the labor relations in the modern economy. Unlike in the past when employers were not keen on the welfare of the employees, they currently focus on the development of their human capital in order to create competitive advantages in their businesses. Thus the work environment has been improved through better pay, employee training and diversity programs. However, class conflict still exists as employees seek to influence the decisions of the employers in relation to work conditions.
This leads to power struggle between those in authority (employers) and those who obey (employees). The institutions such as trade unions, parliament and the judiciary have assumed the responsibility of handling the class conflict between the various classes. Through these institutions, class conflict has led to an improvement in work environment in the modern economy (Johnson, 2008).
Karl Marx: Marxism Theory
Marxism is a socio-political as well as an economic view of how the society can be improved through the introduction of socialism. It is based on the premise that social change takes place due to the struggle between various classes that are always against each other in the society (Johnson, 2008).
According Marx, capitalism is responsible for the exploitation of the proletariats who work for the bourgeoisies. Thus the inequality between the proletariats and the bourgeoisies can only be reduced through proletariat revolution. Such a revolution would enable the proletariats to be in control of the government in order to introduce socialism by reposing private wealth and using it for the benefit of all citizens. Marx expected capitalism to collapse due to the tensions associated with it and communism will be introduced.
Marxism can be used to explain the distribution of resources in most governments in the world. Even though capitalism has not yet collapsed as was expected, the class conflict between the rich and the poor has greatly influenced the distribution of resources. Due to huge differences in income and constant protests by the poor, the key sectors of the economy have been nationalized. For example, education, defense or security and health care systems are being controlled by the government.
This means that most of the resources in the above sectors are owned by citizens through the government and not private individuals. Thus the benefits that accrue from these sectors are obtained for free or at subsidized prices in order to benefit the poor. This is a form of socialism since it focuses on equal distribution of resources (Johnson, 2008).
Kingsley Davis: the Theory of Mental Hygiene and the Class Structure
This theory relates to the way individuals are considered to be either superior or inferior in the eyes of others. According to this theory, there are two classes in the society namely, the mobile and the immobile class. The mobile class is associated with the protestant ethic while the immobile class is associated with the caste system (Johnson, 2008).
The relationship between social class and mental hygiene is that the latter has adopted the protestant ethic which is inherent in the mobile class. Thus a person is considered to be normal if he is able to choose a calling and excel in it. The person who requires occupational therapy is considered to be mentally ill. In this theory, life is viewed as a competition whose morality dictates that the participants abide by the rules.
The theory applies in the control of crime in the society. Individuals are expected to move up the social ladder through hard-work. Besides, they must acquire their wealth in a legitimate manner. The people who are able to realize social and economic success are thus considered to be mentally healthy (Calhoun, Gerteis, & Moody, 2007).
This means that the focus of the society is to promote success through hard-work rather than crime. Thus the prevention of delinquency will be achieved as individuals pursue success through legitimate means.
The above discussion illustrates the application of various sociological theories in real life situations. The theories and their concepts address the dynamics of the society in terms of the social, political and economic occurrence as discussed above. While some theories focus of a particular aspect of the society, other theories applies to a wide range of situations.
For example, Marxism has political, social and economic dimensions (Calhoun, Gerteis, & Moody, 2007). The application of the above concepts thus illustrates the role of sociological theorists and their theories in interpreting the social world.
Calhoun, C., Gerteis, J., & Moody, J. (2007). Comtemporary sociological theory. London: Blackwell Publishing.
Johnson, D. (2008). Contemporay sociological theory. New York: Springer.