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Contemporary sociological theory Essay

Contemporary sociological theory covers the theoretical orientations that have been influential in shaping up the society since the mid-twentieth century. Contemporary theories are majorly based on the ideas of the classical age theorists.

Some of the theoretical orientations that have heavily influenced contemporary theories include; “phenomenological sociology and ethnomethodology, sociology of emotions, symbolic interaction, social exchange and rational choice theories, conflict and critical theory, functionalism and neo-functionalism, structuration theory, systems theory, sociobiology, selected sociology of culture perspectives, and major themes from postmodern orientations” (Shilling and Mellor 12).

Below we shall briefly look into some of the prominent contemporary sociological theories put forward to try to explain the shape of the society.

Parsons’ functionalist theory

The functionalist theory, formulated by Talcott Parsons, sought to create a “grand theory” as he referred to it, which is able to provide explanations to all the social behaviors all through history. Functionalism observes the society as being made up of parts that are interconnected to each other all contributing to the function of the complete social system.

Parsons’ functionalist theory is put together upon two main emphases, which are 1) application of the systematic approach to the objective society and 2) by using the resemblance between the organism and the community.

Conflict theory

The conflict theory, founded by Karl Marx, is based on social science perspectives that put emphasis on the inequality within a group based on the material, social, and political dynamics within it. These dynamics are in most cases an evaluation of the wide ranging socio-political systems within a society, and which otherwise detract from structural functionalism and ideological conservativism.

The significance of conflict theory is felt due to the theory’s ability to attract interest towards power disparities, for instance class conflicts, as well as in general contrasting traditionally popular frameworks. Conflict theory mostly sets out to draw attention to the ideological facets contained in traditional thought.

The conflict theory and the functionalist theory both acknowledge that there are classes in the society and that the rich have power over the poor individuals. However, the two theories differ in that while functionalists see the society wholly uniting for a common goal and focuses on things that are good for the equilibrium of the society (functions) and things that undermines the equilibrium (dysfunctions); conflict theory doesn’t see the society as one thing and focuses on the bitter class conflicts between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Rational choice/exchange theory

The rational choice theory has a very basic explanation of social theory, terming it as a postulation of multifaceted social phenomena which can be clarified by understanding the basic individual actions of which they are composed.

This perception commonly referred to as methodological individualism, attests that “individual human action is the elementary unit that makes up social and that explaining of social institutions and social change is necessitated by a demonstration of how they arise as the result of the action and interaction of individuals” (May and Powell 49).

The significance of rational choice/exchange theory holds that, an individual’s actions are mostly compelled by one’s own desires and goals which lead an individual to always act contained by particular prearranged limitations as well as on the foundation of information acquired by them regarding the circumstances in which their actions take place.

Pragmatist/symbolic interactionist theory

This social theory tries to give meaning to whether an individual can merely make up their own truth and try to make sense of it, and if an individual’s own personal view can be relied upon just as any other person’s view. The pragmatist/symbolic interactionist theory holds that each individual has a right to hold their own opinion based on their personal thoughts based on information they have with them, and at the same time speak out what they think.

Nevertheless, truth cannot be said to be many but rather there is only one truth, perceiving this truth is now left up to an individual. This theory is more or less similar to the rational choice theory which also attests to an individual making their own choices based on information they have (Shilling and Mellor 102).

Critical theory of the Frankfurt School and Habermas

Whilst other theories are focused on social science or individuals, the Critical theory put forward by Habermas and the Frankfurt School holds that the society has to be critically examined. This theory provides a critical analysis of the society and its culture deriving ideas from social disciplines.

The theory attests that basing on a conceptual foundation of public sphere, it becomes the basis of the ideals of democratic political views, and as the basis of the moral and epistemic norms that nurture and uphold democratic ways.

Postmodern theory

Postmodern theory or postmodernism generally refers to “the more solid beliefs and approaches to knowledge that are espoused by individuals and groups” (Rigney 39). This theory cannot be said to be a dominant reference point in philosophical or epistemological models.

Applications put forward by postmodernism tend to be or rather are supposed to be more premeditated than those brought out by other theories. Postmodern theory generally moves away from modernism and the perspectives held by modernists.

Postmodern theory is a philosophical proposal that reality is eventually unattainable by “human examination, that knowledge is a social creation, that truth claims are political power plays, and that the meaning of words is to be determined by readers not authors.

In brief, Postmodern theory sees reality as what individuals or social groups make it to be” (Shilling and Mellor 146). However, this theory is “distinguished by the problem of objective truth and inherent suspicion towards global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. It involves the belief that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs, as they are subject to change inherent to time and place” (Rigney 103).

Dramaturgical theory

Dramaturgy, first coined by Erving Goffman, is a sociological perspective that stems from symbolic interactionism and focuses on the significance of social roles. The examination of human interaction through the dramaturgy perspective permits particularly apparent perception of the nature of interaction within societies.

Societies formulate their own set of scripts and customs, which are best highlighted by showing how they relate to the per formative characteristics intrinsic in the roles within it. Even the inevitability of improvization in some settings is done within a determined structure, not unlike improvization as staged by performers.

The theatre, unlike other genres of art, has a “real-time” quality to it; occurrences open up in series within an exacting outline of prearranged behaviors, as they do in an organization (Rigney167).

In a way dramaturgical theory can be compared to symbolic interactionism, looking at a sociological perspective that works to draw meaning through interaction. The two theories can be seen as efforts to explain social functions through intimate circumstances, for instance conversation, and both can be seen as having some resemblance to semiotics, as both rely greatly on symbols, characterized by both denotations and external signs to enable understanding.

Feminist theories

Feminist theory is a subfield of feminism extending into sociological or philosophical discourse. Its focus is to give an understanding of the nature of gender inequality. It looks into female’s social responsibilities and lived experiences, and feminist politics in a number of fields, for instance “anthropology, sociology, economics, education and philosophy.”

Feminist theory gives much attention to the examining gender inequalities and the encouragement of gender equality and also critiques social relations.

Feminist theory uses the conflict theory to explicate the placing of women in the society. Feminist conflict theory argues that women have ever since been subjugated so that men can gain from positions of power, possessions and status.

The theory argues that the conflict over the scarce natural resources is the reason why men relegated women to domestic affairs. Thus, women would rather not entrust men with power because of their innate nature and therefore continue to struggle for it.

Works Cited

May, Tim and Powell Jason. Situating Social Theory. Oxford: Open University Press, 2008. Print.

Rigney, Daniel. The metaphorical society. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001. Print.

Shilling, Chris and Mellor Philip. The sociological ambition: elementary forms of social and moral life. New York: SAGE, 2001. Print.

This Essay on Contemporary sociological theory was written and submitted by user Izayah Oneal to help you with your own studies. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Izayah Oneal studied at Boston College, USA, with average GPA 3.3 out of 4.0.

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Oneal, Izayah. "Contemporary sociological theory." IvyPanda, 21 Jan. 2020,

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Oneal, Izayah. "Contemporary sociological theory." IvyPanda (blog), January 21, 2020.


Oneal, Izayah. 2020. "Contemporary sociological theory." IvyPanda (blog), January 21, 2020.


Oneal, I. (2020) 'Contemporary sociological theory'. IvyPanda, 21 January.

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