Sociology is a scientific discipline based on theoretical writings, which stem from the theories of Karl Marx, Max Weber, James Coleman, Talcott Parsons and Emile Durkheim (Milà, 2005). The writings focus on human behavior and the society. The impact of these theories is manifested in the debate over the extent to which sociological approaches are relevant in understanding human behavior. Sociology involves the study of individual or group behavior within society. This paper outlines the extent to which objective and subjective sociological approaches are significant in understanding our current society and quality of life. The key perspectives of understanding the society include structural-functionalism, feminism, symbolic-interactionalism and social-conflict.
The Key Concepts in Sociology
The key concept of sociology is the emphasis on society rather than an individual. An individual is seen as an actor or agency within the larger social process. The focus is on units of assessment at the unifying levels such as groups, the families, organization, neighborhood, city, state and the world. The critical concept is how the social structure or social fabric is maintained, and social problems and processes, such as the poverty rate and conflict resolution respectively, relate to the transformation and maintenance of social structures (Macionis, 2007).
Sociological approaches can be either objective or subjective. According to Macionis (2007), objective approach represents the social data independent of individual evaluations. On the other hand, subjective approach is defined as an individual’s assessment and evaluation of social conditions. Sociological studies or approaches involves processes of regulating and shaping social aspects such as poverty, employment, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), happiness, family relationships, crime rate, job satisfaction and school attendance.
Macionis (2007) points out that sociologists focus on the interaction between the social structures that control people’s experience and the knowledge employed by agencies to transform those social structures. Sociological approaches may be conducted at either macro or micro levels. Macro-level perspectives involves large scale social processes such as social change and stability, whereas micro-level perspectives examines small scale linkages between individuals or small groups, such as face-to face interactions and group dynamics. Below are the key sociological approaches and their extent of understanding the society today.
Structural-functionalism is an objective approach of understanding macro aspects of human behavior in the societal context (Macionis, 2007). This approach adopts the concept that society is made up of units that contributes to stability in the society. In this respect, society is considered as a system, which consists of interrelated parts working together for the betterment of human life. This perspective can be used to understand how an education institution or business organization functions. For example, a business organization consists of functional areas such as the Human Resource, Finance and Procurement. These departments are made up of teams and headed by individuals. Burke & Cooper (2008) asserts that through understanding the nature of the vertical and horizontal integration within these units, an organization is capable of establishing good working environment characterized by motivation, job satisfaction and high performance. Other aspects that are subjectively or objective examined include management and organizational culture (Capon, 2008). Organizational culture consists of beliefs, values, symbols, policies and principles that portray the distinctive capabilities and brand of an organization (Brooks, 2006).
Social Conflict Theory
Social conflict is a theoretical perspective widely used to address inequality, which is a critical macro aspect of sociology. The theory adopts the logic that there is an existing struggle between capitalist and the workers (Macionis, 2007). In this context, capitalists are those who own the subject of labour and means of production. The underlying argument of this perspective is rooted in the concept of materialism which refers to the desire to accumulate physical goods or wealth. Eagly, Baron, Hamilton, & Kelman (2004), points out that the concept of materialism explains that society can be understood by having knowledge of the material aspect of social life. The key topics examined under this approach include Capitalism, Socialism, Marxism and labour inequality (Eagly, Baron, Hamilton, & Kelman, 2004). The key people behind this approach include Karl Marx and Geog Wilhelm Frederich Hegel. Subjective and objective approach can be employed in criminal justice systems which are perceived to be biased on racial grounds (Brewer & Heitzeg, 2008). According to Chang (2013), China’s economy is threatened by the big gap between the poor and the rich. The country also experiences social unrest linked to the conservative one party state ideology (Chang, 2013). Sociological examination of the root cause of these socio-economic factors would ensure social satisfaction and in turn foster economic growth.
Feminism adopts either micro or macro perspective to understand human behavior. It typically focuses on how gender impacts human behavior in society giving rise to inequality (Jackson & Scott, 2001). This approach is partly rooted to the social conflict theory. In sociology, feminism varies in categories and degrees as examined in perspectives such as Non-Marxist Radical Feminism, Marxist Feminism, Liberal Feminism and Radical Feminism (Milà, 2005). Despite being distinct, commonality includes examining sex roles, gender and patriarchy. For example, sociologist subjectively highlights how to overcome inequality subject to gender disparity. Gender inequality can be portrayed in workplaces, government offices and school attendances. Topics examined include women’s roles, unpaid labour and inequality in the workplace. By examining how gender inequality affects women, policies and measures can be enacted based on the observed data and subjective analysis of the disparity (Jackson & Scott, 2001). This will then empower women in the community, as well as, give them an equal access to resources as men. Affirmative action also encourages women participation on governance and entrepreneurial activities (Jackson & Scott, 2001).
Symbolic-interactionalism is also referred to as pragmatism or social behaviorism. As a more micro theoretical approach, this perspective emphasizes on subjective experiences which enables people to understand their behaviors within society. Symbolic interactionalism studies the patterns of communication, symbols, interpretation, and adoption between individuals. This approach focuses on symbols such as people, words and gestures to which meaning is attached to as the foundation of social life (Ritzer, 2005). Symbolic-interactionalism is typically divided into Dramaturgy and Social behaviorism. George Herbert Mead is the brain behind social behaviorism whereas dramaturgy was postulated by Erving Goffman (Milà, 2005). Subjective questions examined in this perspective are how agencies interact to create and sustain change, and how individual behavior transforms from situation to situation. Some of the critical topics examined under this approach include addiction, stigma, public behavior and mental illness (Dillon, 2010).
This sociological approach is also referred to post-structuralism. It can be observed in either micro or macro perspective. Post-modernism adopts risk analysis and the government role in regulating and maintaining the social processes and structures in today’s society (Heartney, 2001). It involves determination of whether a society is at risk and the role of government in society structures. This approach also establishes the impact of modernity on individuals, human behavior and the society. Other aspects examined under this approach include people at risk, the emergence of institutions, patient-doctor and employer–employee relationships (Heartney, 2001).
In conclusion, both objective and subjective sociological approaches are used to understand the human behavior which is central to the broader social context. The above approaches significantly serve to explain human behavior and its direct impact on society today. Whether to use objective or subjective approach depends on the underlying question or societal context that needs to be addressed. Subjective approach represents personal assessment and evaluation of social conditions whereas objective approach represents the social data independent of individual evaluations. Some of the subjective sociological perspectives of understanding the society today include a sense of safety, material possessions, job satisfaction and relationships with family. On the other hand, objective approaches include crime rate, poverty rate, school attendance, the unemployment rate and life expectancy. From the above discussion and illustrations, it is evident that sociological approaches are significant in understanding human behavior on either individual or group basis. These individuals or groups are the building blocks of society. Lastly, sociological approaches can focus on one aspect more than the other.
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