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Essay: Exploring Sociological Theories of Durkheim, Marx, Parsons and Merton: The Social Structure of Our World

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Sociological perspective teaches us to ‘see’ the strange in the familiar, recognizing, honoring, learning from, and questioning both our own and others’ values and what we believe in. Several famed sociologists have exceedingly furthered our understanding and the possibilities for appliance of such theories to daily life. These include Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), Karl Marx (1818-1883), George Herbert Meade (1863-1931) and Robert Merton, whose abstract perspectives give us understanding of the three social paradigms:  structural-functionalism, social-conflict theory, and symbolic interaction.

Emile Durkheim was a structural functionalist.  He operated within a plan that sees society as a complex structure or system in which the parts work together to advocate consensus and balance. Format in this way refers to any stable pattern of social behavior.  The exercise aspect is the study of the weight of individual actions for the procedure of society as a whole.  He stated, “The determining cause of a social fact should be sought among the social acts preceding it and not among the states of individual consciousness”.

A social fact in society and a clear flaw that intrigued Durkheim is suicide.  He wondered why races were higher in certain numerical situations although generally the whole suicide rate worldwide oscillated.  His theory was that social forces are a factor even in the ultimately self-centered act of suicide.  His concept of social mix as a factor in suicide was soon proven as he identified that those more likely to take such a step were single, white, upscale Protestant males.  The justifying behind this hypothesis was that Protestants, as opposed to Catholics or Jews, have less of a tight knit community; no sectarian schools, social life is not organized around the church or a group of supportive fellow believers.

Isolation is also a element on the wealth variable, as those who are self-reliant have more freedom, less assurance and therefore less union with others – help is not sought for life decisions from outside sources. This was particularly true in the 1800’s when social strata were more sharply defined than they are today. Also, isolation is the foundation of the single factor as there is even less family connection on a daily basis and ultimately less social bonding.  The result was that suicide is less likely to occur amongst those who are fully socially integrated. He discussed this perspective in detail in his book, Suicide.

Durkheim also went on to propose the theory of anomie. This is a state of normlessness, patterns being social hopes of conduct. It is a breakdown of format, where normal pressures fail to work, and the dark side of the individual can be released.  The staggering supply of uniqueness together destroys balance and attachment. Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) later added to this theory, when shared sets of desires, major tasks and ways to sustain were placed.

Durkheim’s aggregated his life’s work in his prime was if all members of a society were secured to common sets of figurative portrayals, to common inferences, could moral harmony and union be settled.  The problem with the theory of social integration within the model of basic functionalism is that race, class, and gender divisions lose importance as great pressure suppliers.

Karl Marx was also concerned about the ruin of balance, but from another mindset.  As a social conflict defender, he was troubled by the new industrial society, and the striking unfairness he saw.  He hoped that the appearing field of sociology would not only pursue to understand, but seek to bring about change and ultimately social justice.  He said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however, is to change it.”

He believed the population is an arena of bias that can cause not only problems but basically develop change. He considered how race, gender, ethnicity, class and age are linked to the unequal sharing of riches, influence, education, and social revere.  In 1844 he wrote, “labor is a direct reflection of a man.”  He noticed that the company on the whole issued ample means only to the peasant to “recreate” themselves i.e. supply basic human needs.

Marx‘s approach was that there would be a worker’s unrest and eventually all would see sense in community property and equality. He accused capitalism and the using of the opposition at the majority’s expense. Revolution did come, but it came by the gaining, and unfortunately the ultimate offense, of union power. In this way bias of society has endured and study continues into conflict approach and the way it shapes us. It is limited however by its vast stroke approach, a big level orientation.

George Herbert Meade considered that we are shaped in a different way – he analyzed how we build our personalities from our social experiences, unfolding a framework that sees society as the product of the everyday interactions of individuals – the symbolic-interaction standard, a mini level orientation.

It cannot be denied that much of our interaction is either significant or based upon our perception of symbols. Our lives are governed by our perception of status tokens, the concept of time, agreed values, understood procedures, fitting averages.  We can know and understand whether a emblem is positive or negative, and our motifs can be verbal or non-verbal. We can agree with the majority perception, and still remain individual.

Robert K. Merton is also a structural functionalist, a contemporary U.S. sociologist who first defined such functions in 1968, and his work is important to us.  He was the first to clarify the approach of manifest and latent social activities.  A glaring action is a recognized and intended effect of any social pattern of behavior, whilst we term those issues that are unrecognized or accidental as latent.

Christmas is a time of year filled with token social functions.  Glaring functions of Christmas would include the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth as a religious festival in the Christian calendar.  Another revealed function is the giving of gifts, to symbolize the gifts the Magi brought to the Baby Jesus at Epiphany. It also embodies the celebration of God’s greatest gift to Christians, Jesus himself.

Trees are exhibited at Christmas, with the manifest function of either celebrating the Tree of Life, the fir being nicknamed by Saint Boniface.  If you are Protestant it refreshes the beauty Martin Luther saw in God’s creation of the stars on a Christmas Eve walk through the evergreens. As an unmistakable function no one seems very certain of the symbolism. The function of scent and decoration was originally latent, but could it now be said that is palpable, as it is an intended part of the festivities and to most the tree is now the ultimate iconic symbol of the season?

Unrealized functions are, as mentioned above, sometimes unrecognized and often unwelcome. No one accesses the idea of Christmas with the full aim of making debt and consequent year long difficulty, but the effect of celebrating the unmistakable action using all the tokens that make the event into a celebration according to our culture costs money that many do not have. The veiled objective would therefore be a growing credit card or other loan debt.

Another function of Christmas is the family reunion. This is latent in the sense that it is an unintended function of celebrating a religious festival, but maybe today it has become a manifest function in that our culture expects us to ‘go home for the holidays’ and it is clearly intended to happen.

In conclusion, all of the social paradigms and theories above are valuable to us in learning to use the sociological perspective, in realizing how experiences of different types can make us who we are, in increasing our understanding and respect for cultural diversity, and in challenging our ego- and ethnocentric worlds.

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