Sociological Perspectives: The Basics

Sociological Perspectives in A Level Sociology

Given that ‘society’ is complex and multi-layered, a key aspect of studying A-Level Sociology is being able to view society and social action through a number of different sociological perspectives, or lenses, because different sociologists (and different people in general) look upon the same society and see different realities.

For example, consider a busy street and imagine different people looking at that same street: a shopkeeper, a thief and a consumer. The shopkeeper sees profit, the thief victims and the consumer sees products to buy.

Sociology consists of various different perspectives, all of which look at society in different ways. All sociological perspectives have something valuable to offer to the individual who wishes to understand society and no one perspective is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It is up to the individual student to present positive and negative criticisms of sociological perspectives throughout the course.

Key Dividing Lines in Sociological Perspectives

1. Social Structure versus Social Action perspectives

Some Sociologists, known as structural theorists, emphasise the importance of institutions in providing social stability and regulating social action. They argue that such institutions form a structure that shapes human action and makes it predictable.

Other Sociologists, known as social-action theorists, argue that individuals have more freedom than structural theorists suggest. They also argue that society is more fluid and some interactionists go as far as saying that there is no such thing as society, just billions of individual level interactions.

2. Consensus versus Conflict Perspectives

Sociological Perspectives are also divided into Consensus perspectives which argue that, generally speaking, society is characterised by harmony and agreement, and Conflict perspectives, which argue that society is better seen as being made up of competing groups, with the powerful controlling institutions in society and oppressing the powerless.

3. Modern versus Post-Modern Perspectives

Modernist perspectives include Functionalism, The New Right, Marxism and Feminism and believe in ‘social progress’. They believe that social research can reveal the truth about which types of societies are best and actively work to construct a better society through social policy and more radical means. Postmodernists and to an extent Interactionists reject the idea of truth and the idea social progress is possible.

Sociological Perspectives very brief summary grid.

Unfortunately it didn’t cut and past very well from the word-processor, it looks much better in (evil) Microsoft Word or (good) Open Source word processor of your preference.  At least the columns lined up properly, that’s the important thing!


Norms and Values


Value Consensus

Positive Functions of Institutions



Capitalism and Private Property

Bourgeoisie/ Proletariat


Ideological Control

·         Communism

·         Revolution



·         Patriarchy

·         Sex and Gender

·         Public-Private Divide

·         Gender Scripts

·         Liberal/ Marxist and Radical Feminism

·         Deconstruction



·         The I and the Me

·         The looking glass self

·         Social identity

·         Backstage and Front Stage

·         Labelling

·         The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy





·         Service Sector Economy

·         Consumer culture

·         Diversity

·         Individual Freedom and identity

·         Social Fragmentation

·         Hyperreality

 Core Themes emphasised by these perspectives


Socialisation  Power and stratification


Identity Culture and differentiation
Research Methods generally preferred





Later on – you’ll need to add in Late Modernism and other perspectives from other modules!

Related Posts 

Sociological Perspectives in Five Shapes




Introductory Reading for Undergraduate Sociology Students

What reading should you do in order to prepare for studying an undergraduate degree in Sociology? This post recommends some introductory reading that you might like to do over the summer to get ahead before commencing the first year of your degree in sociology, or related discipline.

I also explore some of the differences between A-level and degree level sociology at the end of the post…

Good introductory text books for studying an undergraduate degree in sociology

You should read at least the introductory chapter to one of the text books below (preferably the one recommended by the university you most want to go to), to give yourself an idea of the core themes in degree level Sociology.

  1. Giddens (2013) Sociology 
  2. Online summary of the above
  3. Fulcher and Scott (2011) Sociology
  4. Cohen and Kennedy: Global Sociology (2013)
  5. Web site for the above(might be a bit heavy going)
  6. Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives – The section on Globalisation and Late Modern theories are especially good.

Actual books to read – written by Sociologists

The two books below are on Globalisation, one of the most important concepts which Sociology deals with, and they are written by two of the leading Sociologists in the world today, at least they were until Bauman died in January 2017 (RIP!)

  1. Giddens (2002) Runaway World (Kindle edition is less than £4)
  2. Bauman (2007): Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty

Podcasts/ Videos and blogs – to you keep up to date with contemporary sociology

You won’t be able to keep up with everything, so for the area of Sociology you are most interested in – search for that topic on any of the forums below… 

  1. ‘Thinking Allowed’ on Radio 4 – This is a weekly 30 minute sociology Podcast, which typically covers two pieces of research from two different Sociologists. Their archive is excellent.
  2. ‘TED’ talks are interdisciplinary but there is a lot of Sociology in here if you search – TED talks are 20 minutes long, but you can nearly always skip the first few minutes. NB – The most popular TED talk is Ken Robinson’s ‘How Schools Kill Creativity’
  3. The London School of Economics blog is more specifically political/ economic/ sociological than either of the above sites, but has some good updates on Sociological research.

The University of Bristol’s Recommended Reading List

Bristol is ranked number two for sociology in the U.K. Below I reproduce the University of Bristol’s recommended introductory reading list for its various core introductory courses for 2018, which are the bold headings below.

The Sociological Imagination

  • Z Bauman and T May, 2001, Thinking Sociologically, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • R Jenkins, 2002, Foundations of Sociology, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • N Abercrombie, 2004, Sociology, Cambridge: Polity.

Key Social Thinkers

  • Calhoun, C., Classical Sociological Theory
  • Craib, I., Classical Social Theory
  • Fevre, R., and Bancroft, A., Dead White Men and Other Important People: sociology’s big ideas
  • Giddens, A., Capitalism And Modern Social Theory
  • McIntosh, I., Classical Sociological Theory: a reader
  • McLennan., G. Story of Sociology
  • Ritzer, G., Classical ‘Sociological Theory

Social Inequalities and Divisions  

  • Geoff Payne (ed), 2000, Social Divisions Basingstoke: Palgrave
  • Harriet Bradley, 1996, Fractured Identities Cambridge: Polity
  • Fiona Devine and Mary Waters (eds), 2004, Social Inequalities in Comparative Perspective Oxford: Blackwell
  • Shaun Best, 2005, Understanding Social Divisions London: Sage
  • Wendy Bottero, 2000, Stratification London: Routledge

Sociology in Global Context 

  • Castles, Stephen, and Miller, Mark J. 2009. The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Cohen, Robin, and Kennedy, Paul. 2007. Global Sociology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Lash, Scott, and Lury, Celia. 2007. Global Culture Industries: The Mediation of Things. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Martell, Luke. 2010. The Sociology of Globalization. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Massey, Douglas S., Arango, Joaquin, and Hugo, Graeme. 2005. Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

An Introduction to the Sociology of Culture

  • Bennett, A. (2005) Culture and Everyday Life London: Sage Publications
  • Gray, A. and Mc Guigan, J. (eds) Studying Culture: an Introductory Reader London: Edward Arnold.
  • Hesmondhalgh, D. (2007) The Cultural Industries (second edition) London: Sage Publications.
  • Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide New York University Press
  • Strinati, D. (2004) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture (second edition) London: Routledge.

Research Methods  

  • Devine, F., Heath, S. (1999) Sociological Research Methods in Context. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Gilbert, N. (ed.) (2001) Researching Social Life (2nd edition). London: Sage.
  • May, T. (2001) Social Research. Issues, Methods and Process (3rd Edition). Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  • Robson, C. (2002) Real World Research (2nd Edition). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Ruane, J.M. (2005) Essentials of Research Methods. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Seale C.F. (ed.) (2004) (2nd edition) Researching Society and Culture. London: Sage.


What’s the difference between studying sociology at ‘A’ Level and studying sociology at ‘degree’ level?

  1. In terms of content – Sociology is a lot more diverse at degree level than at ‘A’ Level – Sociologists research very diverse topics and universities have more freedom to set the modules which they teach than at A level. Degree content will thus vary with the specialisms of the staff, and varies enormously from university to university – some universities will be more focused on politics and social policy, and others more on the media and the study of culture, for example.
  2. Sociology lot more interdisciplinary at degree level– there is a lot more overlap between Sociology and other subjects such as Anthropology, Development Studies, Criminology, Psychology, and Social Policy. Most students studying Sociology actually combine it with something else.
  3. You will need to do a lot more in-depth reading at degree level (this is the case in any social science, or humanities subject). You will typically need to read a minimum of one chapter from a book and one or two other sources which relate to this core reading. In total, this will mean at least 40 pages of reading per module per week, and you will probably be studying 4 modules at a time – so that means 160 pages per week – and you’ll need to add on more for the essays you’ll be doing.
  4. You will need to know the knowledge in much more depth at degree level – you will be expected to read and summarise extracts of core-texts each week and be able to critically evaluate these texts in discussion and essays.
  5. In terms of skills – you need show greater depth of critical awareness, analysis and evaluation, and be able to demonstrate all of these verbally and in writing, using evidence.
  6. You need to more self-starting in terms of reading and writing essays – there is a lot less contact time at university. 
  7. Although your options in Sociology will vary enormously from uni to uni, pretty much all degree-courses will have compulsory modules in the following

Common Themes in most Sociology Degree Courses

  • Research Methods
  • Social Theory – Classical and Contemporary

You will also find options in the following areas in most university departments:

  • Globalisation
  • Identity
  • Gender
  • Dissertation option (which will be restricted by staff interests)      

Two examples of Sociology departments to start you off

  • The University of Surrey – useful to know because it has reading lists attached to its courses (many universities don’t have these publically available)
  • The London School of Economics – useful to know even if you aren’t likely to get the grades due to its excellent public lecture programme and various blogs.

NB – There are another 99 universities which offer Sociology in the UK



Core Themes in AS and A Level Sociology

According to the AQA, the following are the most important aspects of studying Sociology. What’s below is taken straight from the AQA web site

Integral elements

All the following must be an integral part of the study of each topic area:

  • Sociological theories, perspectives and methods
  • The design of the research used to obtain the data under consideration, including its strengths and limitations.

Attention must be given to drawing out the links between topic areas studied.

Core themes

Students must study the following two core themes:

  • Socialisation, culture and identity (Functionalism emphasises the importance of socialisation, postmodernism culture and action theory identity
  • Social differentiation, power and stratification (Marxism and Feminism emphasise the importance of these)

The themes should be understood and applied to particular substantive areas of Sociology. These themes are to be interpreted broadly as threads running through many areas of social life and should not therefore be regarded as discrete topics.

Contemporary UK society

The central focus of study in this specification should be on UK society today, with consideration given to comparative dimensions where relevant, including the siting of UK society within its globalised context.

Using the ‘Core Themes’ in A-level sociology

The most obvious exam-application is to use these as a basis for answering any 10 mark question – try to make sure one point is developed along the lines of socialisation, culture and identity, and another developed along the lines of differentiation, stratification and power. This way, you make sure you have two very different points!

AS and A Level Sociology Course Content – At a Glance

 As and first year A level course content at a glance – what’s below probably hasn’t cut and paste too well – if you want the pretty version, along with a whole load of other useful information, you can find it in this AS and A Level Student Handbook

(Related Posts – Core Themes in A Level Sociology)

AS Sociology and First Year A Level Content at a Glance


Paper 7191 (1) 90 minutes Paper 7191 (2) – 90 minutes
Education Methods Applied to Education Research Methods Families and Households
1.           Perspectives on Education


2.           In school process and education


3.           Education Policies


4.           Social Class and Education


5.           Gender and Education


6.           Ethnicity and Education


Any of the research methods to the right applied to any aspect of education – e.g.


•        Why boys are more likely to be excluded than girls


•        Why white working class boys underachieve


•        Exploring whether teachers have ‘ideal pupils’ – whether they label certain groups of pupils favourably?


•        Looking at whether the curriculum is ethnocentric (racist/ homophobic)


•        Examining how ‘gender identities’ enhance or hinder children’s ability to learn



1.      Introduction to Research Methods – Basic types of method and key terms


2.      The Factors Affecting Choice of Research Method – Theoretical, Ethical and Practical Factors


3.      Secondary Quantitative Data – Official Statistics


4.      Secondary Qualitative Data – Public and Private Documents


5.      Experiments – Field and Laboratory


6.      Interviews – Structured, Unstructured and Semi-Structured


7.          Observational Methods – Cover and Overt Participant and Non-Participant Observation

1.   Perspectives


2.   Marriage and Divorce


3.   Family Diversity


4.   Power and Equality in Domestic Relationships


5.   Childhood


6.   Social Policies


7.   Demography


Second Year A Level – At a Glance


Assessed on A Level Paper 2

(along with the family)

Assessed on A Level Paper 3 (along with Theory and Methods) Assessed on A Level Paper 1 (along with education) and Paper 3 (along with Crime and Deviance)
Global Development Crime and Deviance Theory and Methods

1.            Globalisation and its consequences


2.            The problems of defining and measuring development and underdevelopment


3.            Different theories of development, underdevelopment and global inequality


4.            Aid and trade and their impact on development


5.            The role of transnational corporations, nongovernmental organisations and international agencies in local and global strategies for development.


6.            Development in relation to industrialisation and urbanization


7.            Work, employment, education and health as aspects of development


8.            War and Conflict in relation to development


9.            Gender and Development


10.         Population and Consumption in relation to development


11.         The Environment and Development


1.            Crime statistics

2.            Locality and Crime

3.            The media and crime

4.            Consensus based theories – Functionalism; Social control’ theory; Strain theory and Sub cultural theory

5.            The Traditional Marxist perspective on crime

6.            Labeling Theory and The New Criminology

7.            Left- Realist and Right-Realist Criminology

8.            Post-Modernism, Late-Modernism and Crime (Social change and crime)

9.            Methods of controlling crime – the role of the community, policing and punishment

10.         Ethnicity and Crime

11.         Gender and crime

12.         Social Class, and crime

13.         Age and crime

14.         Victimology – Why are some people more likely to be criminals than others

15.         Global crime, State crime and Environmental crime (Green crime)

16.         The Sociology of Suicide






1.            Positivism and Interpretivism


2.            Is Sociology a science?


3.            Can Sociology be value free?


4.            Functionalism


5.            Marxism


6.            Feminism


7.            Interactionism


8.            Post Modernism


9.            Sociology and social policy


Research Methods


·                     The Factors Affecting Choice of Research Method – Theoretical, Ethical and Practical Factors


·                     Secondary Quantitative Data – Official Statistics


·                     Secondary Qualitative Data – Public and Private Documents


·                     Experiments – Field and Laboratory


·                     Interviews – Structured, Unstructured and Semi-Structured


·                     Observational Methods – Cover and Overt Participant and Non-Participant Observation



Any of the research methods to the right applied to any aspect of crime



Post and Late Modern Perspectives on Society and Identity

This is intended to be an uber-brief summary, for fuller accounts please see other relevant posts. 

The postmodern view of society 

  • Globalisation destablises social structures
  • Consumer culture floats free from other institutions
  • The media and hyperreality are important
  • There is much more diversity
  • The End of Metanarratives

The corresponding postmodern view of identity

  • Individuals identities are no longer constrained by traditional norms (such as locality, social class or gender)
  • Leisure and consumption, not work are what bind us together and what we use to actively construct our identities
  • Individuals are free to construct their own identities in any way they see fit.

The Late Modern view of society 

  • Globalisation remains structured
  • Abstract Systems are important (T$E)
  • Uncertainty is everywhere
  • Institutions are reflexive
  • Therapy is important.

The corresponding Late Modern view of Identity 

  • Individuals are not so much free to construct their own identities – they have to do so.
  • This is because the lack of a stable structure and rapid pace of social change means identity is no longer provided at birth, work, or locality.
  • Thus people are forced into devoting time and money to ‘constructing their selves’ reflexively – and they have to do so continuously.