Sociological Theories

Last Updated on September 11, 2023 by Karl Thompson

A Level Sociology Theory and Methods | A Level Sociology Social Action Theory

A page of links to posts on the following topics: (1) Positivism and Interpretivism, (2) Is sociology a science?, (3) Sociology and value freedom, (4) Functionalism, (5) Marxism, (6) Feminism, (7) Social action theory, (8) Post and late modernism, (9) Sociology and social policy. 

Together these posts cover the ‘theory’ part of the Theory and Methods part of the AQA’s A Level Syllabus, which are assessed as part of A level papers 1 and 3.  It’s gradually being populated should be completed by end of February 2017. 

For links to posts about qualitative, quantitative, primary and secondary research methods – see the research methods page.

social theories mind map

Social Theory At a Glance

An overview of theory and methods for second year A level sociology a very brief overview covering the bare-bones of (1) Positivism and Interpretivism, (2) Is sociology a science?, (3) Sociology and value freedom, (4) Functionalism, (5) Marxism, (6) Feminism, (7) Social action theory, (8) Post and late modernism, (9) Sociology and social policy. 

Positivism and Interpretivism

Positivism, Sociology and Social Research – detailed class notes on the relationship between The Enlightenment, industrialisation and positivist sociology.

Positivism and Interpretivismvery brief summary revision notes covering the relationship between the scientific positivist world view and quantitative methods and the humanistic interpretivist worldview and qualitative methods. 

Links to ‘Interpretivist‘ theory and methods are included under the ‘social action theory‘ section below.

Is Sociology  A Science?

Is Sociology a Science?a summary covering a Positivist view of sociology as a science contrasted to an Interpretivist view of sociology as a humanistic discipline; sociological criticisms of the objectivity of science (Latour and Kuhn’s Paradigm Critique); Sayer’s realist view of sociology, and postmodern views of science. 

Sociology and Value Freedom

Sociology and Value Freedom – reasonably detailed class notes covering the Positive view that sociology is value free and the New Right, Marxist, Feminist and Social Action Theory views which all argue sociology is not, and/ or should not aim to be value free for various different reasons.


The Functionalist Perspective on Societymoderately detailed class notes covering Durkheim’s ideas on social facts, anomie and mechanical and organic solidarity, and Parson’s ideas on value consensus, the importanct of socialisation and evolution through structural differentiation. 

Robert Merton’s Internal Critique of Functionalism class notes, quite detailed covering concepts such as indispensability, functional unity and universalism.

The Functionalist Theory of Society  Revision Notes – very brief revision notes covering Emile Durkhime’s and Talcott Parson’s Functionalist Theory, Robert Merton’s internal critique of Functionalism, and some overall evaluations; also a very brief summary of Functionalist thought applied to the family, education, modernisation theory, crime and research methods. 


The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – class notes, quite detailed covering the key concepts of Marxism such as Bourgeoisie and Proletariat, exploitation, base and superstructure and ideological control.

Althusser’s Scientific Marxismclass notes, quite detailed covering the distinction between the repressive and ideological state apparatus and Althusser’s critique of Humanist Marxism.

Gramsci’s Humanist MarxismGramsci rejected the economic determinism of Marx and developed the concept of Hegemony to explain the more active role intellectuals might play in revolution – class notes, quite detailed.

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism – evaluative post, quite detailed. This post criticise Marx’s original key ideas in the light of contemporary evidence.

Eight Ways in Which Marxism is Still Relevant Today – class notes, quite detailed, covering such things as the continued exploitation of workers in the developing world and contemporary evidence of right-wing agenda setting in the mainstream media.

The Marxist Theory of Society Revision Notesvery brief revision notes covering the key ideas of Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci and Louis Althusser.


Feminist Theory – A Summary for A-level Sociology brief summary revision notes for liberal, radical, marxist and postmodern Feminist theory.

What is Patriarchy? A post devoted to summarising this key concept within Feminism.

Angry Wimmin‘ – A summary of a useful documentary series consisting of interviews with first, second and third wave Feminists.

Sylvia Walby – Six Structures of Patriarchy – Walby argued that there were six areas of social life in which women were still oppressed such as paid work and the media – this post explores her ideas and uses a range of contemporary evidence to evaluate her views.

How Equal are Men and Women in the U.K. today? – one way in which we can evaluate Feminisms is to explore changing patterns in the gender-gap in difference spheres of social life such as education, work, politics and crime – this post does just that!

Social Action Theory

Social Action Theory – A Summary brief summary revision notes covering Max Weber, Erving Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory, labelling theory and positive and negative evaluations of social action theory overall.

Max Weber’s Social Action Theory – fairly detailed class notes on some of the key ideas of Max Weber, the founding father of social action theory. His key ideas included the importance of getting to Verstehen, and his theory of general motivations and a summary of his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which illustrates both of these.

A Summary of Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life – argues that humans approach social life as if they were acting on a stage – we manage ourselves ‘backstage’ in order to present a constructed self to others when we are ‘front stage’ in the social world. This point of view sees individuals as very active and offers a criticism of Functionalism and Marxism which both see individuals as much more constrained and shaped by external social forces.

Outline and explain two reasons why Interpretivists prefer to use qualitative research methods (10) – a short answer exam style question that you might find on either paper 1 or 3 (AQA A-level Sociology exam papers).

Post Modernism

Modernity, Postmodernity and Late Modernityvery brief summary grids with key concepts.

From Modernity to Postmodernity – for the purposes of A-level Sociology modernity is a historical period spanning roughly the late 18th century to around the 1950s, a time when social life was relatively clearly structured along class and gender lines. Social change was still occurring during Modernity, but sociologists in that period thought change was ordered and generally progressive. Postmodernity in contrast starts from around the 1950s and is more fluid and chaotic.

Postmodernisationdescribes the shift from modern culture through postmodernisation to postculture, according to Crook, Pakulski and Waters (1992)

Postmodernity and PostmodernismPostmodernity is the historical period, postmodernism the theory (or anti-theory) – these are more detailed class notes, summary of Pip Jones’ ‘Social Theory’ book.

Three Examples of Postmodern Thinkers –brief class notes covering the work of Lyotard, Foucault and Baudrillard.

Jean Francois Lyotarda more in depth discussion of the work of Lyotard, the guy who said Postmodernity was the ‘end of metanarratives’.

Jean Baudrillarda more in depth discussion of Baudrillard’s postmodern critique of Marxism, including a discussion of his concept of hyperreality and his view that the ‘Gulf War Never Happened’.

Postmodernity and the Point of Sociologybrief class notes considering what a ‘postmodern sociology’ might look like.

Criticisms of Postmodernism -Postmodernism challenges the whole existence and point of sociology so it makes sense that numerous sociologists have criticised postmodernism – brief class notes.

Lash and Lury – The Global Culture IndustrySummary of a book which has something of the postmodern about it.

Late Modernism 

Critical Responses to Postmodernismmore detailed class notes covering Ulrich Beck’s work on risk and reflexivity and Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory

Anthony Giddens – Modernity and Self Identity – the very brief version in 14 bullet points! The general gist is that the shift to postmodernity HAS made society more fluid and complex, but individuals don’t have so much freedom that we have to abandon social theory all together as some postmodern thinkers suggest.

Anthony Giddens – Modernity and Self Identity, chapter one summary – very detailed class notes, containing a link to chapter two and then so on…!

Late Modernism and the Point of Sociology – very brief summary notes on Giddens’ view on how sociology can be useful in contemporary society.

Post and late modern views on the familybrief summary notes contrasting these two perspectives. Students usually the distinction between postmodernism and late modernism, seeing the two side by side applied to one topic are should help clarify their understanding.

Post and late modern views of educationbrief summary notes.

Neoliberalism and the New Right

Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction – The three key ideas of Neoliberal ideology are low taxation, deregulation and privatisation and the New Right in the U.K. and U.S.A emerged out of this, but put more emphasis on a strong state enforcing law and order and conservative family values than pure neoliberals.

The Neoliberal Theory of Economic Development a detailed post on how deregulation, low taxation and privatisation has mostly harmed developing countries and made rich countries richer.

Grenfell Tower – Profits Before Safety (2017)the case study of Grenfell Tower seems to be a text book study in the downsides of neoliberal austerity policies – cut spending on public safety and poor people die. 

Sociology and Social Policy

Perspectives on Social Policy detailed class notes covering Positivist, Marxist, Feminist, Social Action Theory and New Right perspectives on social policies.

Perspectives on Social Policybrief summary notes – the bullet point version of the above!

Theory and Methods Exam Style Questions

The questions below could come up on the theory and methods sections of either AQA A-level Sociology paper 1 or paper 3

Outline and explain two arguments against the view that sociology is a science (10)

Applying Sociological Perspectives

Careers Guidance for Alternative Jobsor how to avoid getting a proper job.

Careers Advice for TeenagersSociological perspectives on why A levels are no longer enough to get you a job.

Vanilla Vloggers – Insubstantial Selves? – What do Sociologists think of the Zoellas of the virtual world?

How many likes does it take? Social media and dissatisfaction.

What is Sociology? A summary of Bauman and May’s Thinking Sociologically, Chapter 1

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.

A-Level Sociology Revision Mega Bundle 

The Theory and Methods bundle is also in my best value A level sociology revision mega bundle – which covers the entire AQA A-level specification, comprising SIX individual revision bundles: the family, education, theory and methods, beliefs, global development and crime and deviance.

Mega Bundle Cover

Contents include:

  1. over 200 pages of revision notes
  2. 60 mind maps in pdf and png formats
  3. 50 short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers.