Sociological Perspectives: The Basics

sociological perspectives are divided in structure/ action, consensus/ conflict, and modern/ postmodern.

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.

Sociological Perspectives in A Level Sociology

There are three main dividing lines for sociological perspectives as taught within A-level sociology:

  • Social structure and social action perspectives.
  • Consensus and conflict perspectives
  • Modern and Postmodern perspectives.

Social Structure and 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.

Structural perspectives include

Examples of social action perspectives include social action theory and labelling theory.

Consensus and 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.

Functionalism and The New Right are consensus perspectives, Marxism and Feminism are conflict perspectives.

Modern and Postmodern 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 summary grid

Below is a very brief summary grid including some of the main concepts within each of five main sociological perspectives…

Norms and values,
Value Consensus,
Positive functions of institutions,

Capitalism and private property, Bourgeoisie/ Proletariat, exploitation, ideological control, revolution, communismPatriarchy, sex and gender, public-private divide, gender scripts, deconstruction The self, the I and the me, social identity,
back stage and front stage, labelling, the fulfilling prophecy
Individualisation, Media-saturation, hyperreality, identity, social fragmentation, the end of metanarratives.

Signposting and Related Posts 

This material is fundamental to A-level sociology and should be taught early on as part of an introduction to sociology.

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