Sociology Essay


Using the textbook, and at least one other academic source, describe, explain, and interpret one of the following topics using all three theoretical perspectives – Functionalism, Conflict Theory, and Symbolic Interactionism:

Choose one: Education (Chosen Topic)

1. Intro paragraph

2-4. (Paragraphs 2,3,4) –Each paragraph should cover one theory and its key focus, how it would be applied to your topic, and finishing each paragraph with a list of basic questions a theorist from that perspective would ask about your chosen topic. -Use sources throughout these paragraphs.

5. (Last paragraph) – Conclusion (Perhaps making a case for the best theory that explains your chosen topic, or an argument for the importance of looking at something through multiple lenses.)

6. ‘Works Cited’ (MLA) or ‘References’ page (APA) and sources listed throughout paper.


Functionalism, Conflict Theory and Symbolic Interactionism

The theme education has been widely theorized in sociology, and the three most common theories being focused on include functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionalism. Using philosophy ideologies, these models have been posed as major components of sociological theory with the aim of defining and providing justification, and even critiquing the structures on which educational institutions operate. Education institutions constitute one of the main units in society, and it is through them that many interactions are perpetuated. The diversity and high populations in these institutions has prompted the implementation of different philosophies to evaluate social development. This analysis will focus on Functionalism, Conflict Theory and Interactionism in an attempt to outline the operations of the institution of education and the development of interactions at both horizontal and vertical levels (Stein and Ferris 22).

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Functionalism is a recent contemporary philosophy which posits that mental states are developed and supported solely by their functional roles. These mental states are realized on multiple levels by processing inputs which then produce behaviors. The functionalist approach in education focuses on the positive impact of school socialization. Eventually, education is responsible over for the inculcation of crucial values such as integrity, achievement and hard work. Education also assumes multiple levels in its manifestation particularly by helping to mold social identity through transmitting cultural and philosophical views over time. In most cases, it acts as the link between the family units and society (Stein and Ferris 27). The quality and distribution of education profoundly affect the quality and extent of socialization. In a more direct capacity, society and the economy at large depend on the professional skills acquired through education. Individualism, social well-being and self-esteem are some of the dimensions that come into focus throughout the educational process. For instance, in the American society, the notion of competition is strongly inculcated in the education system. From a very young age, students are made to understand the importance of remaining competitive and patriotic.

Functionalism also promotes the process of sorting as a tool of separation based on merit. This process which leads to social placement is viewed as an important part of social development. Networking is another component of the education system that this theory appreciates, and this explains why many parents and teachers routinely place emphasis on inculcating the values of network building throughout college education (Stein and Ferris, p.36). Eventually, education is seen to play the role of preserving and liberating individuals through a process of instilling different values in learners a balanced manner. The biggest question is whether policymakers in the education sector are wrong in sorting and placing students on different categories based on performance as well as providing a common starting point for every child.

Developed by Karl Marx, Conflict Theory is based on the view that society is always in a state of conflict arising from competition for resources. The dominant factor in this theory is the perpetuity of the conflict and the limited resources that fuel the conflict. This theory has been used to explain social contrasts such as peace and war as well as riches and poverty. The dominant themes in this regard include social inequality, democracy and civil rights, and all of them are interpreted from the viewpoint of differences in access to and distribution of resources. Under conflict theory education is viewed as a tool that can easily be used negatively to further box lower social groups into deeper recesses of a uniform mechanization of obedience and disenfranchisement. According to this theory, sorting in the education system is carried out based on ethnic and social classes with the minority and elite always holding the upper hand. Conflict theory supports the notion that education has been used to hinder creativity for the majority population and retain power among the minority elite. In fact, according to this theory, education is the modern tool of maintaining the power gap between the rich and the poor. Education thus trains the lower class to accept their position and continue working not to majorly improve, but to maintain their positions (Stein and Ferris 32).

One common manifestation is the fact that through school funding and taxes, affluent schools will receive even more money than those in lower economic regions. In most cases, these affluent schools have white or privileged ethnic groups. Eventually, these students in affluent schools get better chances of getting into top universities and networking with the best. Eventually, these students who form the minority continue to support this group of wealthy minorities and retain power within this circle. Conflict theorists point out to exact methods of sorting and examining that will undoubtedly favor upper class students. This emphasizes the belief that education is based on cultural superiority at all the stages (Stein and Ferris 47). Some of the common questions surrounding this theory include its focus on negativity in regards to education and exploitation in a form of self-victimization and pity by the majority class. It would otherwise be expected that the majority would be able to offset change through the strength of numbers and increased awareness of their right to education.

On the other hand, Symbolic Interactionism is extremely specific and targets primarily the classroom experience. This theory was developed following the research by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson. They examined a group of students for IQ and then randomly selected a group of average students who would show improvement over the year (Stein and Ferris 43). They observed that students indeed did show significant improvement. This was achieved simply because they were expected by their teachers to improve. This phenomenon is called a self-fulfilling prophesy in which a false assumption comes to pass simply because it was predicted. Even so, according to this theory, the process of forming perception is often flawed by ethnic and cultural stereotypes. Notably, those students perceived by their teachers in high regard are usually from higher classes while those perceived as weak are from lower social and cultural classes (Stein and Ferris 59). Once again, the process of selection and sorting seems to support the minority in power while continuing to discriminate against the lower classes. Many who study this theory often raise question regarding the accuracy and methods of gauging how teachers’ perceptions and expectations are shaped by different phenomena.

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Overall, the three theories have played a critical role in defining social structure in general and education in particular. Educational practices and the underlying sociological principles play a critical role in economic prosperity and organization of every community. Clearly, while most philosophies acknowledge the importance of education, some of them identify the theme of culture and ethnic segregation as a major determinant of how educational opportunities are accessed and utilized. While functionalism paints an overly positive picture of education, conflict theory and symbolic interactionalism highlight grounds for criticism of contemporary educational systems particularly in terms of access. Thus, using different theories is an ideal way of highlighting different aspects of a topic such as education.

Works Cited

Stein, Jill and Kerry Ferris. The Real World: An Introduction to Psychology. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2014. Print.

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