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Social theories overview (part 1) | Society and Culture | MCAT | Khan Academy


I know all these social theories
can seem pretty daunting. But they’re actually
fairly simple to keep track of if you remember
the main points. The first theory of society that
I’ll review is functionalism. This theory looks at how a
society can exist and survive over time. Basically, functionalism
states that a society is always trying to
come to an equilibrium, trying to stabilize. The structures that
make up a society, like institutions, will
remain pretty constant and only change if
absolutely necessary when the society
loses stability. Remember that institutions
are structures that fulfill the
needs of society. There’s an example of that
in our society right now. The business institution
has had to adapt to the huge online shopping
boom as online retail providers like Amazon draw more and more
people away from retail stores down the street. Those stores had to find
ways to attract people again so they will take the
time to stop in and shop. But it takes a lot
of energy to change, so the stores will only do
what is absolutely necessary to get customers again. Right, so when you
think of functionalism, think of the minor changes
an institution makes to find a stable
balance in the society. Only change to be
functional again. The next theory is
conflict theory, which is just like it sounds. It focuses on how
societies change and adapt over time through conflict. In any society, there’s going
to be conflicting viewpoints and beliefs, and people
are going to take sides. Eventually, this is going to
polarize the society, where one group is happy
with the status quo, and another group wants change. This is a very fragile
state for the society, and eventually,
both sides will have to come to some
sort of agreement or else tear the society apart. The class struggle in
19th century Europe is an example of this process. The workers wanted change,
while the factory owners were happy with the
way things were. The two opposing
positions were merged to create a new society
where the workers had slightly more power than
before and the factory owners had slightly less. And everyone was
content, if maybe not ecstatic about the outcome. OK, so in conflict theory,
you have two opposing sides at odds with each
other that eventually lead to the creation of a
new synthesized society– conflict creating a new society. Next, we have the theory
of social constructionism which looks at what a
society is rather than how it exists or changes. In social constructionism,
everything is created from the
mind of the society. There’s an agreement that
something has meaning and value that the thing doesn’t
actually have intrinsically. One of the most prevalent
examples today is money. It has no value on its own. It’s just paper or metal
or numbers in a computer. But as a society, we have agreed
to give it a specific value. And that agreement
actually helps to shape the society itself. So when you think of
social constructionism, remember that
everything only has value because we
agree it has value. We construct the
world around us. The final social theory here
is symbolic interactionism. This one is kind of different
than the other theories because it puts a lot of
focus on the individual and how they behave. It is based around the idea of
the meanings we give to things. Like, to me, a tree could
be a source of shade, whereas for someone
else, it could be home to spiders and ants. People are created
by their society. They act based on their past
experiences in their lives and the meanings they
have given things. But not everyone gives the
same meaning to everything. That tree could mean
10 different things to 10 different people. And even if you just
look at one person, a tree could have
multiple meanings. And those meanings can
even change over time. The meanings we give things is
based on our past experiences in society, and those meanings
and our interpretations create our future society. To put it in a phrase,
symbolic interactionism says that we interact with
the world to give it meaning. So to sum up this summary,
we have functionalism looking at the stability
of the society, conflict theory looking at how
the society changes, social constructionism
discovering how things are given value, and finally
symbolic interactionism learning how individuals act.

About James Carlton

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