CLASSICAL SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES: All disciplines study the subject through different perspectives. These help in providing unique or objective insights into the field that is studied. There are many sociological perspectives that have evolved over time across its sub-fields. However, the three classical theories remain popular and applicable to various societies and the interactions within them. These are- structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and conflict theory


Introduction: Every discipline or study conducted by humans is done from a unique perspective. It offers meaningful insights into the subject of study. Similarly, sociology studies society, its participants, and their interactions through a sociological perspective that overarches the individual perspectives of social beings. The view through the lens of sociology always remains at the social or group level.

Read: An Introduction to the Discipline of Sociology Discipline – Overview

What is a sociological perspective?

“The perspective of sociology involves seeing through the outside appearances of people’s actions and organisations” (Berger, 1963). The sociological perspective is one that observes society through a lens without personal opinions. It generalizes the causes and actions of individuals into patterns and categories. However, it not only observes these patterns of society but also tries to explain such patterns or behaviours. Sociologists are not concerned with personal characteristics; instead, they aim to find common attitudes and features as well as hidden patterns in those characteristics and behaviours across millions of people. One of the main objectives of the sociological perspective is to find and understand patterns behind recurring features of social interaction, as well as to examine the social impacts of these. With this objective in mind, there have developed many sociological perspectives but there are three major perspectives that have gained popularity.

(Video) Three Major Perspectives in Sociology Symbolic Interactionist Functionalist and Conflict Perspective

Types of sociological perspectives

Structural functionalist perspective:

In sociology and other social sciences, structural functionalism serves as a thought school in which each institution, relation, position, and convention, that together make up a society, has a purpose and each is essential for the sustained functioning of other members and society in general. Social change has been seen in structural-functionalism to be an adaptive reaction to some of society’s difficulties. If one element of the interwoven social structure changes, friction is produced which is addressed by the change in the other areas between this and other aspects of the system. According to the sociologist Durkheim, social cohesion was brought about by the interrelationship between the various components present in society, which is a complex system that has its own dynamic traits, external to people, but that influences their actions. According to this perspective, different institutions, structures, and processes have a particular purpose, one that is beneficial to the members of society. This includes education contributing to the development of society, the legal systems check the deviations in society, the government governs people and protects citizens, families contribute to reproduction and many others. Even processes that others may regard through a negative lens have a purpose from the functionalist’s perspective. A criminal is someone who is normally thought to be harmful to society, but structural functionalists believe that criminals motivate people to behave morally and keep the justice system running.

The critiques of this perspective include itsinsufficiencyto explain social and thecontinuanceof non-functional aspects of society- that do not serve any purpose in society’s necessities. The idea that all the activities of society are useful to society is opposed by some.

Symbolic Interactionism

The symbolic interactionist perspective, also called symbolic interactionism, encourages researchers to explore symbols and nuances, their meanings, and their influence on the interactive relationships of daily life. As per this perspective, symbols are connected with their meanings, and these symbols are perceived in a subjective manner. Communication and the exchange of meaning through words and symbols are thought to be the method by which humans comprehend their social environments. Such subjective perception is particularly evident through verbal interactions that use uttered words as main symbols. Conversations are symbolic exchanges between people who evaluate the environment surrounding them continuously. The symbolic interactionist perspective stems from Max Weber’s idea that humans have an interpretation of their world and its meaning and their actions are influenced by such meanings.

Symbolic interactionism as a perspective helps people understand each other’s viewpointsand alsohelps with the smooth functioning of society. It promotescommonalityand motivates the development of society. Symbols such as flags are used during international conflicts, by politicians and broadcasters, to encourage the concepts of unity, social cohesion among citizens and seek their support to the armed forces. Society has promoted the cultivation of symbols forvarious occasions. In western countries, the symbols of carved pumpkins and horror stories are associated with Halloween. A dove with an olive branchindicatespeace worldwide. Movements create symbols to spread their causes and meanings. A rainbow flag, when seen, is directly interpreted to relate to the LGBTQ+ community. Therefore, symbols and signs play an important in society. Due to the limitations of beingobjective, the viewpoint of symbolic interactionism isfrequentlyinvestigated and critiqued. Opponents furthercriticisesymbolic interactionists for theirrelatively limitedfocus on symbols and communication in understanding society.

Conflict theory

Conflict theory argues that when assets, power and social reputations are divided unfairly across sections of society, then disputes develop and these conflicts form the source of social change. Power may be viewed in this sense as the control of productive capacity and acquired riches, the influence over political and social institutions, and the social position of everyone else. The theory of conflict emerges from Karl Marx’s writings, which concentrated on the determinants and consequences of the bourgeois-proletarian class conflict in a capitalist society. This system reinforced an uneven social order, producing a unanimity of values, objectives and standards by the intellectual compulsion of the bourgeoisie. When the proletariat’s social and economic situation deteriorates, Marx predicted that they will become aware of the class system, implying that the rich capitalist class exploits them, resulting in a revolution with a demand for social change. This perspective has evolved from Marx and includes a wide array of conflicts and disputes that contribute to social change in society. Even wars between nations are perceived to be caused by material or ideological differences and the settlement of these leads to structural change. Sociological perspectives like Marxism and Feminism are derived from conflict theory and they both focus on particular conflicts, differences, and their impacts on society.

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The theory of conflict has been critiqued for its concentration on social stability change and neglect. Some opponentsrecognizethat societies are continuously changing, but note that many changes are small or gradual, not dramatic.

Read: How to Apply Sociology in Everyday Life

Why is it important?

Sociological perspectives assist us in better understanding ourselves. People perceive society through their restricted experience of a tight circle of kin, acquaintances, and colleagues if they do not have a sociological perspective. The sociological perspective helps us to imagine and mentally separate ourselves from our limited experience, allowing us to understand the connection between personal worries and societal problems. It allows us to see how our own routines and activities relate to the trends and happenings of society. Sociology studies take us into aspects of society that we may normally overlook or misinterpret. Because our perspective is influenced by our own encounters, and individuals with various societal interactions have varying conceptions of social existence, sociological perspectives enable us to respect and comprehend the perspectives of others.


Sociological perspectives are important as they provide a lens to view society in a way that excludes personal biases and prejudices. It has its own applicability across societies and can be altered as times change. The three types of sociological perspectives discussed above are the classical perspectives of sociology. However, there are other perspectives like Marxism, feminism, and post-modernism among others that provide different insights into the happenings of societies. Sociological theory is constantly evolving and should never be considered complete. Classic sociological theories are still considered important and current, but new sociological theories build upon the work of their predecessors and add to them (Calhoun 2012). With the development of multiple branches of sociology, the perspectives and theories are bound to grow enormously, but, in the end, they aim towards understanding society.


(Video) 1. Three Founding Sociological Theories

Doing, S. (2001). Sociological perspectives.

Jones, H. (2011). On sociological perspectives. InHandbook on sexual violence(pp. 207-228). Routledge.

Kingsbury, N., & Scanzoni, J. (2009). Structural-functionalism. In Sourcebook of family theories and methods (pp. 195-221). Springer, Boston, MA.

Manning, P., & Smith, G. (2010). Symbolic interactionism.The Routledge companion to social theory, 37-55.

Britannica, T. Editors ofEncyclopaedia(2020, June 17).Structural functionalism.Encyclopedia Britannica.

(Video) 3 main theoretical perspectives in Sociology

Parsons, T. (1961).Theories of society: Foundations of modern sociological theory. New York: Free Press.

Weber, Max. (1997). Definitions of sociology and social action.In Ian McIntosh (Ed.),Classical sociological theory: A reader(pp. 157–164). New York, NY: New York University Press. (Originalwork published 1922)

Calhoun, C.,Gerteis, J., Moody, J., Pfaff, S., & Virk, I. (Eds.). (2012).Contemporary sociological theory. John Wiley & Sons.

Berger Peter, L. (1963). Invitation to sociology.A Humanistic Perspective, New York.

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(Video) What Is Sociology?: Crash Course Sociology #1


What are the different types of sociological perspectives? ›

Sociology includes three major theoretical perspectives: the functionalist perspective, the conflict perspective, and the symbolic interactionist perspective (sometimes called the interactionist perspective, or simply the micro view).

What are the 3 sociological perspectives and what do they mean? ›

These three theoretical orientations are: Structural Functionalism, Symbolic Interactionism, and Conflict Perspective. To understand a theoretical orientation in any profession it is critical to understand what is meant by the term theory.

What is the meaning of sociological perspective? ›

The sociological perspective is an approach to understanding human behavior by placing it within its broader social context. C. Wright Mills referred to the sociological perspective as the intersection of biography (the individual) and history (social factors that influence the individual).

What are 3 examples of sociology? ›

Some examples of sociology include studying racial issues, gender dynamics, phenomena and feelings around entertainment, the structure of different social institutions, and the development of different social movements.

What are the 4 types of sociology? ›

The four main theoretical perspectives in the field of sociology are symbolic interactionism theory, social conflict theory, structural-functional theory, and feminist theory.

How many types of sociology are there? ›

The two major types of sociology that emerged were qualitative sociology and quantitative sociology.

What are the 3 theories of sociological theory? ›

The three major sociological theories that new students learn about are the interactionist perspective, the conflict perspective, and the functionalist perspective. And each has its own distinct way of explaining various aspects of society and the human behavior within it.

What is structural functionalism examples? ›

Definition: Structural Functionalism is a macro theory that looks at how all structures or institutions in society work together. Examples of structures or institutions of society include: education, health care, family, legal system, economy, and religion.

What is an example of conflict theory? ›

For example, conflict theory describes the relationship between employers and employees as one of conflict, in which the employers wish to pay as little as possible for the employees' labor, while the employees wish to maximize their wages.

What is the importance of sociological perspective? ›

Thinking through a sociological perspective helps us to understand the situations of others and allows us to better understand the reason people are in the situations they are in. Concepts like oppression, inequality, and intersectionality are realities in society that shape the lives of many.

What are the characteristics of sociological perspective? ›

Central features include social interaction and relationships, social contexts, social structure, social change, the significance of diversity and human variation, and the critical, questioning character of sociology.

What is sociological perspective essay? ›

Essentially, the sociological perspective is an approach that exceeds what is considered to be the obvious and questions the truth of generalization; it regards individuals as part of a larger society, and therefore it investigates behavioral patterns within its broader social context (Basirico, Cashion, & Eshleman, ...

What is the full meaning of sociology? ›

Sociology is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts.

What are some examples of sociology in everyday life? ›

Examples of sociology could include studying the relationship between culture and society, examining social movements, or researching how communication affects human behavior.

Who is called the father of sociology? ›

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), often called "the father of sociology" and often credited with. making sociology a "science" by insisting that social facts can only be explained by social facts, a.

What are the 5 major types of society? ›

  • Hunting-Gathering societies.
  • Horticultural societies.
  • Agrarian societies.
  • Industrial societies.
  • Post-industrial societies.

What are the 2 branches of sociology? ›

According to Sorokin, Sociology can be divided into two branches- General Sociology and special sociology. General sociology studies the properties and uniformities common to all social and cultural phenomena in their structural and dynamic aspects.

What is an example of social conflict? ›

Social conflict can result from the habit of making negative assumptions where there is ambiguity. For example, assuming a late friend doesn't respect your time as opposed to making a positive assumption such as assuming they have run into a problem such as a late train.

What is the meaning of conflict theory? ›

Definition: Conflict theory holds that different groups within a society are perpetually competing for limited resources and power — resulting in the powerful dominating the powerless.

What is a social structure examples? ›

Examples of social structure include family, religion, law, economy, and class. It contrasts with "social system", which refers to the parent structure in which these various structures are embedded.

What is an example of Interactionist perspective? ›

The interactionist perspective on inequality looks at how certain social roles have more power, or authority, than others. An example using real social roles can help illustrate the interactionist perspective: A CEO has more power than a receptionist.

What is theory of functionalism? ›

functionalism, in social sciences, theory based on the premise that all aspects of a society—institutions, roles, norms, etc. —serve a purpose and that all are indispensable for the long-term survival of the society.

Which is the best example of conflict perspective in sociology? ›

Examples of conflict theory

Global capitalism's effect on inequality and power. Pay inequalities between genders and races. The 2008 financial crisis, in which large companies and banks received government bailouts.

What are the three major sociological perspectives quizlet? ›

Three sociological perspectives are functionalism, conflict perspective and symbolic interactionism.

What are the 3 sociological perspectives on health and illness? ›

Learning Objective. List the assumptions of the functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist perspectives on health and medicine.

What are the different forms of social groups in our society? ›

Four basic types of groups have traditionally been recognized: primary groups, secondary groups, collective groups, and categories.

What is the sociological perspective quizlet? ›

sociological perspective. the ability to see the general in the particular. this perspective directs one to see the link between the societal or social content (the general) and the behavior of individuals (the particular) sociology. the systematic study of human society and social interaction.


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