Lecture 3: Sociological Theory Part 1

Historical Shifts Leading to the Development of Sociology

The Growth of Science

  • Some of the scientific contributions from the different science clusters were being combined into the mainstream
  • There was a way of looking at some aspect of our world
  • Why can't we use those methods to study our social world. Bringing in scientific inquiries into our social world
  • Positivism approach: Objective and value-free research
  • Provided a new way to understand the world, the surroundings
  • Ex. Most people understand the world via religion, however as science as a discipline grew, it developed new ways for people to understand our social world; Decline of the influence of religion in people's lives.

The Industrial Revolution and Capitalism

  • Refers to the significant change in the economic system
  • There was an enormous shift from agricultural industry to an industrial industry (1700 to 1800s)
  • Ex. People owned land and work with their families to factories


  • The shift towards factories not only meant a shift in ownership but it also lead to an enormous shift in family life

The Rise of States and Political Revolutions

  • Government; the role of some other body in creating rules and infrastructure
  • A period of time where the state (the government) start to have more control over people's lives
  • Ex. Creating businesses, education systems, roads etc.
  • Someone beyond our lives having influence and control over our social world and environment
  • Lead to political unrest/political revolution - demonstrating frustration with the state

Combining the 4 Together; What Does this all Lead To?

  • Uses a systematic solution for looking at our social world

The Four Major Theories in Sociology

There are different vantage points of seeing the world. Developing themes in sociology (appears often throughout the textbook).

  • Structural functionalism (discussed in this lecture)
  • Conflict theory (discussed in this lecture)
  • Symbolic interactionism
  • Feminist theory

Two Criterion of Sociological Theory

Empirical Component

  • Should be able to observe and collect data on something
  • Ex. If a theory is saying "people are doing X,Y and Z.", you should be able to identify and see that people are doing X,Y and Z and able to test it
  • How would I look for evidence? How would I know I found support for that theory?

Ideas Must be Sociological

  • Theories helps keep our world social in context; Always sociological

Structural Functionalism

  • Comes from Emile Durkheim
  • Durkheim saw society as a complex system of parts working together to promote solidarity and stability
  • Saw this time of chaos and instability; not a stable society
  • Became obsessed of the idea of stability and positivism and an idea coming from another social thinker saying "Society is like another living organism"
  • Ex. A car has their own function and in order for the entire car to function, all the individual functions have to work together
  • Complex parts that have to function a particular way to allow society to become cohesive
[Social Solidarity] refers to the degree to which group members share beliefs and values and the intensity and frequency of their interaction - Brym and Lie 2015:10



  • "Visible and intended effects of social structures" - Brym and Lie 2015:13
  • Idea of functions is what is the function of something. "How does X function in our society"
  • If we have something in our society, it must have some kind of function
  • Sociologist identify the function and how does it function with stability in our society
  • Ex. Ribbon cutting; symbolizes a special event like a store opening or a new building etc.


  • "Invisible and unintended effects of social structures" - Brym and Lie 2015:13
  • Ex. Not everyone can be behind the ribbon for UTM's newest building, we had the vice principal behind the ribbon

Are All Functions Positive?

  • NO; There can be dysfunctions in our society
  • Structural Functionalist: Would see something positive come out of something
  • Ex. Crime is bad but a structural functionalist would find something positive out of it
  • Ex. Prostitution: It is a type of dysfunction; It is negative thing. A structural functionalist would say "Yes prostitution can be bad but it can allow one to have a sexual moment without disrupting a family"

In summary, how do these parts produce stability?

Conflict Theory

  • Karl Marx
  • Writing at a similar time as Durkheim but was not bothered by the chaos and instability, he wanted to understand it
  • Understand the conflicts in our society and how it affects our society. Also states that there are opportunities to change
  • Contradictions, conflict and change

Ex. In a factory, under industrialism and capitalism, you have someone is benefiting quite a bit and you have some who have less power. That is conflict and Marx wanted to discover why it is a conflict and how can it be changed. 

  • Like structural functionalism: macro
  • Important: how people earn their livelihood

Key Groups


  • "Owners" and profits
  • They don't work. They make money off of the workers and operations in the factory


  • "Workers" and wages

They do not own anything. The only thing they own is their labour power (They must work in order to receive any wage)

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