The theories in sociology give us various perspectives on how to perceive our social world. The sociological perspective is primarily defined as the study of the life of humans, their interactions, and how those interactions affect different groups and the society in general. This study invites us to observe the connections between people’s behavior and the societal structures in which they belong. Sociological perspective has the insight that the world as a whole does not have a reality that everyone perceives in the same manner but rather that every individual has his or her social construction of reality. Macro sociology is concerned with how large social groups affect the social world while micro sociology pertains to an individual’s social dynamics as he or she interacts with a small group. The three major sociological perspectives are symbolic interactionism, functionalism, and the conflict perspective.
Symbolic interactionism postulates that the behavior of human beings is influenced by the meanings and definitions created through symbolic interaction with other people in the society. Human beings, rather than responding to the objective situation, tend to respond to their perception of a situation. An example is how music is denoted on the staff, to one it could be mere dots and lines but to a musician those same symbols refer to organized noted that make up a musical piece. Symbolic interactionism also proposes that an individual’s self-concept is developed by observing the views of others like about the said individual. In a micro level, when an individual’s self-concept is determined by the views of others rather than the individual’s inner views can have both good and bad effects. On one hand, when the said individual is popular among a group, it can be a confidence booster and leads to self-acceptance. If the individual is unpopular, it may result in the group shunning or even bullying the said individual and thus result in developing depression on the part of the individual. Critics postulate that symbolic interactionism does not apply to the macro level of interpretation as it only focuses on the micro level of sociology. A good example to illustrate this is that symbolic interactionism may focus on the size of a diamond in the ring rather that the marriage’s quality thus missing the larger issues in the social world.
Functionalism, on the other hand, claims that the society comprises of interconnected components that harmoniously come together to achieve equilibrium. On a micro level, the family serves as a great example since it gives a platform for reproduction, socializing, and nurturing the children. On a macro level of functionalism, education serves the purpose of passing down knowledge, culture and skills to the young people. Another example is how the field of economics serves society through production, manufacturing, distribution, and finally the consumption of these goods and services by the general public. Sociologists came up with two major functions namely, latent and manifest. Functions that are latent tend to have unintended consequences while manifest functions are commonly recognized consequences that are intended. Primary terms often used by functionalists are dysfunctional and functional. The elements of society are described as dysfunctional when they disrupt stability in the society and functional when they promote stability in the society.
The sociological perspective of conflict majorly referred to as the conflict perspective sees society comprised of various interests and groups in competition for resources and power. This perspective tends to explore which groups in society enjoy certain benefits and gain power from a specific social arrangement. In a macro level, this perspective can divide society into groups such as the haves and the have-nots. The haves tend to have benefits since they control the process of production thus having all the power while the have-nots merely have to work and earn wages. On a micro level, the conflict perspective may focus on individual religious beliefs since different individuals may have various beliefs. In a predominantly Muslim state like the UAE for example, individuals who are Muslims tend to have more power than their counterparts due to their religious affiliations. This factor may lead more individuals to be of the majority religious group due to the benefits that that social arrangement offers.
Ethnocentrism is another concept that contributes a lot when it comes to understanding the social world. It is primarily defined as the attitude that an individual’s ethnic group or culture is superior to other ethnic groups and cultures. This attitude tends to come about because everyone is born into a culture or ethnic group that is different to others. Different individuals in different cultures learn a particular way of doing things as about the culture they are born into and thus develop ideas of what is normal which is different to individuals in different cultures. From a young age, different individuals in different cultures have their perceptions of what people look like, how they sound, talk, dress, and how they should carry themselves in the society shaped as they grow up. All these perceptions become ingrained in one’s mind, whether they know it or not.
On a micro level, every individual has a hint of ethnocentrism especially at an early age when children interact with their fellow age mates at day cares, playgroups, and kindergartens. This ethnocentrism portrays itself since different children have been taught different ways of doing things depending on the culture or ethnic group they belong. These perceptions may lead to some friction since some may consider the manner in which others do some things as weird or inferior thus straining friendships that are newly forged. On a macro level, on the other hand, the concept of world peace could prove to be elusive especially when dealing with countries or groups that consider others inferior to them. This ethnocentric ideology was paramount in the historical times of conquerors such as Alexander the great, the Romans, Ghengis Khan, just to mention a few. Such eras were full of wars, and this can be attributed to the ethnocentric views they had.