-The sociological theory that ties to explain how a society is organized to perform functions effectively. This theory focuses on how the structures function within society. It is the oldest sociological theory and is also used by anthropologists.

– These structures, for example: the law, political system, and family; called institutions.

– assumes that societies are stable when structures function in ways that benefit society.

– functionalists examine roles individuals play within an institution (eg; family)

– status: specific position within a social group.

– role: set of behaviors an individual is expected to demonstrate within a status.

– functionalists make observations about role behavior and determine the rates at which various behaviors occur.

– norm: most prevalent behaviors.

Systems Theory:

– sociological theory that attempts to explain how groups of individuals interact as a system, a set of different parts that work together and influence one another in a relatively stable way over time.

– Applies to the examination of family processes.

– basic principle is feedback, a process by which the system informs its members how to interact to maintain the stability of the system.

– feedback implies give and take, so individuals within family system influence one another in a reciprocal way, which makes it difficult to trace the origins of influence or to describe organization of the family.

– families maintain a relatively stable size since members can be added to families only by birth, adoption, or marriage. Members can only leave the family by death.

– some theorists argue individuals continue to exert an influence on the behavior of others after they have left the family household, just like in divorce.

– larger family system contains sub-systems:

1. family unit subsystem of those members sharing a household

2. interpersonal subsystems between individuals, ex: husband, wife or mother, son

3. personal subsystem comprised of interaction between the individual as self and as a member of the family

– develop strategies for achieving goals and functions of individuals and of the family, and for interacting with external society.

– strategies defined as patterns of interaction that are repeated

– strategies require collaboration of all members to continue

– family systems adapt when a change in one persons behavior causes the behavior of others to evolve, which result in new strategies.

– systems theory explains behavior of individuals as inseparable from the group.

Symbolic Interactionism:

– psychological theory that attempts to explain how individuals choose how they will act based on perceptions of themselves and of others.

– people experience their social world and define and interpret the experiences to give them meaning

– perceptions, or meanings that people give to their experience of the world that matter, not social facts

– mental processes are not visible, only the actions that follow them are

– symbolic interactionism is based on 3 basic concepts:

1.) Individual develops a self that has two parts “me” that consists of objective qualities (tall, student, female) and the “i” that is subjective awareness (good, shy, lonely) according to charles cooley, “i” is based on how feedback from other people is interpreted.

2.) People must take the attitude of the other to be able to anticipate what the other person will do and decide how they should respond. This is what george mead (philosopher and psychologist) believed. Role taking is basis for human interaction.

3.) People able to interact effectively if they can communicate using a common language; shared symbols. Language is the means by which individuals interpret and give meaning to their experiences of self and others in order to interact in relationships.

– psychological theory because it emphasizes the mental processes of perception and interpretation in determining the behavior of individuals. Also explains how people present themselves to others using shared symbols

– useful as a micro theory for analyzing observations of individuals and small groups of people.

Social Exchange Theory:

– psychological theory that attempts to explain the social factors that influence how individuals interact within reciprocal relationships.

– theorists explain that although individuals are constrained by role expectations, they act within each role to maximize the benefits they will recieve and to minimize the costs to themselves.

– borrows from symbolic interactionism when it says that people interpret their experiences of self and others to determine the benefits and costs.

– can be used to explain choices of marriage partners

– costs of relationship can be greater than the rewards

– relationships are stable when benefits that each individual recieves balance the costs of the relationship

– benefits are rewarding because they meet a perceived need and can include physical or emotional security, access to good and services, and social approval.

– costs are actions that meet the needs of another, such as providing physical/emotional support, or sharing goods and services.

– according to this, people prefer relationships that are cost effective those where benefits are greater than those of alternative relationships.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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