Sociology Final Exam Paper Sociology Paper on Society “Human beings are fascinated with the world in which they live, and they aspire to develop ways to explain their experiences. People appear to have always felt this fascination-along with the intense desire to unravel the world’s mysteries-for people in ancient times also attempted to explain their worlds”(Henslin 8). Sociology is about understanding how people act as a society and how we, as people, treat our fellow human beings.
The symbolic interactionist perspective, also known as symbolic interactionism, directs sociologists to consider the symbols and details of everyday life, figuring out what these symbols mean, and how people interact with each other. Although symbolic interactionism traces its origins to Max Weber's assertion that individuals act according to their interpretation of the meaning of their world, the American philosopher George H. Mead introduced this perspective to American sociology in the 1920s.
According to the symbolic interactionist perspective, people attach meanings to symbols, and then they act according to their subjective interpretation of these symbols. Verbal conversations, in which spoken words serve as the main symbols, make this subjective interpretation especially evident. The words have a certain meaning for the “sender,” and, during effective communication, they hopefully have the same meaning for the “receiver”. Words are not static things and they require intention and interpretation.
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Conversation is an interaction of symbols between individuals who constantly interpret the world around them. Of course, anything can serve as a symbol as long as it refers to something beyond itself. Think of applying symbolic interactionism to the American institution of marriage, the symbols may include wedding bands, vows of life-long commitment, a white bridal dress, a wedding cake, a Church ceremony, and flowers. American society attaches general meanings to these symbols, but people also maintain their own perceptions of what these and other symbols mean.
For example, one of the spouses may see their circular wedding rings as symbolizing never ending love, while the other may see them as a just a financial expense. Bad communication can result from differences in the perception of the same events and symbols. Critics claim that symbolic interactionism neglects the macro level of social interpretation, which is the big picture. In other words, symbolic interactionists may miss the larger issues of society by focusing too closely on the size of the diamond in the wedding ring rather than the quality of the marriage.
The perspective also receives criticism for slighting the influence of social norms and institutions on individual interactions. According to the functionalist perspective, also called functionalism, each aspect of society is interdependent and contributes to society's functioning as a whole. The government, or state, provides education for the children of the family, which in turn pays taxes on which the state depends to keep itself running. That is, the family is dependent upon the school to help children grow up to have good jobs so that they can raise and support their own families.
In the process, the children become law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, who in turn support the state. On the other hand, Functionalists believe that society is held together by social consensus, or cohesion, in which members of the society agree upon, and work together to achieve, what is best for society as a whole. Emile Durkheim suggested that social consensus takes one of two forms, one being Mechanical Solidarity, which is a form of social cohesion that arises when people in a society maintain similar values and beliefs and engage in similar types of work.
Mechanical solidarity most commonly occurs in traditional, simple societies such as those in which everyone herds cattle or farms. The Amish society exemplifies mechanical solidarity. In contrast, the other being Organic solidarity, which is a form of social cohesion that arises when the people in a society are interdependent, but hold to varying values and beliefs and engage in varying types of work. Organic solidarity most commonly occurs in industrialized, more immense societies such as those in large American cities like New York City.
The functionalist perspective achieved its greatest popularity among American sociologists in the 1940s and 1950s. While European functionalists originally focused on explaining the inner workings of social order, American functionalists focused on discovering the functions of human behavior. Among these American functionalist sociologists is Robert Merton, who divides human functions into two types, manifest functions are intentional and obvious. The manifest function of attending a church or synagogue, for instance, is to worship as part of a religious community.
With common sense, manifest functions become easily apparent. A sociological approach in functionalism is the consideration of the relationship between the functions of smaller parts and the functions of the whole. Functionalism has received criticism for neglecting the negative functions of an event such as divorce. Critics of this perspective also claim that the perspective justifies the status quo and complacency on the part of society's members. Functionalism does not encourage people to take an active role in changing their social environment, even when such change may benefit them.
Instead, functionalism sees active social change as undesirable because the various parts of society will compensate naturally for any problems that may arise. The conflict perspective, which originated primarily out of Karl Marx's writings on class struggles, presents society in a different light than the functionalist and symbolic interactionist perspectives. While these latter perspectives focus on the positive aspects of society that contribute to its stability, the conflict perspective focuses on the negative, conflicted, and ever-changing nature of society.
Unlike functionalists who defend the status quo, avoid social change, and believe people cooperate to effect social order, conflict theorists challenge the status quo, encourage social change, and believe rich and powerful people have more control of society than the poor and the weak. Conflict theorists, for example, feel that society should have a more equal balance to it, meaning if the rich have more money than less fortunate people, they should share the wealth. American sociologists in the 1940s and 1950s generally ignored the conflict perspective in favor of the functionalist.
They also expanded Marx's idea that the key conflict in society was strictly economic. Today, conflict theorists find social conflict between any groups in which the potential for inequality exists, such as racial, gender, religious, political, and economic. Conflict theorists note that unequal groups usually have conflicting values and agendas, causing them to compete against one another. This constant competition between groups forms the notion of how our society as a whole is constantly changing.
Men, especially in today’s society, are seen as the more important and intelligent gender while woman are seen as the warm, caring, and responsible gender. “As examination of the work women did before beginning car sales show that most had traditional women’s careers, such as teaching, waitressing, social work, retail sales, and secretarial jobs. These occupations primarily involved service to others and paid low wages”(Henslin 205). This is especially true in the United States, in which many states have low wages for women and higher wages for men.
Men tend to have a job that requires strength and knowledge, whereas women are classified as either the stay at home, nurturing mother, or the waitress or secretary like how Helene Lawson discussed in, Down to Earth Sociology. The supposed fundamental differences between sexes have historically been used as an argument against equal rights, notably in the opposition to women's suffrage. More recently Neuro-scientific researchers have claimed that essential differences between the male and female brain have been uncovered, evidenced by neuro-imaging that suggests differing brain structures.
The differences are how women and men tend to act, and how they act differently in society, therefore society views them differently and discriminates. However, the research is not as clear as it may first appear, no participant of a study can be isolated from the affects of socialization. The widely held belief that male and female brains function in different ways is based upon the conclusions of a small minority of studies, conclusions usually dismissed. Sociologists have relied upon the notion of a universal, innate, human nature, a nature that includes gender divisions, in society.
Our society is patriarchal, our institutions, our traditions, our everyday lives, are filled with examples of men in positions of authority over women. You are born and take your father’s surname. You marry, and tradition holds that a father gives away his daughter to become the wife of a man whose name she shall adopt. Until very recently, it is the man in a relationship who holds financial control, and the woman who takes the responsibility for the home and the children.
When a woman goes out to work she earns, on average, usually less than her male counterpart, is less likely to receive a promotion, and is likely to receive a smaller pension. If a woman is a wife and/or mother, she will also, on average, continue to take responsibility for the home and the family in addition to her paid employment. The decisions made on our behalf by representatives in unions, councils, and governments that are made predominantly by men. Despite the now higher proportion of female law graduates to their male counterparts, our legal system remains dominated by men.
Equality differences can even be seen at birth, where male babies are described as being smart and strong, and the female babies are often given pink clothing, and referred to as cute, warm. To when they grow up, being a female baby, beauty is important, “Its sad but true that grade school teachers tend to judge their pupils largely on the basis of their looks”(Henslin 344). These associations, implicit in our society, have deep implications when it comes to gender equality.
Research has demonstrated that when equally qualified men and women apply for identical jobs, the gender associations of the vacancy is a key factor in determining who will be successful, women therefore are at a disadvantage in many areas of employment from the outset, as the attributes of a successful worker are typically seen as masculine, while a woman may be perfectly suited to the role in question, her talents are far less likely to be recognized than they would be in a man.
Feminism, which is the idea of equality between men and women, has become more prevalent because of the fact that women are being treated more as sex symbols than people in advertisements and in society in general, in the U. S. Feminism is a misconception, when thought of as women are better then men so they should have more rights, it is mainly just equality. The feminist’s just want to have, “equal rights within the current political and social structure”(Tuana 1).
Feminists had movements dating back to the sixties, that were against inequality between genders, “The National Organization for Women forms in 1966, petitioning to stop sex segregation of want ads and one year later to request federally funded childcare centers”(Tuana 1). Women and men function as human beings in the U. S and in society in general and should be treated as equals, not discriminated because of one’s sex. Social stratification in American Society is not clearly defined or determined, nevertheless social scientists has developed a socio-economic stratification of the American society.
Americans believe in a three-class society, the rich, poor and the middle class and most Americans consider themselves as middle class. In reality American society is more diverse and there is an extensive difference among people. The basic determinants that make social class are wealth, education, income and occupation. Some sociologists have divided the American society in six distinct categories including: rich or the upper class, upper middle class, lower middle class, lower class and poor and under class.
It is believed that the people who belong to the same social class share similar social positions, similar ways of thinking and life styles, others oppose this idea and believe that we cannot generalize characteristic of the people to one another. Social class creates a hierarchy for the people of each class, as a way of identifying which level each person falls in. One of the indications of the social class in America is income in terms of either individual or household and is one of the most important indicators of social class. Most students from working-class homes who are striving to better their situations in life become discouraged at the many obstacles in their paths”(Henslin 383). Families who have two income earners are in a better position for their children to succeed in school. Per capita income, which means the amount of money allocated to each individual member, is also another important determinant in social stratification. It can be said the families who have fewer members are in a better position.
Another indication in social stratification is education in which there is a relation with the occupation and income. Higher education means that one needs money and to pay tuition, so it is clear that most of the time the families who are better off can afford a better education for their children, they can pay for better schools and private schools, colleges and universities. As the result there is connection between money and education for a higher chance to succeed.
One of the most prominent features of social class is culture, people of the same social class tend to have similar ways of behavior even though this behavior and culture is not something fixed. There is diversity inside the same social group as well. One of the important terms in American culture and literature is the concept of Social Status. Another important characteristic of American social class is achieved status rather than the described statues, it means that regardless of his or her original statues, one can become rich and successful and climb the social ladder.
But in reality this idealistic view cannot be completely true, many people of color are still suffering the racial prejudices and as a result they cannot have the proper education and a good occupation which is perhaps the most important class component. These people have lower income and the cycle will continue to the later generations. Despite the existing injustice and inequalities, America is considered land of opportunity. Thought this belief is exaggerated, Americans have improved their economic situation with their hard working and persistence. Despite what sociologists call a “deficit of cultural capital,” through determined hard work, native ability, and perseverance some members of the working class manage to attain social mobility”(Henslin 383). The different social classes can define one’s income, occupation, and the kind of friends one would make, usually these classes do not mix socially, the upper classes will not mingle with lower middle classes and middle classes tend not to associate with low/poor classes.
From the sociological perspectives, regarding symbolic interactionism, functionalism, and conflict theory, to feminism and gender equality, to social stratification, these similar aspects of sociology define how we as humans perceive each other and how society is structured into different classes and how gender plays a important role in society. Sociology has different perspectives from each sociologist, ranging from Max Weber to Durkheim to Frazier to Karl Marx. Society works on a basis of how each member of it chooses to act, and how the certain classes interact with each other and form us, as human beings.
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