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What are the sociological paradigms?

Updated on July 23, 2011


Paradigms are conflicting theories or perspectives within sociology. There are four paradigms: Structural Functionalism (also referred to as Functionalism), Conflict Theory, Interactionism (also called Symbolic Interactionism, or the Interpretive paradigm), and Feminism.

The Paradigms

Structural functionalism compares society with a human body, in which everything has a functioning purpose. The goal of society is to achieve homeostasis. Just like in the body, some parts of society are seen as more important than others, but every role must be fulfilled. This paradigm sees deviance as the illness and social control as the cure. Anomie is the worst nightmare for a structural functionalist. It is a state where social solidarity has been broken, deviance is widespread, and there is no equilibrium. This theory is a macro theory, and it views the state as a neutral entity, acting in the best interest of everyone.


The Conflict Paradigm opposes the structural functionalist paradigm. Instead of asserting that parts of society work together, this paradigm sees these parts as constantly in conflict. The main conflict is conflict between classes, those on top are are seen as trying to keep those at the bottom down. The state is not viewed as neutral, but rather as an actor on behalf of capital. This paradigm recognizes that different placements within society lead to differences of vested interests, which in turn, leads to conflict. Karl Marx is associated with this paradigm, and he claimed that those who are subordinate within society lack class consciousness. This means that they are unaware of the subjective reality of their own position within society, and instead they possess false consciousness. This paradigm sees social structures as oppressive structures that were created only to serve the interests of some, not everyone. This is also a macro theory.

Interactionism is a micro theory that analyzes how the individual interacts within society. This theory sees the individual as what gives rise to the social structure. Deviance does not exist and there is so specific social order. The focus of this theory is on ideologies, beliefs, ideas, and behaviours of the individual. Human agency is key in this theory. People can choose how they act, and the way these choices interact creates the structures of society. This means that since humans created social structures, humans can change them.

The Feminist Paradigm sees social structure as patriarchal. Throughout history males have dominated society, and therefore male decisions have had a profound influence on society of today. This paradigm asserts that females have been subordinated and that, in order for society to change for the better, gender equality is the most important issue.

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