The Sociological Perspective
Sociological perspective is learning how to ‘see’ – seeing the strange in the familiar, identifying, respecting, learning from and questioning both our own and others’ values and belief systems. Several eminent sociologists have greatly furthered our understanding and the possibilities for application of such theories to daily life. These include Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), Karl Marx (1818-1883), George Herbert Meade (1863-1931) and Robert Merton, whose theoretical perspectives give us understanding of the three social paradigms; structural-functionalism, social-conflict theory and symbolic interaction.
Each paradigm is a particular image of society that guides further thinking and research, allowing us to recognize opportunities and constraints, empowering us to participate knowledgeably. Theory itself is a statement of how and why specific facts are related.
Emile Durkheim was a structural functionalist. He was also a positivist, believing that society conforms to invariable laws and that there is an objective reality. He operated within a framework that sees society as a complex structure or system in which the parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. Structure in this context refers to any stable pattern of social behavior; the function aspect is the examination of the consequences of individual actions for the operation of society as a whole. If one action breaks down, or has undesirable consequences, dysfunction ensues. He wrote “The determining cause of a social fact should be sought among the social acts preceding it and not among the states of individual consciousness”.
A social fact and a clear dysfunction in society is suicide, and this intrigued Durkheim. He was curious as to why rates were higher in certain demographic situations although generally the whole suicide rate worldwide fluctuated little. He was therefore approaching the problem as the structure being the normal operation of society and the function being in fact dysfunction; undesirable, unintended in the norm of social integration. His theory was that social forces are a factor even in the ultimately self-centered act of suicide.
His study was both quantitative and qualitative in that he not only took suicide rates and statistics, but also looked carefully at religion, race, wealth and social standing of victims. His theory of social integration as a factor in suicide was soon proven as he identified that those more likely to...