Principles, motivations and conflicts in the relationship between individual rights on the one hand, and government and law on the other are central to the study of sociology. Analysis of the relationship between the individual and society long predates the development of sociology dating back to the 17th century. The focus is on the respective claims of the individual and society and in particular the extent to which the state can limit individual freedom to achieve social order.
Society is a population of humans characterised by patterns of relationships between individuals that may have distinctive culture and institutions, or, more broadly, an economic, social and industrial infrastructure in which a varied multitude of people or people are a part. The macro view of society in structures is the foundation for many sociological standpoints including Maxism and functionalism. From this view therefore, it is believed that the society controls the individual.
The micro approach, on the other hand, believes that social situations begin with the individual. This essay will explore some of the main arguments for and against each side. It may be argued that the individual is able to control society. This would be favourable for macro perspectives such as Marxism and functionalism. Positivism is the belief that the social world can be studied with the same approach we can use to study the natural world. From this standpoint, society controls and influences the individual.
Emile Durkheim, the founder of functionalism, compared society to the human body in which there were many parts working together as one. He therefore believed that for example the education system was beneficial for the economy due to role allocation and training. Along side this; Durkheim believed that education was important in socialising people into consensus and following the same norms and values. This was important as Durkheim thought that uniformity was essential to a smooth running society.
Whilst Marx believed in a conflicting society, Durkheim believed in a functional social order, which holds a optimistic ideology where individuals work to help social structure. Karl Marx had a contrasting view to Durkheim in that he believed that there was class inequality and society was based upon conflict. He believed that the economy was the centre of society, which was used to oppress lower classes. By this, he meant that the bourgeoisie exploited the proletariat in the best way possible in order to gain the best profit.
This shows the Marxist view as unquestionably in favour of social structure. With the belief that individuals are born into a class that was hard to change, and the consensus that Durkheim spoke about was simply a way to persuade the working class to accept their exploitation. There are many examples of how social structure overrides social agency. Firstly, there are many laws that the individual will not have any control over, such as previous laws made before they were able to vote or perhaps laws which no one but the most powerful people had control over.
We have no choice but to follow these laws and it is then that society controls the individual. The fact that education is compulsory until the individual is 16 also shows that society has the upper hand. It is also fair to argue that while we are able to leave school at 16, in order to be successful and have a good career, further study and education is very often needed. This may persuade the individual that, in order to be successful, they must continue with education. This is not a direct control over the individual, but a simple persuasion for those who want aspire to a good career.
There are laws that control what we are able to buy, age restrictions apply to alcohol, cigarettes, knives and sometimes solvents so that society is able to manage who is allowed to buy these products and protect those who may misuse them. Lastly, the Government decides tax rates and where tax payers money is spent. This is out of the individuals control, except from electing a government they feel will do best. On the other hand, others may argue that the individual is in control of society.
This would be favourable for micro perspectives such as interpretivism and symbolic Interactionism. Such perspectives look at small-scale situations and believe that they can be used to influence the larger society. Symbolic Interactionism may be viewed as a powerful form of interpretivism as they believe that the individuals actions are based upon individual perceptions of the motives of others. Situations are internalised, and the individual tries to empathise in order to understand such motives.
Symbolic interactionists believe that identity is a social construct, as opinions are taken in and people become who they are told they are. Therefore, ideas regarding individual actions differ between macro and micro perspectives. Overall, micro perspectives believe that the individual acts according to their perception of society and of others. Interpretive sociologists believe in social agency, the belief that social situations begin with the individuals who make up society, and based upon individual interpretations.
In contract to macro perspectives, interpretivists question the likelihood of social order. It may be argued that agency is original and inventive and that social structures would be unable to oppress this. This argument completely opposes that of a macro perspective. As before there are many examples of the micro perspective in action. Firstly, although there are laws in place by society, it is often the individual that call for these laws and they are able to take a vote on them to make them affect everyone else in society.
The individual does therefore have control over the laws that are passed to enforce on society. The individual can also form these structures and help to make decisions for everyone, possibly to better society. Although we have compulsory education to the age of 16, GCSE options are choices to be made personally. We are able to choose the subjects we wish to study. The individual is free to choose the career path they wish to follow, this may even lead to a difference in the society from the choices that the individual can make.
In our democracy, we are capable of choosing who leads our Government, which makes a significant change to the way in which society is run and operated, such as the price of taxes. We have control over our values, morals and also our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. It is important to note that there are some other examples or factors in which neither society or the individual has control over. Firstly, many people are born into a religion and therefore do not choose it initially.
It is agreeable that as individuals mature, they may be influenced by secondary socialisation and decide to convert to a religion they feel is better suited to them. Secondly, people are also born into a certain culture, this again may change as the individual grows and matures. Nevertheless, if they do decide to move to a different culture it may well be difficult for them to adjust and accept the new culture as ‘normal’ and adopt their norms and values as their own. Lastly, we are also usually born into a certain class. We are brought up in this class with their typical norms, values, rules and ideals.
As before, it is when we develop and mature that we may move into a different class, perhaps by other influences in society, their career path may lead into a higher or lower class or possibly marry a partner from a different class. Ultimately we do have a choice over these factors, although it may be frowned upon to make a decision different to the one typically seen from the religion, class or culture in the society before. The evidence seems to suggest that the society is able to have far more control over the individual, however it may be argued that the individual has the ability to shape his or her own society.
The macro perspective consequently holds ground as perhaps more relevant to most societies, as their reasons are more theoretical than those based upon judgment although on a small scale the individual may have a small amount of control over the society in which they live. It is important to note that some aspects of life society nor the individual has control over such as the religion or culture an individual is born into. In conclusion, it seems fair to agree that due to the examples and theories of the macro perspective, that social systems hold a greater control over social agency.