A perspective is simply a way of looking at something. Sociological perspectives are as set of theories, which present a way of looking at society; many of these have opposing views and as a result, look upon society in completely different ways to one another. A Marxist perspective of society revolves around the theory that the economic system heavily influences society, because of the ruling classes -who Marxists refer to as the Bourgeoisie-controlling the means of production; they strive to exploit the workers, also known as the Proletariat for the greatest profit.
Marx believed that one day the Proletariat would realise this false consciousness and rise up against the Bourgeoisie. The Bourgeoisie, through the power of the dominant ideology, keeps these workers, the Proletariat, in a state of false consciousness meaning that there is very little social mobility. In previous instances in history, Religion was referred to as the “opiate of the people” and in some instances, I think this has been replaced with the education system.
Because the ruling classes are in control of what schools teach, (mainly due to society being in many ways meritocratic) the school syllabus is modified to indoctrinate the new generations with the ideology that a capitalist society is what is best for the people; that the work of Marx and other communists was bad and they should continue conforming. Althusser (1971) said that education’s purpose in a capitalist society was to preserve the position of the dominant class by teaching the dominant ideology and making children learn their place in society so that there is no challenge to the social structure.
In conjunction with this, Gramsci said that the dominant classes had more knowledge available to them in the form of universities, and that the subordinate classes should strive to receive the same knowledge. Another macro approach to the study of society is Functionalism, which sees society made up of interrelated parts that all contribute to the overall maintenance of society. Functionalists believe that every society has certain functional prerequisites, which any society needs in order to survive, for example the production of food, the care of the new generations and their socialisation into the culture of society.
Education is an example of an agent of primary socialisation, which establishes value consensus of the views of the people, and this results in a harmonious society without conflict. Talcott presented the idea that Universities serve four purposes, (1) undergraduate training, (2) research and graduate training, (3) professional schools, and (4) relations between universities and the broader society (Parsons & Platt, 1973) – all of which allow the maintenance of social structure.
Functionalism presents the idea that society is harmonious and there is very little conflict between classes, whereas Marxism states that society is built upon the conflict between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat and that there is constant conflict between classes. LeCompte (1997) observed that the use of qualitative research methodologies within the functionalist tradition were very popular in the early to mid-20th century. These studies used participant observation to provide a complete view of schools like Hollingshead’s Elmstown’s Youth (1947).
Symbolic Interactionism, or social action theory, encompasses the discovery of how social interaction takes place between individuals and small groups; and that social structures are manmade. It also presents the idea that people have free will to form their identities, rather than the structuralist approach of Marxism. There is an overwhelming emphasis placed on the individual, resulting in a micro approach, an example of which is analysing an individual gang instead of crime statistics as a whole, to show how they are labelled deviants.
A further example of such is that people’s behaviours are not scripted, it is solely based on the individual’s perception of the event, and the resultant action will further influence the behaviour of the people involved. Participant observation has again been used in interpretive perspective, such as “Making the Grade” (1968) by Becker, Geer, and Hughes. Symbolic interactionism however is concerned with face-to-face encounters and how individuals are classified and labelled. It is also concerned with the consequences of being labelled as such, and how these labels may result in self-fulfilling prophecies.
For example, the teacher who regards their student as “thick, or lacking intellectual capabilities” and treats them as such, will end up making the student act “thick or lacking intellectual capabilities”; and because of a negative label the student’s education has been compromised. However, labels may not always be negative, cultural differences such as race heavily influences labels, for example, those of Asian descent are more likely to be labelled as someone to be good at mathematics and this stereotype is an example of labelling.
A combination of Social Action theory and Structuralism is the concept of Structuration, that although society has certain constraints such as the law, people still have a certain degree of free will. However, it also establishes that social institutions have a separate existence from those who attend or use them. An example of this is education; even after generations of students pass through it, the school still exists. This only happens if people obey the law and send their children to school, otherwise the institutions will cease to function and therefore exist.
The school may be forced to close due to a large number of reasons: for example, although the laws on National Curriculum force schools to teach certain things, the teachers, parents, students and governors’ behaviour affects the school directly. If there are abysmal exam results or attendance and teaching is poor, there is a chance the school will have to close, and this clearly shows how the behaviour of the individual affects the social institutions.
Feminism is a broad perspective that is primarily concerned with women being a sub-class in a patriarchal society and their views and interests ignored and devalued in society. It encompasses Marxist Feminism, Radical and Liberal Feminism. Marxist feminism focuses on the theory that women are exploited both as workers and as women, whereas Radical feminism focuses on the problem of patriarchy, and removing the male dominated society to create an equal or female dominated world. Liberal feminism wants to ensure that women are given equal chances in life with the present system through changes in the law.
It can be argued that the supposed patriarchal society that feminists seek to change is slowly diminishing. There are a higher percentage of females attending university and going into higher paid jobs than there were 50 years ago; it is shown that girls also achieve higher grades in GCSE’s and A-Levels than boys, which may be because of physiological differences, or that girls pay more attention in a school environment. This can be clearly shown through quantitative data such as exam results and by looking at the percentage split of graduates getting professional jobs.
In conclusion, the study of society is ever changing and far too complex to have one perspective that is completely right, leading me to believe that a combination of perspectives is the only way that society can begin to understand itself. Education is also a very complex aspect of society as it is influenced by the individual, the ruling classes, the law and also how it is used- meaning that again, you cannot use one perspective to measure it and make a judgement on it.