Briefly explain some of the main features of any two sociological theories and evaluate some of the main differences between them.
With reference to contemporary society.
The argument for sociology being a science revolves around the idea that society is empirical; if this premise fails then so does the concept of sociology being a science. Karl Marx, the father of Marxism, believed society was the result of social structures and class conflicts. Herbert Blumer, a symbolic interactionist, on the other hand, argued “the essence of society lies in an ongoing process of action – not in a posited structure of relations” (Blumer, 1969) p71. Blumer believed the actions and interactions of individuals created the overall structure of macro and meso levels of society.
When applying the Marxist theory, Marxists would argue Margaret Thatcher (British prime minister from 1979-1990) was a political tyrant who created class inequality by implementing the poll tax, breaking up the unions and further stratifying education through removing the grammar schools. The conservative government of today, however, would argue to “save” the UK from the labour party, conservatives need to “channel Margaret [The iron lady] Thatcher’s zeal”, perceiving her as a political scholar (Gamp, 2017). When applying the symbolic interactionism’s (SI) theory, such truths or falsities in said statements don’t matter; the only importance is how people use the idea of Thatcher and how people use the social object of Thatcher to organise their behaviours and thoughts. A central feature and premises of symbolic interactionism (a postmodernity perspective) is to put interactions, symbols, and meanings as its core subject matter when studying contemporary society; this methodological approach is the optimal way of collecting empirical data according to symbolic interactionalism (SI). (Bown, Pountney & Marić, 2015) p21.
Sociological theories fall onto three analytical levels; micro-level, the study of the individual interactions (SI); meso-level, the studying of organisations, towns and cities; and macro-level, the focus of broader social functions and systems. (Marxism) (Turner, 2012). Blumer heavily criticises macro-level theories such as Marxism because “the human beings become a mere medium through which such initiating factors operate to produce actions” (Blumer, 1969) p73. According to Blumer, a weakness of Marxism and other macro-level theories is that these approaches don’t observe empirical objects, the implication being that if Marxists aren’t researching empirical data, then Marxism isn’t conducting science. Blumer believed a strength of SI was its ability to focus and observe empirical phenomena such as individuals and their interactions, and in by doing so, conduct social science.