Sociological Perspectives


SOCIAL INTERACTIONISM: LABELING

A view accepted as having some utility by many sociologists since the 1960s; not a major or exclusive theory. Articulated by G.H. Mead, Durkheim, W.I. Thomas, Lemert, Becker and others.

Major Beliefs: Society = interactions. Our behavior depends on the ways we define ourselves and others. For example, labels applied to an individual have a self-fulfilling, interactive effect. It is especially the case if labeling is carried out by formal authorities (teachers, police, etc.). Labeling (especially if the case or record has been established) has harmful, discriminatory consequences which alter the individual's life chances; a label often becomes a Master Status (stolen SS#).

Some deviants can resist negative labels because of their status (rock stars); deviant behavior can be redefined as biological, psychological, or medical problem (alcoholism; drug addition); successful action to legalize the behavior can redefine deviance (gambling being renamed gaming).

Attitude Toward the Wrongdoer: Sympathetic, supportive, protective, advocate.

Solutions Proposed to Prevent and Correct: Avoid labeling, categorizing, stigmatizing individuals; tolerance; legalization. Destroy or do not make available official records

Strengths/weaknesses: institutions are not "things," but sets of relationships; self/mind emerges from interactions. Why some learn/are labeled while others in the same environment are not?

FUNCTIONALISM

Background: The views held by conservatives, government bureaucrats and elected officials. Major representatives: Comte, Durkheim, Parsons. Dominant view of sociologists from 1940s through early 1960s.

Major Beliefs: Society represents a "social body." Social problems = "diseases" which occur when social structures don't allow for disadvantaged subgroups to receive adequate social resources or life chances. Rapid social change may produce normlessness where rules are absent, or on contrary, or don't produce the promised results.

Attitude Toward Wrongdoers: Sympathetic, seen as victim of society and thereby not fully responsible, desire to help.

Solutions Proposed to Prevent and Correct: Establish clear, consistent, fair rules. Provide social resources, services, opportunities needed for all groups and individuals. Retrain/rehabilitate the wrongdoer by providing for the skills needed to become a legitimate participant.

Strengths/weaknesses: Explains stability/continuity; excellent for comparative analysis. At the same time, inability to analyze conflict, explain the change, and apology of the status quo.


CONFLICT THEORY

Background: The major view of liberals when applied to problems associated with "victimless" crimes or areas of disagreement about "life style" choices. Strongly articulated by Marx, Simmel, Park during the 1920s and again in the 1960s. Part of a radical (Marxist, Neo-Marxist, Communist) perspective when describing exploitation of the "have nots" by the "haves;" here the conflict has a class, economic, political, power rather than moral/value basis.

Major Beliefs: At the midlevel, the source of social problems is the disagreement between and among subgroups as to which behaviors are acceptable; subgroups have different views, experiences, interests, and social goals. At the macro level the source of social problems is exploitation of some groups by others (workers by capitalists; females by males; non-whites by whites, or dominat/subordinate class relationships produced by class/gender/race combinations).

Attitude Toward Wrongdoer: Moral indignation; attempt to "convert" to the "right" view; attempt to put other side out of business.

Solutions Proposed to Prevent and Correct: Attempt to educate, indoctrinate the public as to the rightness of one side's view and the wrongness of the other side's view. Out-group may use demonstrations and even violence to try to impose its view. Use of the political/legal system to get one side's position legitimized. In-group uses legal system to punish out-group for participation in immoral/illegal behaviors.

Strengths/weaknesses: difficulty in explaining stability despite existence of large inequalities; explains change and conflict.


* Based on Brooks, M. 1997. Instructor's Resource Manual on Social Problems. Washington DC: ASA Teaching Resources Center, pp. 19-20.

Up