Sociology of Racial and Cultural Groups Essay

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Three sociological perspectives used in the study of minorities are: Structural functionalism, symbolic interactionalism and conflict theory. These perspectives offer "theoretical paradigms" for explaining how society influences people, taking into account the social factors that impact on human behavior. However, different theories, ideas, and prejudices can influence a sociologist's conclusions. Each of these theories has a contribution to make with a distinct focus.

Functional theory was influenced by Emile Durkheim. Adherents of this theory emphasize, "Various parts of society have functions or positive effects that promote solidarity and maintain the stability of the whole." (Parrillo 11) Thus a society is held together by
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Critics of this theory state that it focuses too much on order and stability and presents somewhat of a conservative and idealistic view of society. It does not encourage individuals to take an active role in changing their social environment even when such a change might be beneficial to them. "Instead, functionalism sees active social change as undesirable because the various parts of society will compensate naturally for any problems that may arise." (Zgourides 12). It also fails to take into consideration differences in power among and between groups.

Conflict Theory was "influenced by Karl Marx's socioeconomic view of the elite exploiting the masses." (Parillo 12). The conflict perspective focuses on the inequalities that create racial and ethnic tensions between groups. In contrast to the fundamentalist's emphasis on stability, conflict theorists maintain, "Racism has much to do with maintaining power and controlling resources." Society is seen as being continually involved in struggles and disagreements as diverse groups struggle over limited resources. The system is hierarchical and characterized by social inequality. Conflict theorists argue that the rich and powerful force social order on the poor and weak and that existing social patterns benefit some people while depriving others. "Conflict theorists
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