Ideology, History And Classical Social Essay, Research Paper
Ideology, History and Classical Social Theory
Sociology is a very important discipline to study. When you ask yourself where the term,
classical sociological theory derives from, the reading Sociological Theory written by David
Ashley suggest that certain sociological statements are classical first because they have an
ideological significance, and second because they have been instrumental in helping to build
sociology as an autonomous discipline and as an institutionalized profession. ?These two
characteristics are not mutually exclusive. To some extent, classical sociological theory was
always ideologically interested in its own legitimation?. Ashley suggest that sociological theory
is often said to have attained its maturity between 1880 and 1920. ?During this period, sociology
was established in its own right in the United States and in many Western European societies
Ideology is another term that Ashley defines for us, he says that it is largely a modern
invention because ?it is modernity that was responsible for the breakdown of the dogma and
uncertainties associated with traditional societies?. He goes on to say that ?ideology, in short,
represents a refusal to accept that present conditions reflect the best of all possible worlds. To
put the best possible gloss on ideology, we could say, it is a striving toward truth at a time during
which blind adherence to custom, tradition, and habit is loosening its grip on the human mind?.
When one searches for an appropriate meaning for sociology, many definitions will come
to mind. In her book, Understanding Social Problems, Schacht gives her definition by explaining
a scene in the movie Dead Poets? Society, with actor Robin Williams who plays an English
teacher in a private boys? school. She explains how in one scene he asks his students to get out of
their seats and, one by one, climb onto his desk at the front of the classroom, look around and
then return to their seats. All the students had questionable looks on their faces and reasonably
so; why did their teacher want them to stand on top of his desk and look around the room? The
teacher told them that he wanted them to view the world, beginning with the classroom, from a
new and different perspective. So sociology is a way of looking at the world from different
perspectives and theories.
Theories in sociology provide us with different perspectives with which to view our social
world. Now let me define these two important words in the world of sociology, perspective and
theory. ?A perspective is simply a way of looking at the world, and a theory is a set of
interrelated propositions or principles designed to answer a question or explain a particular
phenomenon, it provides us with a perspective? (10). Sociological theories help us to explain and
predict the social world in which we live.
In David Ashley?s book he states that, ?social theory requires that people think
comparatively?. There is absolutely no way a person can be closed minded when looking at
certain situations from the sociological theory or perspectives. The theorist in Ashley?s book
examine certain situations from three perspectives, structural functionalist, symbolic interactionist,
and conflict perspectives. These three perspectives are the same three that all sociologist us in
figuring out certain social problems and the reasons for why people do the things they do.
The first perspective we will examine is the structural-functionalist perspective. This
perspective is largely based on the works of Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons,
and Robert Merton. In this perspective, society is a system of interconnected parts that work
together in harmony to maintain a state of balance and social equilibrium for the whole. This
perspective is basically based on structure and order.
The next perspective is the conflict perspective. The origins of the conflict perspective
can be traced to the classic works of Karl Marx. This perspective views society as comprised of
different groups and interest competing for power and resources. Schacht tells us that the conflict
perspective explains various aspects of our social world by looking at which groups have power
and benefit from a particular social arrangement.
The last perspective is the symbolic interactionist. This perspective was largely influenced
by Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Charles Horton Cooley, G. H. Mead, W. I. Thomas, Erving
Goffman, and Howard Becker. Symbolic interactionism emphasizes that human behavior is
influenced by definitions and meanings that are created and maintained through symbolic
interaction with others. Symbolic interactionists suggest that definitions are socially constructed
anew in each interactive setting. Just to explain in more detail and give an example of the
symbolic interactionist theory, an article out of the journal Social Theory and Practice, reviews an
essay by George Schedler entitled, Racist Symbols and Reparations. He says that the Confederate
Battle Flag is historically associated with slavery, segregation, and other manifestations of racism.
Yet it is displayed as an official symbol by several former confederate states. It currently flies
over the capital dome in Columbia, South Carolina and it flew over the capital dome in
Montgomery Alabama from 1963 until 1993, and it is incorporated into the state flags of
Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
Ashley, David. Sociological Theory – Classical Statements. Fifth edition. Massachusetts:
Needham Heights pub., 1998.
Schacht, Caroline. Understanding Social Problems. New York: West Publishing Company 1997.
Schedler, George. ?Racist Symbols and Reparations?. Vol. 26. Spring 2000. Social Theory and