Within most scientific disciplines there are hundreds of thinkers writing hundreds of books on hundreds of topics. Without a framework to classify these thinkers its difficult to link the theories proposed or effectively evaluate them. It is also difficult then to contrast their teammates or opponents in thought. One of the solutions to this plethora of ideas is to note the connections between thinkers and lump them into Schools of Thought. For example, when studying Psychology one of the most famous schools of thought is Psychoanalysis, originally developed by Freud, but perpetuated by many thinkers after him. Also important to note, not all thinkers within the schools hold all of the same beliefs, some even disagree with each other on some principles, others elaborate on minor themes of the original founders. However, they do hold to the basic theories of the school of thought. As I’ve set out to study Sociology I’ve learned so far there are four contemporary schools of thought, which I will briefly outline below, along with some of their notable contributors.
Structural Functionalism. This school views the world as a structure made of a series of interrelated parts. What are these structures? Well, these sociological thinkers (namely Talcott Parsons (1902-1979)) looked at social institutions likes schools and governments as the structures, and what they provided as their functions. Another sociologist, Robert Merton ( 1910-2003), observed their functions and observed that they had some intended and some unintended consequences from their actions. Both of these men built their work on the back of Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), who’s kind of a big deal in the world of social sciences for his work on social facts, order, integration, and anomie. All three emphasize the how structures contribute to orderliness and stability.
Conflict Theory This school is born out of the other two earliest contributors to the field Max Weber (1864-1920) and Karl Marx (1818-1883), and continued on particularly in the Chicago School of thought, notably C.Wright Mills (1916-1962). These thinkers all held that there will inevitably be struggles between the powerful and the powerless. Society, they say, is characterized by its struggles of inequality, which will give rise to conflict.
Symbolic Interactionism Symbolic Interactionists are all about the details. They study the symbols (which include the mighty words that we use every day) that people use and the way that they are given meaning. To them, socialization is extremely important to study. Some of their great thinkers include GH Mead (1863 – 1931) and his work on communication and his disciple Herbert Blumer (1900-1987).
Feminist Theory This theory aims to study the inequalities that women have historically faced, and in this way is related to conflict theory. It studies the interaction also between the structures and the gender of people and how gender can affect perceptions and treatment, in this way it is very like the structural functionalist. Feminist theory hardly seeks to undermine the work that the Dead White Males have done, but addresses their thoughts and then draws attention to their oversights. Feminist theory does not focus solely on womens issues, but points out that our symbolic interactions with the world are all inherently gendered. At this time, I don’t know enough to note here who might be classified as a woman sociologist, or a feminist sociologist. However, the life of Jane Addams( 1860-1935) has always fascinated me, and I intend to read some of the works of Margaret Mead (1901-1978) and Carol Gilligan (1936-) hoping that they will fall into this category.
Current Reading List: Renzetti, Claire, and Daniel Curran. Living Sociology. Needham Heights: Allyn and Bacon. 1998.