Social Theory the Wide Diversity of Human Term Paper

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Social Theory

The wide diversity of human behavior in a social setting for thousands of years makes it imperative to study these societies to better understand their properties. What are the similarities and differences of this behavior? What are the causes? How do humans differ than other animals in their social development? These questions have been asked by theorists for generations. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, for example, defined individuals and their relationship to society. In the 1800s, social theory was more clearly defined by Emile Durkheim and Max Weber as separate from the individualism in the study of society, or sociology. From this time, specific theories arose, such as functionalism, Marxism, interpretivism, and post-modernism to explain the function of society. These theories, all relevant, have their similarities and differences and can be applied to such areas as education in contemporary American history. However, they can all be considered when determining how children should be taught in the 21st century.

Functionalism, the first theoretical perspective in sociology, is built on the foundation of application of the empirical scientific method to the objective social world. Functionalists see the social world as objectively observable with such techniques as social surveys and interviews. Although functional thought stems back to Aristotle's concept of the soul in 350 BC and Hobbes' theorizing on reasoning, the functional theory was refined in the 19th century in a sociological perspective where all societies have certain basic needs or functional requirements that must be met for survival. Functionalists are thus concerned with what is done to meet these needs in order to maintain social order and stability. Durkheim, for example, saw it as an analogy between the way a biological organism works and society. The various living organisms work together to maintain a healthy whole as do various social institutions work together to produce social order (King, 2004, p. 9).

From a sociological perspective, functionalism argues that social inequality is necessary for societal survival, for without this inequality, division of labor would be difficult. In order to attract people to important and less important roles, a reward system must encourage individuals to make the effort to obtain the top positions. In regards to education, Durkheim saw education as a means of maintaining social stability. At school, students learn societal rules of proper behavior and the skills needed for the division of labor.

Whereas functionalism sees authority and the division of labor as maintaining the social order and stability, Karl Marx's social theory in contrast is based on conflict and the power of the upper classes over other lower ones. Both theories, however, look at individuals as a collection, not at the individual alone. Marx's books, Communist Manifesto, written in 1847 with Friedrich Engels, and Capital, described his specific views on the development of society based on economics. He defined class struggle as the main theme to analyze social change in Western societies. Contrary to capitalism, which is founded on private ownership of production and distribution of goods and open competition for profit, Marxism is based on public ownership as the means of production, distribution, and exchange. Marx's method "was to retell the story of modern political and economic life in order to work through society's recurring tendency to act as though ownership and domination were more human than productive labor in cooperation with others" (Lemert, 1999, p.29).

In terms of education, Marxists are primarily interested in analyzing the manner in which education disseminates the ideas, values and beliefs about the nature of the social world. The purpose of the educational process is to allow the ruling class to reproduce its domination over other social classes. It accomplishes this by attempting to socialize children with ideas that of the fundamental inequalities of wealth, income, power and status. Children are not only educated for their adult roles in society, but also to accept capitalism. Thus, the hierarchal structure of the school systems is indicative of those in the society as a whole. As people are alienated in society, so too are the students who have a lack of control over their education and are motivated through the grading system rather than through the learning process itself.

In Marxism, the individual cannot break free from the controlling powers. However, in the theory of interpretivism, based on Max Weber's theorizing, nothing in society is determined and thus the individual has the ability to become what is desired. Interpretivism, like functionalism does not reject scientific methodology, but does believe that this is only one way to study society because of the variation of human behavior. In the interpretivism perspective, it is necessary to understand the human experience within society as a whole. What are the roles of the human actions? The social world cannot be understood without studying how individuals use language and symbols to build their social practices and experiences. Only when the individual experience and subjective interpretation is understood can one understand why social actors behave in specific ways (Byrne, 1998).

Interpretivists differ from Marxists and functionalists from an educational standpoint by focusing on the daily interactions occurring within a school. Where Marxists and functionalists normally concentrate on society's structure, interpretivists analyze the relationships between the education system and the individual. They place more emphasis on the interactions between individuals and see human behavior. Since all humans are different, in education the goal is to interpret the variety of individual meanings and understandings. However, these thoughts are also a product of interactions with others and cannot be completely separated. Interpretivists look at the interactions among the students and between the students and the teachers and how these interactions impact the views or behavior of the individual. Typing is an essential aspect of this theory, since teachers have a tendency to categorize or pigeon-hole students.

A most recent addition to social theory is called postmodernism. Traditionally, social theorists believed that "modern" could be associated with progress; increased knowledge would lead to a better understanding of society and thus improve this society. Postmodernism, stipulates that there are "limits and limitations of modern reason" (Ritzer & Smart, 2001, p. 397) inherent in the forms and types of reasoning and social analysis that characterize society and the modern. Postmodernists question whether it is possible to equate reason and rationality with "progress in respect of 'justive, virtue, equality, freedom, and happiness'" Thus, "the practical consequences of modernity seem to have been persistently at odds with its programmatic promise" (Best & Kellner, 1991, p. 498). The problems of rapid change, increased alienation, introduction of new media and cultures and globalization all impact the postmodern world. Similarly, unlike other theories, postmodernism questions the idea of a universal self that has full knowledge of and control over what it thinks, says, and does. Rather this self is strongly impacted by its surrounding culture, changes that are taking place and any fragmentation from these changes (Rorty, 2001, p.287). Henry Giroux (1997) concluded what this postmodernism perspective can mean for educators. He sees this as an opportunity for educators to develop a pedagogical approach that embraces human interests and goes beyond the particularistic politics of class, ethnicity, race and gender.

There is a close affiliation between schools and society; as a result, social circumstances and patterns in society influence schools (Pai & Adler, 2001, p.127). Which of these above theories are most applicable to education today? It is interesting to interpret the early educator John Dewey and his book Education and Experience (1997) in terms of postmodernism theory. Dewey notes that education is a process of producing "good citizens" and not just "good workers." In order to achieve the level of "freedom with responsibility," schools must promotes educational growth based on "child-centered" teaching so learning continues to progress in a scientific mode. How can educators resolve this Deweyian philosophy with the postmodern issues such as alienation, environmental decline, structural violence, and one-dimensionality in thinking? In this case, according to Dewey, curricula should start with world problems that interest and motivate children. The teachers, demonstrate the logic of an issue, but need to remember that their students learn this only after a psychological translation of the topics.

Over the last several decades postmodernism thought is has become more popular. These postmodern theories, however, do not have to be in conflict with Dewey, just because he puts an emphasis on open education, nor on the social theories above. No one social theory or philosophy can explain every trend or educational reform that has or will develop (Gutek, 1997, p. 3). Functional theory stresses the importance of the association between family and society. Marxism shows the conflict that can occur in a changing society and the issue of power of some individuals over others that must be faced. It is also important to realize that the hierarchal structure of society is a reality, whether it is seen on an economic and power basis or an individual and attainment basis.

Educationally, is it necessary to only consider one theory over another? Isn't post modernism a sum… [end of preview; READ MORE]

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