What is a Perspective?

Concept & Meaning

Perspective is general refers to “wisdom” and “angle of approach” to a certain subject matter, problem, object or situation. However, when applied in theoretical terms to understand a certain subject matters it has a more specific meaning.

A working set of perspective may also be referred to as “an approach” or “paradigm”.

Sociological Perspective: Definition and Explanation

In sociology, a perspective can be defined as,

A set of broad assumptions about society and social behaviors which provides a basis and angle of approach to study and observe specific problems.

In order to observe, understand and study sociology we require a set of pre defined assumptions for our subject matter, its nature and working principles on the basis of which we can further our study hence the need of a sociological perspective arises.

4 Major Perspectives in Sociology

  1. Evolutionary Perspective
  2. Interactionist Perspective
  3. Functionalist Perspective
  4. Conflict Perspective

1) Evolutionary Perspective

The evolutionary perspective has originated from the works of August Comte (1789-1857) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) and is one of the earliest perspectives in sociology.

This perspective focuses on patterns of change and developmental cycles in different societies and synthesizes common sequences or trends. Making use mostly of the historical data, the evolutionary perspectives calls for objective observation and empirical interpretations on the part of a researcher.

The evolutionary perspective has now regained popularity with sociologists after it fell from favor in the later decades.

2) Interactionist Perspective

Maccionis has defined interactionist perspective as,

Its broad focus is on social structures that shape society as a whole.

This perspective draws inspiration from Max Weber in the sense that,

Understanding a social setup from the angle of the human beings who act and live within it.

Society, by large is composed of abstract components such as social institutions, social groups, economy and state which cannot be understood due to their abstractness and are unable to exist and act in individual capacity. Hence, it is the individuals who interact with each , these institutions and hence make the society a workable and understandable phenomenon.

Symbolic Interaction

This form of interaction was propagated by the symbolic interactionists like C.H. Cooley(1846-1929) and G.H. Mead (1863-1931). They believed that interaction takes place between individuals and groups by means of symbols; signs, language, gestures, signals, facial expressions and written or spoken words.

Words and symbols in their independent existence have no meaning. It is only their usage which lends them meaning hence rendering them usable for people. The interactionist perspective therefore inquires into the understandinginterpretation and response of people in a society to these symbols.

3) Functionalist (Order) Perspective

According to Maccionis,

Functionalist perspective is a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and usability.

Drawn on the inspirations from the works of Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim, the functionalist perspective believes in society as a large organism composed of independent organs –each organ having its own functioning and contributing role.

The functioning role of each organ contributes to the overall stability of the whole society via interrelation.

It should be noted, however, that the functionalist theory refers to the concept that a society is in a state of organized, stable and well coordinated because all societies have an underlying tendency to be in a normal condition or state of equilibrium under adequate circumstances.

The changes in the society occur through the changes in the contributing components hence bringing a change in the whole society. Slow change progresses towards a new state of equilibrium whereas sudden or abrupt changes cause social disruption and state of instability.

4) Conflict Perspective

Maccionis has defined conflict perspective as,

A framework for building theory that sees society as an arena of inequality that generates conflict and change.

The conflict perspective originates from the works of Karl Marx (1818-1883) who views society to be always in a stae of conflict due to the presence of haves and have nots present in a society.

He stratified society in two classes:

Bourgeoisie: The rich and powerful group who have the ownership and control over means of production and economical resources.

Proletariat: The poor laborers who are employed by the bourgeoisie class hence exploited and deprived by them.

inequality b/w societal classes > class conflict > class struggle=conflict > engine of social change