Outcome: Sociological Perspectives

Differentiate between the three main theoretical paradigms/perspectives in sociology

In this section, you’ll learn about how sociologists use paradigms to understand the social world. A paradigm is a broad viewpoint, perspective, or lens that permit social scientists to have a wide range of tools to describe society, and then to build hypotheses and theories. You can also consider paradigms to be guiding principals or belief systems. In the text, you’ll sometimes see the word paradigm used interchangeably with perspective, theory, or approach.

In sociology, there are three main paradigms: the functionalist paradigm, the conflict paradigm, and the symbolic interactionist paradigm. These are not all of the paradigms, however, and we’ll consider a few others, like feminism and social constructionism, in the course. As  you read through the material in this section, consider which paradigm resonates the most with your own views about society.

What You’ll Learn To Do:

  • Differentiate between macro and micro level theories and define paradigms
  • Summarize and apply the structural-functional theory
  • Summarize conflict theory and give examples of its application
  • Summarize feminist theory and discuss combined macro/micro perspectives
  • Summarize symbolic interactionism and give examples of its application
  • Compare and contrast how each theoretical perspective would approach the study of a particular social issue


The learning activities for this section include:

  • Reading: Introduction to Theoretical Perspectives
  • Reading: Structural-Functional Theory
  • Reading: Conflict Theory
  • Reading: Symbolic Interactionist Theory
  • Self-Check: Theoretical Perspectives