Introduction to Sociological Perspectives

What you’ll learn to do: differentiate between the three main theoretical paradigms in sociology and describe how they are used

People wearing business clothing crossing the street at a big crosswalk in a city. There are stone buildings in the background and the sun is shining, casting peoples' shadows onto the street.

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 principles 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 others as well as more specific topic-based variations of each of the “Big Three” theories. As you read through the material in this section, consider which paradigm resonates the most with your own views about society.


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