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Asked by cool don | Oct 4, 2007 | KS1 Level > Sociology > Homework
cool don
cool don asks:

One strength and one weakness of consensus theory

etutor answers:

In sociology 'macro' or ‘consensus’ approaches are dominated by functionalism. Functionalism starts from the view that society is a living organism, and so institutions must be studied not in isolation but in terms to their contribution to the wider society and to functions within that society. Sociologists such as Durkheim, Parsons and Merton argue that consensus and order are central to a stable society, and tend therefore to focus on economic, political and kinship sub-systems, as well as on the integrating community and cultural organisations which reinforce values and traditions, and which act as agents of socialisation. The benefit of this approach is that it enables societies to be compared and contrasted. The drawback is that in practice it is not really value-free and objective, since functionalists tend to have a conservative bias, and assume that individuals have little free will. Those who do not conform to society's presumed norms and values are regarded as 'deviant'.

One key alternative to functionalism is Interactionism, which focuses upon individual actors, seeing them as conscious beings, capable of shaping their environment. So we act out various roles, selecting words, gestures, behaviour and strategies that are appropriate for each social situation with which we are confronted. The social world is this a pattern of identity networks, which explains the differing ways in which an individual behaves in different social situations. It is wrong to label people as ‘deviants’, since this presupposes a value consensus – and ‘deviant’ behaviour may be quite normal within certain groups; it could thus be misinterpreted by an observer who is unaware of the group’s own norms. Becker argues that the sociologists must identify with one of the parties in any interaction being studied. The benefit of this approach is that it questions the assumption about the existence of objectivity in sociology, and reveals the danger of falling back too heavily on the received wisdom of the ‘giants’ such as Durkheim and Weber to explain all aspects of behaviour. It has contributed a great deal of value to debates about the deprived, powerless, and poor in society, as well as about criminal behaviour and the status of ethnic minorities.

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