Sociology: Subject, Basic Notions, and Theories

Communal life with various social institutions and interactions is an indispensable part of human experience. The diversity of expressions of humanity’s social nature constitutes subject and primary interest for sociology. This field of knowledge, which can be defined as a methodical study of societies formed by humans and their behavior, views an individual, not in isolation but in relationships with others (Ferris & Stein, 2018). Furthermore, the acquisition of a body of sociological knowledge leads to sociological perspective creation. This viewpoint allows an individual to see familiar phenomena of social life through the prism of the domain’s notions, concepts, and theories. Sociology has various uses not restrained to satisfying academic curiosity – the field uncovers patterns and causes of large-scale phenomena assisting in governing them. For instance, by examining racism’s expressions in a specific community, sociology raises awareness and can elaborate methods to reduce it. Therefore, the field provides ample opportunities to create a comprehensive picture of humans in relation to social units by investigating numerous ideas and concepts.

One of the most prominent debates in social sciences is nature versus nurture. The issue centers around questioning the role and proportions of biological and societal factors in an individual’s formation. A number of scholars adhere to the position that a human being is principally shaped by biological factors (sociobiologists in many cases). In contrast, others accentuate the significance of social influence, and that behavior is rather learned than inherent (Ferris & Stein, 2018). It is possible that both groups are correct, as nature and nurture create an intricate web of relationships.

The scope of sociological interests is not limited to the problem of behaviors’ innateness. Social inequality is another problem that gained substantial attention from theorists in the field. Conflict theory, shaped by Karl Marx and continued by contemporary scholars such as Erik Olin Wright, established the idea that class conflict propels social change (Ferris & Stein, 2018). Additionally, the unequal distribution of resources based on classes is often the source of the struggle. Status quo is unfavored since conflict theory favors the dynamic model of historical change (Ferris & Stein, 2018). This macro-level theory investigating large-scale structures is based on a materialistic approach and puts the economy in the center as the primary explanation for numerous social phenomena. Conflict theory can be exemplified by social welfare – individuals with rather high income may be reluctant or altogether contrary to the idea and unwilling to contribute by paying taxes (Ferris & Stein, 2018). This situation may prompt the stereotype that poverty is a result of laziness, which assists in avoiding guilt.

Structural functionalism, comparatively to conflict theory, does not view class stratification as intrinsically flawed. Likewise, conflict theory, this one is a macro-level, although they approach issues from different perspectives. Structural functionalism, to which Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore contributed, views the value system predominant in a particular society as a foundation for order, unity, and harmony. The researchers did not describe the class division as just or egalitarian; still, it is perceived by some scholars as practicable and able to satisfy the basic needs of a society (Ferris & Stein, 2018). Dissimilar to conflict theory, structural functionalism approaches the social problem of poverty from a less empathic standpoint, describing it as useable for a state, since people with lower income fulfill less desirable but necessary job positions. In relation to immigration, this theory can be used to examine assimilation processes and the development of biases and discrimination (Ferris & Stein, 2018). Accordingly, structural functionalism considers the existence of impoverishment unjust, but fundamental for a well-functioning society.

Symbolic interactionism takes a significantly different approach to social structures, asserting that such a phenomenon as inequality arises from ordinary daily social interactions. It is a macro theory that distinguished it from the two previously examined. Sociologists practicing this approach, David Sudnow, for example, state that seemingly habitual factors like appearance can, in some cases, transmit information about the social status (Ferris & Stein, 2018). Moreover, it is common for individuals to make quick assumptions based on it. On the other hand, Erving Goffman, another major contributor, claimed that identity reading is based on the behavior analysis of others and that this procedure is ingrained in social interactions (Ferris & Stein, 2018). Concerning poverty, as a social phenomenon, symbolic interactionism views clothes and accessories as props, signifying one’s belonging to a particular class. Since different classes have access to specific props, they can be further disfavored, for instance in job interviews (Ferris & Stein, 2018). Therefore, symbolic interactionism is a theory that accentuates the role of signifiers of class (appearance, linguistic and non-verbal communication) for social interactions and institutions.

Examining the population is a way to understand more substantially the essence of relationships and communication in social units. Demographic variables is a notion found in demography, a study that can be viewed as one of the primary subfields in sociology. These variables encompass statistics apropos of information describing a population’s major characteristics. Three basic demographic variables exist and facilitate the investigation of dynamics in a social unit, namely: fertility rate, mortality rate, and migration (Ferris & Stein, 2018). These elements help to determine changes occurring in a population, specifically a decrease in it or its growth.

Although the tree variables are the primary ones, changes in race and social class also identify influential processes within a population. Race as a demographic variable shows alternations in the ethnical composition of a region, specifying majority and minority groups. The development of this notion may seem like a reason for several issues connected with discrimination, such as racial segregation. On the other hand, one’s ethnicity can serve as a point of departure for developing an identity. Social class can be related to income level; nevertheless, this idea may be not always correct, for instance, in the case of the aristocracy. Currently, this notion is linked to revenue, education, profession, and membership in specific organizations – social class as a demographic variable serves to detect changes in these characteristics. Similarly to race, a hierarchical division of a social unit in classes can lead to disparity and oppression if the gap between upper classes and working classes grows excessively. Therefore, these two notions can serve to analyze society regarding changes in ethnic and class structures.

Conclusively, sociology is a field that has numerous uses and helps to investigate tendencies and determine patterns in how a society operates and transforms. To achieve this goal, a number of concepts and theories were developed. Functional theory, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism approach a social unit from different perspectives and vary considerably in interpreting similar phenomena. Examining changes in the population is another function of this field of knowledge that constitutes one of the principal objectives for demographics. These notions and theories create a body of knowledge essential for future professionals in the domain.


Ferris, K, & Stein, J. (2018). The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology (6th ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.

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