Have you ever heard the term sociology? Is sociology similar to psychology? Can you differentiate between the two terms? Let us consider these two situations:
Situation 1 - “My daughter Alice who is 10 months old is now able to walk. She is also able to ask for things that she wants”
Situation 2- “I do not like to go out and play with Ahmad. He never allows me to borrow his books but I like Jenny because she buys me candies whenever she goes to the shop”
Now can you see the difference between these two situations? Can you explain the difference? Can you now tell us which of the two situations do you think refers to the concept of sociology?
Sociology is a study of people in group situations. In other words, it is the study of society and social interactions, of how human beings as social beings think and act.
Other definitions of sociology are:
1. Sociology is the systematic and objective study of human society and social interaction.
2. a systemic study of the relationship between people and the social setting in which they live.
3. a study of social life, social change and social causes and consequences of human behaviour.
4. a study of what goes on between people, whether as individuals, groups, or entire society.
According to Ottoway ( 1964 ), sociology is defined as a separate discipline of social science, is the study of society, but not the whole of that society……where the central concern of sociological study is the social relationships of mankind.
Discipline of sociology enables us to look beyond our limited view of the world to society as a whole- the values and ideas shared by its members, the groups and the forces that change it.
Now that you have already understood the term sociology, try to explain what is meant by Sociology of Education? .
Let us now proceed to explain sociology of education. It is a discipline of applied social science that uses sociological knowledge in educational research. In other words, Sociology of Education is the knowledge of education from the social perspective. Since you have fully understood both the concepts of Sociology and Sociology of Education, let us move on!!!
a. Theories of Sociology of Education
In an effort to understand how society works, different sociologists start with different assumptions about the basic character of human social life. There are some who see order and stability as more important than conflict and change; while others take the opposite view. Some view the larger institutional structures of society while others focus on human interaction in small groups. Thus, sociologists have theoretical perspectives which will help them select the questions that they will ask about social life and the methods they use to seek answers to these questions.
Ponder over these few questions:
Why do things happen the way they are in society?
What determines the way we perceive an individual or groups?
What leads to conflict and competition among students?
What leads individuals to be attracted to others?
These are some of the questions that deal with interaction in social situations. How do we explain these kinds of social phenomenon. Sociologists apply theoretical approaches to acquire knowledge and explain social interactions and its implications in schools and classrooms.
Do you know that there are three types of theoretical approaches , namely
1. Functionalist Theory
2. Conflict Theory
3. Interactionist Theory
Now, visit your nearest library and find out more on these three theoretical approaches. What have you gathered on these approaches? Can you differentiate the three approaches? Read on and compare your readings with the information provided below. Now, let us read on to find out more about these three theories of sociology.
1.1.1 Functionalist Theory ( Emile Durkheim )
This theory is based on the assumption that a society is a complex system which works together to promote stability. It emphasizes the way in which each part of a society contributes to the whole so as to maintain stability.
According to this approach:
§ Society and institutions in society (such as education) are interdependent.
§ Society is much like the human body. Like parts of body, the parts of society work together in a systematic way that is usually good for the whole. Each part helps to maintain the state of balance that is needed forthe system to operate smoothly.
§ Society is represented by six major units/institutions namely, family, religion, education, politics, economics and health.
§ Every unit must work and contribute to the functioning of the whole society.
§ Every unit plays a role in the total system and are dependent on each other for survival.
Heart and brain are essential for human being to live. An education system is necessary for the survival of a society.
The important aspects of this theory are:
§ It consists of functions and structures – which contribute to the stability of society.
§ Integration – between all units and institutions in the society.
§ Maintain the stability in society.
§ Encourages changes to promote progress in society.
§ Importance of formal and non formal education in the socialization process of educating children; to uphold values and norms of the society (education as means of socialization ).
Now, please make jottings of what you understand by the Functionalist theory and what are the strengths and weaknesses in this theory.
As for the functionalist perspective, the school serves very similar functions and the five main social functions of education have been identified as (a) socialization, (b) social control, (c) selection and allocation, (d) assimilation of newcomers and (e) social innovation and change.
Socialization function of education is the transmission of knowledge and technical skills. School expected to teach children such values as democracy, the rule of the law and even the desirability of monogamous marriage. Normative socialization (teaching of norms and values) is also implicit in much that a child reads and is allowed to do.
Social control is where school expected to persuade their students that it is necessary to behave according to these principles. Students are graded not only on how well they learn but also on how well they cooperate, how orderly they are and also even on personal grooming. Social control functions of education extends well beyond socialization. School serves as custodial institutions for the nation’s young, keeping children off the streets.
Selection and allocation of people to enter particular occupational positions rests with the schools. Assimilation is the absorption of newcomers into the dominant society. Assimilation functions in schools is geared towards including the poor and disadvantaged in the main stream of society, whether or not they are recent immigrants.
Education contributes to change by spreading and producing new knowledge, values and beliefs. Besides new knowledge, education organization also produce and disseminated new values and beliefs that can be potent generators of social change.
You should be able to understand the sociological perspective on education based on the functionalist theory.
1.1.2 Conflict Theory (Max, Weber )
This theory is based on the assumption that society is a complex system characterized by inequality and conflicts that generate social change.
According to this theory, there are 3 important elements:
The conflict theory emphasizes on the struggle over limited resources, power and prestige as a permanent aspect of societies and a major source of social change. Based on the assumption that the parts of sociology, far from being smoothly functioning units of a whole, actually are in conflict with one another. Among the characteristics of the theory:
§ Existence of tension and conflict in society and its parts created by the competing interest of individuals and groups.
§ Constant state of tension results in struggle that finally cause change in society.
§ Change is inevitable.
Existence of different social class in society results in constant conflict amongst the different social groups. Each tries to champion it’s own cause. The most powerful group will try to force it’s values on others. This conflict of interest will lead to changes in society.
Can you describe how this theory is applied in education?
According to this theory, the functions of education are :
§ Stratification tool for the capitalist society.
§ Social control.
School is a training ground for workers in terms of attitude, technical skills, intellectual abilities etc. So who do you think students are trained for the lower hierarchy job in the industrial sector?
According to this theory, students with low academic achievement are chosen for lower hierarchy jobs. These students normally are from the low income group (“the have-nots”).
Children from rich families (“the haves”) have access to many privileges (example: access to the best education) normally score high academic grades. They are the ones who secure the better jobs.
Conflict theorists see education principally as a tool by the ruling classes to perpetuate social inequality, both by controlling access to schooling and by training docile, disciplined workers.
Two important ways by which these goals are promoted are tracking and credentialism. Tracking is dividing students into different groups or classes on the basis of academic ability. Process of selection starts as soon as a child enters school. Purpose of tracking programs is to allow each student to learn at his or her own pace and thereby avoid boredom on the part of the first learners and frustration among the lower track students. Credentialism put forth by the conflict theorists contended that the more degrees granted , the less bearing they have on people’s ability to do a job.
Can you relate the idea of this theory in our present education system? Does our present education system serves as a means of stratification tool and social control?
Now that you have now understood the two different theoretical approaches to Sociology, let us compare and contrast them with the third theory. Make jottings as you read along.
What are the significant similarities and differences?
1.1.3 Interactionist Theory
This theory is based on the assumption that society is involved in interaction by which individuals actively construct reality in everyday life. The major characteristics of the theory are:
§ Focuses on how people interact in their everyday lives and how they make sense of this interaction.
§ Focuses on individuals’ interaction with one another.
§ Interactionist is concerned with the nature of daily interaction on the society and how this interaction is perceived by people
§ They study individuals and small groups rather than large scale social structures. They observe human behaviour at such close range, interactionists tend to see people as having more freedom of actions –more freedom from the constraints of society.
§ The important principles of this theory are:
- individual’s interaction ( through shared symbols & meanings ) enable him to think.
- individual’s action and interaction develop into groups and societies.
- every individual will influence the other.
§ Individuals with similar culture and background will define and interpret social situations in similar ways because of their similar socialization, experiences and expectations. Their behaviour is guided by common norms.
§ However, differences do exists due to individual experiences, social class and economic status
Consider this situation:
A teacher walking past a classroom may generate a positive feeling to some students and nervousness and anxiety in others. These reactions happen because we tend to respond to others according to the different labels we attach.
Now, let’s ponder for a while. How do Educational Sociologist explain the students’ achievement using this theory?
In education, this theory focuses on the common, ordinary interactions between members in a school such as among peer groups, teachers and students, teachers and principals to explain the following aspects, namely:
§ students’ achievement
§ students’ attitudes
§ students’ values
§ students’ self concept and aspirations
§ socio-economic status
§ grouping of students
Now reflect your past experiences. Can you recall of any interaction with any of the school members (peers, teachers, principals) in relation to your values, attitudes, achievement, etc.
Share with your colleagues in school.
As we have approached the end of our discussion on the three perspectives of sociology, let us now summarize them graphically. This will enable you to reflect and analyse the differences between them.
Let us summarize the three theories in a table form
1.2 Basics concepts of Sociology and Sociology of Education
The above table simplifies the differences between the three theoretical approaches. I hope you are clear about the differences between them. However, you must remember that no one theory is better than the other. Each has it’s strength and weaknesses. All three serve as an important guide to explain the patterns and behaviour of society.
There are many different concepts used in Sociology and Sociology of Education. I am sure you may have heard some of these concepts. Can you just name a few and explain them briefly? Can you write what you understand about the following concepts:- Organization
- Closed Organization
- Culture and Cultural Capital
- Social interaction
- Ethnic groups
How many of these concepts are you familiar with and able to explain? Did you encounter any problems? If you are able to explain, then you it is a good attempt! Let us check how you have faired.
• Sociology is the study of social relationship ( interaction ) of mankind.
• Sociology of Education is the knowledge of education from social perspectives.
• The three theoretical approaches to Sociology of Education are Functionalist theory, Conflict theory and Interaction theory.
• Functionalist theory – an education system as an integral, interrelated part of the whole societal system carrying out necessary functions for the survival of the society.
• Conflict theory – tensions exist in society because of conflicting interest amongst groups and as a result of this inequality promotes social changes.
• Interaction theory – involves interaction by which individuals actively construct reality in everyday life. Society is seen as subjective, highly variable and somewhat unpredictable
1.4 Basic Reading Text:
Popene, D. 2000. Sociology. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.