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Symbolic Interactionism Case Study

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1176 words Published: 28th Jun 2017

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Structure-functional paradigm also known as functionalism is a theory that sees society as a complex system or organisation and everything in society have a special function or contributes to maintain balance of the society (Macionis, 2012). Structural Functionalism is macro level analysis which focus on complex societies, large scale social structures, and social systems. It is origins in the works of Emile Durkheim. According to Herbert Spencer, society is like the structure of the human body (Macionis, 2012). Each part is like organs, bones, muscles in the body. The parts of the body are individually important, but they dependent on one another. Functionalism emphasizes on social stability. From this perspective, disorder in the system, leads to change because other parts must adjust to achieve stability. When one part of the system is not working or is dysfunctional, it affects all other parts and creates social problems, which leads to social change.

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In year 1957, American functionalist sociologists Robert K. Merton divide functions into two types, which are manifest functions and latent functions. Manifest functions are intentional and obvious consequences whereas latent functions are unintentional and not obvious consequences. He uses the term “functions” to refer to the positive consequences of people’s action. Functions help keep society or social system in equilibrium. In contrast, dysfunctions are consequences that harm society. They destabilize a system’s equilibrium.

Social Conflict Paradigm

Social conflict is a theory that sees society as an arena of inequality which leads to conflict and social change (Macionis, 2012). Social conflict is a macro level analysis examines whole societies, large scale social structures, and social systems. This perspective is derived from the works of Karl Marx, who see society as segments that compete for social and economic resources. Based on conflict theory, society is ruled and control by the power elite and upper class. This elite and upper class not only want to maintain their dominance in society, they even like to increase upon it. Thus, they influence policy makers to form laws and regulations that legitimize their hogging of resources and wealth at the expense of all others.

Symbolic Interaction Paradigm

The symbolic interaction perspective, also called symbolic interactionism, is a theory that sees society as the results of interactions between individuals (Macionis, 2012). Symbolic Interaction is a micro level analysis, which focus on small and simple groups or community rather than large-scale social structures. According to symbolic interaction theory, all social interaction has a symbolic meaning. Anything that said by any individuals, behaviours of any individual, or what any individual wears has an underlying symbolic meaning to it. This perspective relies on the symbolic meaning that people develop and rely upon in the process of social interaction. Symbolic meanings are given importance because it is believe that people behave based on what they believe and not just on what is objectively true. Thus, society is thought to be socially constructed through human interpretation. People interpret one another’s behaviour and it is these interpretations that form the social bond.

2. Case study to explain/ elaborate each of the perspective associated with each school of thoughts.

The topic that I use as my case study topic is prostitution. Prostitution is engaging in the sexual activity with another person in exchange for compensation, such as money or other valuable goods.

From functionalism perspective, prostitution has still existed widely because it does somehow serve the society. From a functionalist perspective prostitution serves a need in society. If an act is not serving a societal need it wouldn’t continue to exist. According to Erich Goode, social customs and institutions that persist over time tend to be those that are good for society because they serve one or more important functions (Goode, 2008). Now in terms of prostitution, it provides sexually repressed men with a sex life or an alternate sex life outside of their marriage. It also allows women to be entrepreneurs and make money independently without having to deal with any sort of start-up costs. Besides, prostitute does have manifest function, and that is a job because a prostitute makes living through the exchange and they can earn quite a number of money in a short period. Its latent function is to provide the sexual outlet for those who are not competitive in the marriage market, such as physically handicapped, mentally handicapped, and the poor. Moreover, in an exchange, the buyer’s needs are met without any responsibility to the “seller”. Besides, existence of prostitution can reduce the incidence of rape and sexual harassment. The evaluation of the dysfunction of prostitution is transmission of sexual transmission diseases such as AIDS. For instance, in countries such as Vietnam, prostitution is illegal. This is because prostitution are recognised generally as a risk factor in the transmission of HIV infection and it will particularly affects women and children.

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Now, let’s look at social conflict perspective. From social conflict perspective, people’s race, ethnicity, gender, age, and social class are all linked to the unequal distribution of money. That’s why the majority of prostitutes are young, female, and poor. For example, large amount of low class citizens in country such as Vietnam, Thailand and Philippine are forced to be prostitutes. They do not know what to do, since they don’t have any education. Thus, the only way that they can earn money without education is prostitution. Furthermore, pimps and madams also exist because of gender inequality in the sex industry. The pimps and madams take possession over prostitute and exploit the use of their bodies for sexual favours. Thus, when these women earn their money, they are oppressed by their pimps or madams who take a large portion of their earnings. So the economic inequality gap is widened. Hence, they need to perform sex continuously in order to live because of the social inequality.

Now, let’s look at symbolic interaction perspective. In Malaysia, prostitution is categorized into three forms which are escort, street and brothel prostitution. According to The Star Newspaper (http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/11/9/parliament/12294866&sec=parliament), in Malaysia, about 47,000 foreign prostitutes are arrested from 2008 to 2012 for soliciting sex. From symbolic interaction perspective, prostitution in Malaysia symbolizes sexual revolution occurs drastically. Sexual attitudes have become so lenient that women are able capitalize upon men’s sexual desires and engage in emotionless sexual activity with multiple partners in order to gain income.


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