Structural theory has remained the dominant approach since the founding work of Emile Durkheim. It examines society in terms of structure and how society works. Structural theory examines society from a large-scale perspective which allows observation of large-scale patterns and trends as abstract entities which exist outside the individual. For instance, Durkheim’s theory on suicide whereby he concluded that suicide is a result of changing social factors such as social integration and the transition from tradition to industrial societies (Jones, 1836) In this manner, structural theories use quantitative data such as statistics and surveys to identify larger trends and patterns. Moreover, the institutions and structures of society exist out-with the individual therefore, are mere specks in their evolving society. Thereby, the society in which you live shapes the individual you become. For this reason, your life and behaviour is predetermined which are largely deterministic as human behaviour is a result of a larger social entities rather than psychological components (Baird, 2017).
In contrast, the micro model of society, as the name indicates, somewhat views society under a microscope. Small scale interactions of individuals and groups in the context of their everyday environments and experiences are of interests to theorists as well as the individual roles played in society. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on how the individual shapes society. For instance, Rosa Parks. Theorists aim to interpret, understand and explain social phenomena whereas structural theories are largely theoretical. Social action theories use qualitative data such as interviews, and observations to obtain a rich insight into the phenomena and produce an evidence based theory. For instance, if studying suicide, theorists would begin by interviewing mental health specialists and individuals who have attempted suicide. Furthermore, Significant emphasis is placed onto free will and agency as theorists believe individuals interpret the world differently based on their perception, this is largely dismissed by structural theories as they believe behaviour is predetermined. Lastly, analysis is started by small scale interaction and developed to the whole generalised society therefore, theories produced consists of both a small-scale understanding and a large-scale interpretation (University of Regina, 1999)
Firstly, the Macro theory of Functionalism is a macro, consensus and holistic approach. Theorists believe society is organic and ever-evolving consisting of interrelated parts, each institution serving a vital function in the continuation of harmony in society (Baird, 2017) The organic interdependence of individuals is the basis of social order. Functional prerequisites which refers predominantly to the continuing needs in society which need to be provided for the maintenance and social order of society (Aberle et al, 1950). Institutions in society are interrelated to meet this. For example, the production of food and the reinforcement of values and integration into society through agents of socialisation.
Emilie Durkheim sought to reveal the components which hold society together and maintain social order. Durkheim explained that through the agents of socialisation – education, religion, family etc- society creates a value consensus and a collective consciousness in which establishes shared values, norms and roles in which individuals in society adhere to. This creates a sense of identity, solidarity and a guideline of expected behaviour in society. Furthermore, Durkheim revealed that individuals unable to integrate into society creates dysfunction in what he called, Anomie. To conclude, according to Durkheim, it is through individual’s relationship with institutions and with the people around them which participate in the maintenance of values and norms and behaviour in which enables the functioning of society. Thereby, interrelated part functioning together to maintain social order (Thorpe, et al., 2015).
Secondly, the Macro theory of Marxism is a conflict theory which characterises society in terms of social stratification and conflict. It is the theoretical study of modern societies in historical and economic terms, using observation to identify the causes of social stratification which inevitably arises a conflict of the classes. The bourgeoise is situated at the top of the hierarchy controlling the means of production, oppressing and exploiting the proletariat for surplus value. This is coupled with the infrastructure of society. Marx argued that the infrastructure of any modern society is capitalism which is reinforced by the superstructure which diffuses the bourgeoisies ideologies making a widespread consensus. This is reinforced through the agents of socialisation which in return creates a false class consciousness and maintains the capitalist’s society. Stratification comes down to the basis of economics. Aristocrats remained in power and create a system of stratification where they remain wealthy and in power. the proletariat seek to emulate their sovereignty however, believe to survive, is to sell their labour. The unskilled nature of their work creates a feeling of alienation which over time Marx believed that the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of the bourgeoise will cause class consciousness and the abolition of the capitalist system and be substituted by a different system, communism. To conclude, the continuation of the relationship between the individuals – the bourgeoisie and proletariat – maintains the capitalist society however the rise of class consciousness will bring about the abolition of capitalism (Thorpe, et al., 2015).
Lastly, in opposition, the Micro theory of Symbolic Interactionism which is concerned with small-scale interactions. This established methodological individualism which considers the individual’s perception, behaviour and how they construct a meaning behind a symbol or action. The theory of Phenomenology and Ethnomethodology is the belief that society is constructed by the individual thereby, we are actors of our life which adopt different roles and different structure of meaning in different situations. Subsequently, constructing a variety of norms for different situations which we are socialised into.
Founder, George Herbert Mead recognised the influence symbols, gestures had in the larger context of a group/society. Mead proposed, we are socialised to place meaning onto such symbols and gestures which would seem meaningless otherwise. In 1913, Mead theorised that ‘selves’ emerged from social interactions. He expressed this in his book The Social Self: “Mind can never find expression, and could never have come into existence at all, except in terms of a social environment.” In his theory the “I” and the “Me” Mead identified “me” as expected behaviours learned through socialisation (Thorpe, et al., 2015).. In 1922 this was somewhat developed by Chares Cooley which he aptly referred to the “me” as our looking glass self because after time, we become what others view of us. This was progressed by Howard Becker’s (1963) Labling theory. This is labels which have been attached to us such as a deviant which results in self-fulfilling prophecy. If a label is constant enough this could become your master status therefore, you are socialised into what you contribute to society.