Sociological Theories

This section provides an introduction to the theoretical threads that weave through the field of the sociology of education today- structural functionalist, conflict and interaction theories. Structural functionalist theory originated with the contributions of Emile Durkheim, who emphasized the need for individuals to share similar values to maintain cohesive society. Conflict theory, which grew out of the work of Karl Marx and Max Weber focuses on the struggle of social classes to maintain dominance and power in social systems. The interaction theory attempts to understand the deeper meanings individuals give to their participation in and relationships with schools. The interactionist theory has its origin in the work of George Mead and Charles Cooley. One of the most influential interactionist theorists was sociologist Erving Goffman. There are also several recent theories that, although grounded in these earlier frameworks, provide important explanations that bridge the gap between macro- and micro level theories; Berstein’ code theory, Bourdieu’s description of cultural capital and Collin’s work on status competition.

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Emile Durkheim

Karl Marx

Max Weber

George Mead

Charles Cooley

Erving Goffman

Basil Bernstein

Pierre Bourdieu

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