Sociology and Sociological Perspectives

This series of short films, produced by Dallas Telelearning around 10 years ago, provides an introduction to both Sociology (it’s European and America development) and sociological perspectives: functionalism, conflict theory, interactionism and feminism. Although the production and focus generally means the world is seen through American eyes ­- and much of the illustrative film focused on American politics and culture of the 80’s and 90’s probably won’t mean much to contemporary European audiences – it shouldn’t be difficult for non-US teachers to focus the theoretical content on things that will resonate more with their particular students.

Why Sociology? This One-minute Opener for the OER Sociology series introduces students to the idea of understanding “the individual” in a social context and touches briefly on the concept of a Sociological Imagination.

Origins: This 10-minute film looks at the origins of Sociology as an intellectual and academic discipline in the 19th century and begins with the work of the so-called “Founding Fathers”: Marx, Weber and Durkheim.

It then looks at how Sociology developed in an American context through the work of one of the discipline’s neglected giants, W.E. B. De Bois and his pioneering fieldwork study of African-American neighbourhoods in Philadelphia. The film also discusses the work of sociologists like Jane Adams, another early sociologist whose work is largely neglected in Europe and the black female sociologist Ida Wells-Barnett and her statistical analysis of lynching and it’s theoretical origins in the balance of power between black and white Americans.

A further section of the film looks briefly at the development of “Two Sociologies” in America: the macro analyses, favoured on the East Coast, of social structures and the Chicago School and its influential work on human ecology. The latter included sociologists like Park, Burgess and Lewis.

The film finishes with a short overview of the current global perspective for sociology.

The Functionalist Perspective: This 2-minute introduction to the Functionalist perspective uses The Circus as a way of introducing and illustrating basic Functionalist ideas about social structure, interaction and their relationship.

The Circus setting also gives enterprising teachers the opportunity to talk, quite literally, about “the elephant in the room” when it comes to evaluating the perspective.

Which is nice.

The Conflict Perspective: The 3rd film in the OER Sociology series covers the Conflict Perspective in a relatively generous 2 minutes 30 seconds, building it’s ideas around the Haymarket Square massacre involving striking workers and police in Chicago, 1886 (you can probably guess which side suffered the massacre…).

While the film touches on ideas like social change (and how to explain it) it’s more-generally useful for the way it introduces the notion of a zero-sum distribution of resources (both material, such as money and non-material, such as power, respect, control and the like) in a simple and accessible way.

The Interactionist Perspective: A short-but-pithy (2 minute 30 seconds) introduction to the third major sociological perspective: social interactionism / Action Theory. The film identifies some of the key attributes of this perspective and, in the process, suggests how and why it differs from its structuralist counterparts.

The film uses the example of an American political campaign to outline and illustrate Interactionism’s key concepts and unique sociological perspective.

Feminism: This short film provides a general introduction to the feminist perspective in sociology and looks specifically at how gender shapes an individual’s social experiences in areas like work and the family. It also touches on a range of intersectional issues, such as the extent to which ethnicity and class play a part in not just inter-group inequality (between men and women, for example) but also intra-group inequality – between women of different ethnicities and classes.

Sociological Perspectives: A Multidimensional Approach: A-level students are conventionally taught to see sociological perspectives like Functionalism, Conflict Theory and Interactionism as separate “ways of seeing society” that cannot be used in combination because they take fundamentally different – and opposed – positions about the nature of the social world.

This 12-minute film, however, suggests a different approach to understanding sociological perspectives: rather than seeing them as necessarily and fundamentally opposed viewpoints it argues it would be more theoretically-fruitful to see them as different pieces in the multidimensional jigsaw of contemporary societies. In other words, the film looks at how combining different sociological perspectives can be used to provide a more-complete picture of multidimensional modern societies.

Using Sociological Perspectives for Analysis: Using the 1999 Elian Gonzalez case as a starting point, this 9-minute segment shows how we can apply different sociological perspectives to objectively understand patterned human behaviour.

The film looks at this issue from Functionalist, Conflict and Interactionist perspectives and demonstrates how academically useful it can be to anchor a set of relatively abstract ideas (such as sociological perspectives) in a concrete, real-world, setting in order to enhance student understanding.

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