Assess the usefulness of micro sociology to our understanding of society (33marks)
Micro sociology focuses on the actions and interactions of individuals and is a bottom-up approach. Such micro approaches, see society as shaped by its members, who possess agency, in other words, the ability to act as free agents. Micro approaches, also known as action theories, include social action theory, symbolic interactionism, phenomenology and ethnomethodoly. However, macro sociologists take a deterministic approach, as they believe that our actions are determined by society. Macro theories include Functionalism and Marxism, who see individuals as puppets, under the control of social structures.
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Whilst Weber’s categories of action are useful in understanding different motives and meanings behind actions, the typology of action is difficult to apply. For example, the practising of a religion could be classified as a value rational action, driven by the goal to get to heaven, however, it may also be classified as a traditional action, as it is routine. Schutz also criticises Weber’s view of action for ignoring the shared nature of meanings, is therefore too individualistic.
Schutz, a phenomenologist, argues that the categories we use have shared meaning, known as typifications. In Schutz view, typifications are important as they clarify meanings, making it possible for us to communicate and cooperate. Without such common-sense knowledge, social order would be impossible, as meanings can vary according to its social context. For Husserl, the world as we know it can only be a product of our mind. Similarly, for Schutz the social world is shared and inter-subjective, that can only exist with shared meanings.
Like phenomenology, ethnomethodology sees meanings as potentially unclear, a characteristic Garfinkel calls indexicality. For Garfinkel, reflexivity allows us to construct a sense of meaning and order. Reflexivity refers to common-sense knowledge and is a similar idea to Schutz’s concept of typifications. One way of achieving reflexivity is through the use of language, as our description removes the uncertainty of meaning.
Another action theory is symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionism sees our interactions as based on the meanings we give to situations, in the form of symbols. Mead argues, unlike animals, our behaviour is not shaped by fixed instincts. Instead we respond to stimuli by giving meanings to them, and attaching symbols to the world. In this way, we behave according to our interpretation of the situation. According to Mead, we do this by taking the role of others, seeing ourselves as they see us. Mead argues that in order to function as members of society we need the ability to see ourselves as others see us, and this ability develops through social interaction from childhood.
Similarly, Blumer notes that our actions are based on the meanings we give to situations and these meanings are the result of interpretation. However, by contrast to Mead, Blumer argues that although our actions are partly determined by others expectations of us, they are not completely fixed as meanings are negotiable and changeable to some extent....