Major Sociological Theories

A List of Sociological Theories, Concepts and Frameworks

Much of what we know about societies, relationships, and social behavior has emerged thanks to various sociology theories. Sociology students typically spend a great deal of time studying these different theories. Some theories have fallen out of favor, while others remain widely accepted, but all have contributed tremendously to our understanding of society, relationships, and social behavior. By learning more about these theories, you can gain a deeper and richer understanding of sociology's past, present, and future.

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Symbolic Interaction Theory

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The symbolic interaction perspective, also called symbolic interactionism, is a major framework of ​sociology theory. This perspective focuses on the symbolic meaning that people develop and rely upon in the process of social interaction.

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Conflict Theory

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Conflict theory emphasizes the role of coercion and power in producing social order. This perspective is derived from the works of Karl Marx, who saw society as fragmented into groups that compete for social and economic resources. Social order is maintained by domination, with power in the hands of those with the greatest political, economic, and social resources.

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Functionalist Theory

Emile Durkheim

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The functionalist perspective, also called functionalism, is one of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology. It has its origins in the works of Emile Durkheim, who was especially interested in how social order is possible and how society remains relatively stable.

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Feminist Theory

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Feminist theory is one of the major contemporary sociological theories, which analyzes the status of women and men in society with the purpose of using that knowledge to better women's lives. Feminist theory is most concerned with giving a voice to women and highlighting the various ways women have contributed to society.

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Critical Theory

Banksy's Dismaland evokes the aspect of critical theory that suggests that amusement and entertainment are key facets of domination.
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Critical Theory is a type of theory that aims to critique society, social structures, and systems of power, and to foster egalitarian social change.

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Labeling Theory

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Labeling theory is one of the most important approaches to understanding deviant and criminal behavior. It begins with the assumption that no act is intrinsically criminal. Definitions of criminality are established by those in power through the formulation of laws and the interpretation of those laws by police, courts, and correctional institutions.

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Social Learning Theory

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Social learning theory is a theory that attempts to explain socialization and its effect on the development of the self. It looks at the individual learning process, the formation of self, and the influence of society in socializing individuals. Social learning theory is commonly used by sociologists to explain deviance and crime.

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Structural Strain Theory

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Robert K. Merton developed structural strain theory as an extension of the functionalist perspective on deviance. This theory traces the origins of deviance to the tensions that are caused by the gap between cultural goals and the means people have available to achieve those goals.

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Rational Choice Theory

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Economics plays a huge role in human behavior. That is, people are often motivated by money and the possibility of making a profit, calculating the likely costs and benefits of any action before deciding what to do. This way of thinking is called rational choice theory.

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Game Theory

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Game theory is a theory of social interaction, which attempts to explain the interaction people have with one another. As the name of the theory suggests, game theory sees human interaction as just that: a game.

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Sociobiology is the application of evolutionary theory to social behavior. It is based on the premise that some behaviors are at least partly inherited and can be affected by natural selection.

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Social Exchange Theory

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Social exchange theory interprets society as a series of interactions that are based on estimates of rewards and punishments. According to this view, our interactions are determined by the rewards or punishments that we receive from others, and all human relationships are formed by the use of subjective cost-benefit analysis.

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Chaos Theory

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Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, however, it has applications in several disciplines, including sociology and other social sciences. In the social sciences, chaos theory is the study of complex nonlinear systems of social complexity. It is not about disorder, but rather is about very complicated systems of order.

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Social Phenomenology

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Social phenomenology is an approach within the field of sociology that aims to reveal what role human awareness plays in the production of social action, social situations and social worlds. In essence, phenomenology is the belief that society is a human construction.

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Disengagement Theory

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Disengagement theory, which has many critics, suggests that people slowly disengage from social life as they age and enter the elderly stage.

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Your Citation
Crossman, Ashley. "Major Sociological Theories." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Crossman, Ashley. (2020, August 27). Major Sociological Theories. Retrieved from Crossman, Ashley. "Major Sociological Theories." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).