We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Are the Different Theories of Sociology?

By Meg Higa
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Sociology is the very broad academic field that studies human societies. Given the scope and complexity of the civilized world, many sociologists concentrate their subject matter to a more manageable macro level. Some sociologists, however, engage in critical analysis of the theoretically universal principles and structures that define the organization and behavior of all human societies. Although generalized, these theories of sociology may be grouped into two categorical questions. One addresses, the questions sociology should be asking, while the other type of theory is about methodology, or how sociology approaches the answers to its questions.

Since nearly the dawn of civilization, social thinkers have largely attempted to understand the elements of society, such as family, commerce, and government. In the end of the 19th Century, at the height of the Second Industrial Revolution, during an era of rapid societal change, sociology as a science emerged. A French philosopher proposed positivism as one of the first, and most influential, theories of sociology. A scientific method — the cycle of conjecture and observation — could yield understanding, remedy and a utopian “positivist” stage of society.

Contrary theories quickly followed, including Marxism which argued that structural things like social class and division of labor have deterministic effect on society. More broadly, and academically, antipositivism was offered as an alternative methodological framework by a group of German sociologists. They insisted that, no matter how vigorous the critical analysis, society is too complex to take a set of empirical data and jump to a conclusion of social cause. Antipositivism essentially separated the two competing approaches to sociology, allowing for objective research while also encouraging subjective theoretical discussion.

From the first university departments of sociology in Europe, positivism was refined and modeled into functionalism. Its basic premise is that society is organic and adheres to natural laws. Taking its cue from biology, measurable facts about society arise directly from its institutional or structural parts, and affect the “health” of the entire system. Conflict theories of sociology reverse this equation, often explaining that readily apparent inequalities and dysfunctions of society create skewed symptoms which should not be measured as “facts.”

Meanwhile, theories of sociology developed along different, independent paradigms in colleges and universities. Symbolic interactionism took a subjective and qualitative approach to understand an individual’s interactions within the context of his symbolic interpretation of society. With the advance of electronics technology and advent of the Information Revolution, rapid societal change has diversified the academic theories of sociology. Though there are many newly named frameworks and perspectives, most of them are collectively referred as middle-range theories. They generally share two things in common: computational statistics, and an attempt to reconcile the historically competing two categorical approaches to sociology.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Jul 03, 2014

How does sociology go about studying social interactions in this new era of internet and social media and networking sites?

Before, sociology theories were mostly interested in the difference between people interaction in urban and rural areas. But now people have a whole new place to interact, bond and share information.

I think more and more, new social theories will emergency in order to understand society and the internet. I don't think that the classic theories will get us far because things are so different now.

By fify — On Jul 03, 2014

@ddljohn-- I think we can understand society but I do find positivism a bit exaggerated. I don't think that there is a utopian solution to social problems. But this doesn't mean that we can never understand society or draw conclusions about remedies. We certainly can and that's why sociology is such an important field now.

By ddljohn — On Jul 02, 2014

I think I agree with the theory of antipositivism. We can attempt to understand society, but we probably won't be able to because it's too complex.

Sociology is not like the sciences because theories can't really be proved. It involves a lot theorizing and assuming. A sociologist can see that a change is taking place in society. He can see that people are doing something, but the reasons for why people do what they do may be very different. Human thoughts and actions are very individual in my view. They are driven by different factors. Individuals themselves may at times be unaware of the factor that's driving their actions. There are just too many uncertainties in sociology to make conclusions.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.