Putting It Together: Society and Groups

In this module, you learned about the interconnections between society, social institutions, and culture, then used the three theoretical paradigms to analyze society and its complexities. You also learned about groups, group dynamics, and leadership styles which operate within society, social institutions, and culture.

Groups like political parties are prevalent in our lives and provide a significant way for us to understand and define ourselves as individuals, often based on whether we are for or against the groups in question. Groups also play an important role in society. As enduring social units, they help foster shared value systems and are key to the structure of society as we know it. There are three primary sociological perspectives for studying society and groups: functionalist, conflict, and interactionist.

We can look at the Tea Party movement through the lenses of these methods to better understand the roles and challenges that groups offer. The Tea Party Movement is a conservative movement that began in 2009 after people became upset with President Obama’s tax plans. While the movement’s momentum peaked in 2010 and has declined in influence in recent years, there are still Tea Party chapters in every state. The followers of the Tea Party have charged themselves with calling “awareness to any issue which challenges the security, sovereignty, or domestic tranquility of our beloved nation, the United States of America” (Tea Party, Inc. 2014). The group takes its name from the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773. Its membership includes people from all walks of life who believe they are taking a necessary stand to protect certain values and beliefs. These beliefs tend to be anti-tax, anti-big government, pro-gun, and politically conservative.

Tea Party protestors carrying picket signs and an American flag.
Figure 1. The national tour of the Tea Party Express visited Minnesota and held a rally outside the state capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue/flickr).

The functionalist perspective is a big-picture, macro-level view that looks at how different aspects of society are intertwined. This perspective is based on the idea that society is a well-balanced system with all parts necessary to the whole, and it studies the roles these parts play in relation to the whole. In the case of the Tea Party Movement, a functionalist might look at what macro-level needs the movement serves. For example, a functionalist might ask how the party forces people to pay attention to the economy.

The conflict perspective is another macroanalytical view, one that focuses on the genesis and growth of inequality. A conflict theorist studying the Tea Party Movement might look at how business interests have manipulated the system over the last 30 years, leading to the gross inequality we see today. Or this perspective might explore how the massive redistribution of wealth from the working and middle classes to the upper class could lead to a resurgence in class consciousness, in keeping with Marxist theory.

A third perspective is the symbolic Interaction or interactionist perspective. This method of analyzing groups takes a micro-level view. Instead of studying the big picture, these researchers look at the day-to-day interactions within groups. Studying these details, the interactionist looks at issues like leadership style and group dynamics. In the case of the Tea Party Movement, interactionists might ask, “How does the group dynamic in New York differ from that in Atlanta?” Or, “What dictates who becomes the de facto leader in different cities—geography, social dynamics, economic circumstances?”

Watch It

Watch the following video for a review and summary on the theories of society. Consider how a theorist from each of these perspectives may explain the group dynamics surrounding the Yellow Jackets in France.

Sociology is a holistic and interconnected discipline, so even while we are summarizing the contents of this module, you will continue to see overlap in the upcoming modules as we dive into social institutions and explore groups within a variety of macrosociological structures.

<a style="margin-left: 16px;" target="_blank" href="https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vy-T6DtTF-BbMfpVEI7VP_R7w2A4anzYZLXR8Pk4Fu4"


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Introduction to Sociology Lumen/OpenStax Copyright © 2021 by Lumen Learning & OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book