Comparison of the Perspectives
Which is the best perspective? This question cannot be answered, for none is "right" or "wrong," but each is a different way of looking at society. Just as international relations can be viewed either as a state of war interrupted by intervals of peace or as a state of peace interrupted by intervals of war, so society may be viewed either as a condition of cooperation containing elements of conflict or as a condition of conflict containing elements of cooperation. Thus each perspective views society from a different vantage point, asks different questions, and reaches different conclusions. Evolutionists focus upon the similarities in changing societies; interventionists focus upon the actual social behavior of persons and groups; functionalists focus more heavily upon value consensus, order, and stability; conflict theorists focus more heavily upon inequality, tension, and change. For example, in the study of class inequality, evolutionists look at the historical development of class inequalities in different societies interventionists study how classes are defined and how people perceive and treat members of their own class and of other classes; functionalists note how class inequality operates in all societies to distribute tasks and rewards and to keep the system operating; conflict theorists focus upon how class inequality is imposed and maintained by dominant classes for their own advantage and at the expense of the less privileged.
For most topics of study, there are some aspects for which each of the perspectives can be useful. For example, consider the development of the modem university, The evolutionary perspective might focus upon the procession of scholarly needs and arrangements, extending over several thousand years, which eventually led to the development of the modem university. The interventionist perspective would note the ways in which scholarly needs have been defined at different times and the ways in which persons and groups dealt with one another in creating the university. The functionalist perspective would concentrate upon what changes made universities seem to be'necessary, what purposes they fulfilled for the society, and what effects universities have upon their students and upon societies. The conflict perspective would concentrate upon which groups and classes benefit from the university and how access to higher education operates to preserve the position of the privileged groups. For some problems, one perspective may be mo-re useful than another. The development of the hospitality pattern, mentioned earlier, is neatly described in terms of the functionalist perspective as a custom which arose to meet a special need at a special lime and place. The conflict perspective is not very helpful in understanding the rise and decline of the hospitality pattern, but the rise of labor unions (to advance workers' interests against those of management) is nicely analyzed within the conflict perspective.
There are many other perspectives in, sociology resource theory, systems theory, social learning, theory exchange theory phenomenology methodology, and others but to inflict all of them upon introductory sociology students might convince them that they were in tr.e wrong course! On some , topics, different perspectives are so sharply opposed to each other that they cannot possibly be reconciled. On social class and social inequality, for example, the functionalist and conflict perspectives flatly contradict each' other about the sources of inequality and the possibilities of attaining social equality. Conflict theorists emphatically deny much of what functionalists say about inequality, and vice verso (as shown in Chapter 14). More often, however, tho different perspectives are complementary, with one pointing out what another slights or ignores. The different perspectives overlap, and all are used by most sociologists but in, different mixtures. Thus, no functionalist denies the reality of class exploitation, and no conflict theorist argues that nil the interests of rich and poor are opposed (e.g., pure drinking water and dean air are good for both). These are differences in emphasis, and most sociologists would refuse to be classified under any of these labels. Many sociologists however have their favorite perspectives, upon which they rely most heavily. But all perspectives are useful and necessary for a complete understanding of society