Social Networks and Sociological Perspectives
The number of people who use social networking sites has continued to rise exponentially. Even people who live in remote areas have access to the internet and social media. With the use of the smart phones and PDA’s many people are connected and have media at their fingertips. This study is an analysis of social networking sites through the perspective of three sociological theories-Functionalism, interactionism and conflict theory.
The functionalist theory contends that all facets of society are inter-reliant and work to contribute to the functioning of the society as a unit. This theory explains that society is united by social accord and solidity. More implicitly, the theory argues that once anything fails to serve a meaningful purpose in society, then it does not last for long. Based on this perspective, it is possible to conclude that the role of the social media is becoming more and more useful to society because its use is increasing every day. From functionalist perspectives, social networking sites serve five main functions, namely they serve as the means of socialization, they enforce the social norms, they confer a person’s status, and they promote consumption and keep people informed concerning the environment.
The interactionist argues that people fix connotation to symbols; their actions are based on subjective understanding of these symbols. Where else the concept of functionalism deals with the big picture, interactionism mainly focuses on approaches of people’s interactions with one another in their everyday lives, and meanings that they construct from their own dealings and symbols. Interactionist put effort in analyzing how social networking sites add not only to influencing the social behaviors between different members, but also on coming up with shared understandings of the same behavior. Interactionism try to study social networking sites as major sources and growing origins of daily activities in different societies around the world, as more and more young people spend their time on Facebook and Twitter. While the theory of functionalism may focus on how the social networking sites serve to maintain the social stability, interactionist mainly focus on the effects caused by social networking sites when people interact every day with one another and the broader society.
Conflict theory perceives society through a unique light than functionalist and interactionist outlooks. While the two focuses on positive areas of society that underlie its stability, the conflict angle deals with conflicts created and changing character of society. Unlike functionalism, which serves to guard the status quo, shuns social change, and adopts the view that people cooperate to affect the social order, conflict theory, challenges status quo, promotes social change, and holds that wealth and power compel social order among lower classes and the minorities for promoting their own interests. From this perspective, conflict theory holds that social networking sites reflect and exacerbate conflicts and divisions that happen within a society. In contrast with functionalists, conflict theorists have a firm belief, which is that social networking sites work to reinforce the space and dissonance between the different genders, races, ethnicities, and social classes; the sites do not promote social harmony.
Each of the above standpoints interprets the function of social networking sites differently; therefore, each of the theories differs quite substantially from the other. The conflict lens is the most applicable of the three theories and has the highest appeal. Nevertheless, this should not be taken to mean that functionalism and interactionism do not contribute significantly to the whole picture.