chapter  9
23 Pages

Structuralism

If sociology is about anything, it is about challenging essentialist assumptions about human behaviour. That is to say, it is about making the claim that human actions are not the result of biological or psychological predispositions, or the will of God, or any other such pre-social explanations, but of factors created by society itself. It is curious, perhaps, that we have to be reminded of this in Chapter 9, but it may not have been evident from reading the previous chapters. For sure, we

discovered in Chapter 8 that Durkheim sought to challenge essentialist – i.e. psychological – explanations of suicide in order to give sociology its legitimacy. But although that critique has been at least implicit since the beginning of the book, the truth is, many of these sociological theories have remained to some extent dependent upon pre-social factors. Marxism, for example, was initially grounded in human nature, or ‘speciesbeing’. Functionalism remains largely grounded in biological theories of evolution. In some of its classical forms, confl ict theory presumes a ‘realist’ perspective on human nature, which treats actors as if they are engaged in some inevitable pursuit of power. Exchange theory is rested upon psychological premises. Even some forms of feminism presuppose an ‘original position’ of patriarchy. Only interactionism and ethnomethodology – the so-called ‘social constructionist’ perspectives – seem untouched by this. But there is another perspective in the social sciences that can be termed ‘constructionist’ – the perspective known as structuralism, and this provides us with our eighth and fi nal sociological theory.