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Social Dimensions of Education

Sociologists see the education as one of the major institutions that constitutes society. While theories guide
research and policy formulation of education, they also provide logical; explanations on why things happen the way they
do. These theories help sociologists understand educational systems.
Consensus is a general or widespread agreement among all members of a particular society .

Consensus and Conflict theory

In order for us to understand why sociological theories could be classified into consensus and conflict perspectives let us examine
the definition of consensus and conflict.
Dahrendorf (1959,1968) as cited by Ritzer(2000) is the major exponent of the position that society has two faces(conflict and
consensus) and that sociological theory therefore should be divided into two parts, conflict theory and consensus theory.

Conflict is a clash between ideas, principles and people.

Conflict theory focuses on the struggle of social classes to maintain dominance and power in social systems.
Consensus theory emphasizes on social order, stability and social regulation.
Consensus theories see shared norms and values as fundamental to societies, focus on social order based on tacit
agreements and view social change as occurring in a slow and orderly fashion. In contrast,
Conflict theories emphasize the dominance of some social groups by others.

Consensus theorists examine value integration in society in which the absence of conflict is seen as the
equilibrium state of society based on a general or widespread agreement among all members of a particular
society. Conflict is a disagreement or clash between opposing ideas, principles, or people this can be a covert or
overt conflict.
The Conflict theory, according to Horton and Hunt (1984) focuses on the heterogeneous nature of society and
differential distribution of political and social power. A struggle between social classes and class conflicts between
the powerful and less powerful groups occur.
Conflict theories ask how schools contribute to the unequal distribution of people into jobs in society so that more
powerful members of society maintain the best positions and the less powerful groups (often women, racial and
ethnic group) often minority groups, are allocated to lower ranks in society. The larger issue for conflict theorists
is the role that education plays in maintaining the prestige, power and economic and social position of the
dominant group in society.
The conflict perspective assumes that social behavior is best understood in terms of conflicts or tensions between
competing groups. Such conflict need not be violent; it can take the form of labor negotiations, party politics,
competition between religious groups for members, or disputes over the budget.
Conflict theory grew out of the work of Karl Marx and focuses on the struggle of social classes to maintain
dominance and power in social systems. It is a theory or collection of theories which placed emphasis on conflict
in human society.
The discourse of conflict theory is on the emergence of conflict and what causes conflict within a particular
human society. Or we can say that conflict theory deals with incompatible aspects of society. Conflict theory
emerged out of the sociology of conflict, crisis and social change.
The conflict theorists are interested in how societys institutions- the family, government, religion, education, and
the media may help to maintain the privileges of some groups and keep others in a subservient position, Their
emphasis on social change and redistribution of resources make conflict theorists more radical and activists
than functionalists.
Consensus theory on the other hand, is a sociological perspective or collection of theories, in which social order
and stability/social regulation form base of emphasis. In other words, consensus theory is concerned with the
maintenance or the continuation of social order in society, in relation to accepted norms, values, rules and
regulations as widely accepted or collectively by the society or within a particular society itself. It merged out of
the sociology of social order and social stability/social regulation.

The consensus and conflict sociological theories are reflected in the works of certain dominant social theorists
such as Karl Marx, Emile Durkhoeim, and Max Weber and other prominent social theorists such as Talcott
Parsons & Robert Merton, Loius Althusser & Ralph Dalhrendorf and Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer.

Status cultures refer to groups in society with similar interests and positions in status hierarchy.

Structural functionalism states that society is made up of various institutions that work together in cooperation.
Parson structural functionalism has four functional imperatives for all actions systems, embodied in his famous AGIL
scheme. These functional imperatives that are necessary for all systems are:

Adaptation: A system must cope with external situational exigencies. It must adapt to its environmental to its needs.
Goal attainment: A system must define and achieve its primary goals.
Integration: A system must regulate the interrelationship of the component parts. It also manages the relationship
among the other three functional imperatives (A, G, L).
Latency (pattern maintenance): A system must furnish, maintain, and renew both the motivation of individuals and the
cultural patterns that create and sustain the motivation.
Parson designed the AGIL scheme to be used at all theoretical system. The behavioral organism is the action system that
handles the adaption function by adjusting to and transforming the external world. The personality system performs the
goal- attainment function by defining system goals and mobilizing resources to attain them. The social system copes with
the integration function by controlling its component parts. Finally, the cultural system performs the latency function by
providing actors with the norms and values that motivate them for action.
Parsons conception of social system begins at the micro level with interaction between ego and alter ego, defined as the
most elementary form of the social system. He described a social system as something which consists of plurality of
individual actors interacting with each other in a situation which has at least a physical or environmental aspect, actors
who are motivated in terms of a tendency to the optimization of gratification and whose relation to their situations,
including each other, is defined and mediated in terms of a system of culturally structured and shared symbols.
The functionalist perspective is primary concern with why a society assures a particular form. This perspective assumes
that any society takes its particular form because that form works well with the society given its particular situation.
Societies exist under a wide range of environmental situations. Some societies have highly advanced technology and they
also differ in terms of their interactions with other societies.
In any societies, however, the functionalist perspective makes one basic argument. Whatever are the characteristics of a
society, those characteristics developed because they met the needs of that society in its particular situation. The key
principles of ther functionalist perspective ( Farley,1990) include te following:
1. Interdependency. One of the most important principles of the functionalist theory is that society is made up of
interdependent parts.

Functions of Social Structure and Culture. Closely related to interdependency is the idea that each part of the social
system exist because of it serves some function. This principle is applied by both functionalist to both social structure and
culture. The Social structure refers to the organization of society, including its institutions, its social positions, and its
distribution of resources. Culture refers to a set of beliefs, language, rules, values, acknowledgement held in common by
members of a society.


Consensus and cooperation. Another principle key in functionalist theory is that a society has the tendency to towards
consensus; that is to have the certain basic values to everyone in the society agrees upon. For example, we all believe in
the principles of democracy and freedom. Societies tend toward consensus in order to achieve cooperation. Functionalist
believe that inability will to cooperate will paralyze the society, and people will devote more and more effort to fighting
one another rather than getting anything done.


Equilibrium. A final principle of functionalist theorist is that of equilibrium. This holds that, once a society has
achieved the form that is best adapted to its situation, it has reached the stage of balance eaquilibrium, and it will remain
in that condition until it is forced to change by some new condition.
Equilibrium is the characteristic of a society when it has achjeived the form that is best adapted to its situation.
The component parts of a social structure
>families >neighbors > associations >schools
>churches >banks>countries
Symbolic interactionism views the self as socially constructed in relation to social forces and social structures.
Another important concept has long been used by symbolic interactionist is the looking-glass self. This concept was
developed by the early symbolic interactionist theorist Charles Horton Cooley. The basic notion of the looking-glass self
can be summed up as we see ourselves as others see us. In other words, we come to develop a self image on the basis of
the messages we get from others, as we understand them.