Subcultural theories of youth culture owe much to the pioneering work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) during the 1970s and early 1980s. The CCCS make use of the word "subculture" from US sociologists at Chicago University, and applied it to visually distinctive post-World War II British working class youth cultures, such as teddy boys, mods, and skinheads.
Sociologists today employ three primary theoretical perspectives: the functionalist perspective, the Marxist perspective and the post-modernist perspective. These perspectives offer sociologists theoretical paradigms for explaining how society influences people, and vice versa. Each perspective uniquely conceptualises society, social forces, and human behaviour.
Functionalism is the oldest, and still the dominant, theoretical perspective in sociology and a great many other social sciences. Based on the functionalist perspective each aspect of society is interdependent and contributes to society's functioning as a whole. Functionalists see society as getting a structure, with key institutions performing essential functions, and roles directing people in how to behave. They identify the functions of every part of the structure. For example, the state of hawaii, or the government, provides education for the children of the family, which pays taxes which their state depends to keep itself running. Which means that the family is dependent upon the school to help children grow up to own good jobs so that they can raise and support their own families. In the process, the children become law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, who in turn support the state. If the process succeeds the elements of society produce order, stability and productivity. On the other hand, if the procedure will not go well, the elements of society then must adapt to recapture a fresh order, stability, and productivity. For example, even as we are presently experiencing, during a financial recession with its high rates of unemployment and inflation, profit and salary reduction, social programs are trimmed or cut. Families tighten their budgets while employers offer fewer business programs, and a fresh social order, stability and productivity occur. Functionalists assume that society is held together by social consensus, or cohesion, where society members agree upon, and work together to achieve, what is best for society as a whole. Emile Durkheim suggested that social consensus takes 1 of 2 forms:
- Mechanical Solidarity: This is a form of social cohesion that arises when people in a society maintain similar values and beliefs and engage in similar types of work. Mechanical solidarity mostly occurs in traditional, simple societies such as those where everyone herds cattle or farms. Amish society exemplifies mechanical solidarity.
- Organic Solidarity: This is a form of social cohesion that arises when people in a society are interdependent, but hold to varying values and beliefs and take part in varying types of work. Organic solidarity mostly occurs in industrialised, complex societies such as those in large American cities like New York in the 2000s.
Leading functionalists include Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons. Robert Merton (1910), who was a functionalist as well, developed his theory of deviance which comes from Durkheim's idea of anomie. It is central in explaining how internal changes can occur in a system. For Merton, anomie means a discontinuity between cultural goals and this accepted methods designed for reaching them. Merton (1968) has proposed a number of important distinctions to avoid potential weaknesses and clarify ambiguities in the basic functionalist perspective. First, he distinguishes between manifest and latent functions. Manifest functions are recognised, intentional and obvious, while latent functions are unrecognised, unintentional, and therefore not obvious. Merton used the exemplory case of the Hopi rain dance to show that sometimes an individual's understanding of their motive for an action might not exactly fully make clear why that action continues to be performed. Sometimes actions fulfil a function of which the actor is unaware, which is the latent function of action. Second, he distinguishes between consequences that happen to be positively functional for a society, those that are dysfunctional for the society, and the ones which neither. Third, he also distinguishes between levels of society, that is, the precise social units for which regularised patterns of behaviour are functional or dysfunctional. Finally, he maintains that this social structures which meet functional needs of society are not indispensable, but that structural alternatives may exist which can also meet the same functional needs.
Merton expanded on the theory that anomie is the alienation of the self from society due to conflicting norms and interests by describing five different kinds of actions that occur when personal goals and legitimate means enter into conflict with each other.
- Conformity is the normal successful hardworking person who both accepts the goals of the society and has the means for obtaining those goals. That is an example of non-anomie.
- Innovation identifies the pursuit of culturally approved goals by disapproved, including against the law means, quite simply, they need to use innovation to be able to attain cultural goals. (Example: Drug dealer who sells drugs to aid a family group. )
- Ritualism refers to excessively rigid conformity to approved goals and means, even to the neglect of the actual results; inefficient bureaucrats who adhere rigidly to the guidelines will be the classic exemplory case of ritualism.
- The one who ignores and rejects the means and the goals of the society is said to be retreating from society. (For example a drug addict who may have stopped caring about the social goals and chooses a drug induced reality towards the socially accepted lifestyle. )
- Finally, there is a fifth type of adaptation which is that of rebellion which refers to the rejection of approved goals and means in favor of new ones.
Functionalism has received criticism as it has a conservative bias. Critics claim that the perspective justifies the status quo and complacency on the part of society's members. Functionalism will not encourage people to take an active role in changing their social environment, even when such change may benefit them. Instead, functionalism sees active social change as undesirable because the various elements of society will compensate naturally for any problems that may arise.
Marx argues that societies derive from humans getting together to create food. The forces of production shape social relationships. In Marxist theory, class is the most crucial social group in the capitalist society and the mayor social configurations are class cultures. The classes are organised with regards to the mode of production that determine a concrete set of relations of production: the capitalists (bourgeoisie) and the personnel (proletariat). These classes are all the time in conflict and negotiation because one of these is dominant and the other is subordinate.
This conflict perspective originated mainly out of Karl Marx's writings on class struggles and it presents society in another type of light than do the functionalist perspective. While the latter perspective focus on the strengths of society that contribute to its stability, the conflict perspective targets the negative, conflicted, and ever-changing nature of society. Unlike functionalists who defend the status quo, avoid social change, and believe people cooperate to effect social order, conflict theorists challenge the status quo, encourage social change (even when this means social revolution), and believe rich and powerful people force social order on the poor and the weak. Even as we can see, most societies are based upon exploitation of some groups by others. Those who own the method of production, such as factories, land, raw material or capital, exploit those who improve them, who lack the methods to produce things themselves. Thus, capitalists accumulate profits and get richer and richer. Eventually staff should come to realise they are being exoploited and will overthrow capitalism and produce a communist society. In communism the method of production will be communally owened, so you will see no ruling class, no exploitation and far less inequality than in capitalism.
Today, conflict theorists find social conflict between any groups where prospect of inequality exists, such as, racial, gender, religious, political, economic and so forth. These theorists remember that unequal groups usually have conflicting values and agendas, leading to them to compete against one another. This frequent competition between groups forms the basis for the ever-changing nature of society.
Critics of the conflict perspective indicate its extremely negative view of society. The theory's ultimately central problems are:
- it has difficulty explaining a lot more orderly and stable components of social life,
- it neglects or downplays the cultural and symbolic aspects of social life since it emphasises on economics and class,
- conflict theorists tend to assume the energy differences lead to conflict but distinctions do definitely not provoke conflict.
Post modernist perspectives are suffering from because the 1980s. Some versions see important changes taking place in society, while other versions question the power of conventional sociology to create worthwhile theories of society. Some postmodernists argue that social behaviour is no more shaped by factors such as class, gender, ethnicity and different types of socialisation. It really is now simply a question of lifestyle choice.
Finally, Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, perspectives developed on the French intellectual scene, experienced considerable influence on American sociologists lately (as well as on scholars in many other fields, especially literary studies). Derived from (but largely rejecting) both Marxist tradition and the works of anthropologist Claude Lvi-Strauss--who developed a "structuralist" theory of culture--these theoretical schools seek to account for the apparent disintegration of modern culture within the last several decades. One of the tradition's major figures, such as Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard, perhaps the best known is Michel Foucault, a historian and philosopher. Tracing the historical changes in societal attitudes toward punishment, mental illness, and sexuality, among other topics, he argued that knowledge and power have grown to be inextricably entwined. Foucault stressed the disciplinary nature of power, and argued that (social) scientific discourse as one such discipline may itself have to be questioned. Sociologists in this tradition seek not only to study the earth differently, but to help make the production of sociological knowledge, and therefore our very own situatedness within structures of knowledge and power, area of the study. American sociologists influenced by this tradition sometimes call their work Discourse Analysis or Cultural Studies.