Paradigm in Sociology Definition and Explanations

Paradigm in Sociology-Definition and Explanations


Sociology is the study of human society and social interaction. Sociologists use paradigms to make sense out of what they observe in their research.

There are many different paradigms, but one popular paradigm is functionalism, which focuses on how a society maintains stability. Functionalists believe that people’s actions are determined by the community’s needs as a whole and not just for themselves or small groups within it.

They pay attention to inequalities between different segments to understand how those differences contribute to the stability of the whole system.

The main argument against functionalism is conflict theory, which argues that inequality can cause instability because it creates tension among members with different power levels or access to resources and services.

We’ll delve more into paradigms in this article. However, should you wish to skip this guide due to reasons such as a busy schedule or otherwise, our ivy league writers are ready to cover you by acing that assignment for you. All you have to do is place an order with us.

What is a Social Paradigm?

A social paradigm is a widely accepted set of assumptions, values, and beliefs about life. Positivism was the first central social paradigm that has since been replaced by post-modernism.

The positivist approach to sociology assumed that all human behavior could be explained through empirical observation and quantified data collection (Baudrillard, 1998).

Post-modernism argues that society is too complex to reduce it down to a standard set of assumptions (Bauman, 2000). Instead, post-modernists approach community as if it were “an inconsistent cluster of local practices and beliefs in which all share no meanings; rather meanings accrue only at the local level” (Bauman, 2002, p.260).

A paradigm of sexual harassment would mean how it’s commonly interpreted and understood in our culture. The social paradigm of sexual harassment is different from sexual harassment law because the latter operates under a legal paradigm and the former operates under a social paradigm.

Our sexual harassment laws are based on sexual discrimination, so sexual harassment law takes affirmative action for women. We have sexual harassment laws not necessarily because sexual behavior bothers people as much as it bothers women due to the gender gap in power and status (Engels, 1884).

Post-modernism focuses on how the interpretation of sexual harassment changes from culture to culture. This means sexual harassment has a different social paradigm in each society, so the legal sexual harassment paradigm isn’t practiced in many other countries such as China and Japan (Hwang & Broom, 2012).

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What Are the 4 Paradigms of Sociology?

The four paradigms of sociology are functionalism, conflict theory, interactionism, and post-modernism.

First, to understand each paradigm, imagine a group of people interacting with one another and ask yourself what they might be doing. What would you see? What is going on between them? The answer may help you to determine the type of paradigm that is occurring. Each theoretical paradigm held by sociologists is constantly changing and being refined over time.


Functionalism is one of the four major paradigms in sociology. It is a theoretical perspective that looks at how society operates by examining its parts and asking what those parts do for the whole.

The focus of a functionalist analysis is on the maintenance of order within the system. The most basic idea behind functionalism is the concept of “function,” which can be defined as a particular purpose, role, or use. For example, the function of a screwdriver is to turn bolts and screws so that they may secure objects together.

Without screws and bolts in place, our world would fall apart at the seams! Therefore, we see how functionalism compares parts (screwdrivers) to the whole (the object) and asks how each piece contributes. Rather than focusing on individualistic explanations, functionalism examines systemic relationships among individuals within a society (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

Conflict Theory:

Conflict theory is another popular paradigm in sociology developed by Karl Marx and reapplied by several later sociologists.

Conflict theory is a theoretical approach that attempts to explain social inequality due to individuals vying for limited resources, such as food, wealth, or power.

By focusing on the conflicts between haves and have-nots, conflict theory attempts to explain why there are winners and losers. Conflict theorists also believe that disputes will intensify as the gap between rich and poor widens.


The interactionist paradigm focuses on how people come together and shape their collective identity through face-to-face communication rather than by analyzing ideas or written texts, as poststructuralists do. Interaction is central to interactionist theoretical work, focusing on micro-level social phenomena and how they influence society at a macro-level (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

Interactionist scholars believe that meaning is produced through interactions between people in their everyday lives. One would not define a word unless one had extensive knowledge of its use in context.

Labov’s study of the “devoicing” rule, for example, follows this logic by examining how people adapt their linguistic patterns as they move from one social group (such as their ethnic heritage) to another (the mainstream society).

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Post-modernism is an approach that questions the modernist view of science as objective and valid. It believes that human beings cannot see beyond their perspectives (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

In other words, our minds screen off any reality that doesn’t fit into what we already believe or that which conforms to the way things are. The postmodern approach was developed by many French sociologists and philosophers who believed that modern society is too cold, dominating, and inhumane.

They look at how humans have been thrown together in urban centers rather than rural areas where families once lived in self-sufficient communities. “City life” reduces each person to a cog in an impersonal machine where social conditions are determined by economics rather than human needs (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

What is the Best Definition of a Paradigm?

A paradigm can best be defined as being a system of thought that uses how we perceive reality as a means of explaining social phenomena (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

A paradigm is a set of beliefs or philosophical ideas that influence the approach taken by researchers. To understand how paradigms work, we need to examine the history of how they emerged briefly.

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What is a History of Sociological Paradigms?

While there is some debate over when sociology began, most scholars agree that it first took form with establishing the American Journal of Sociology in 1895.

However, before this time, we can identify three historical periods of major sociological thought that helped shape sociology as a discipline.

These three historical periods are the enlightenment, classical, and modern (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

What Are Theoretical Paradigms in Sociology?

There are two major theoretical paradigms in sociology: Conflict Theory and Functionalism.

Each of these approaches to understanding society has its way of looking at the relationship between individuals and society (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

What Are the Three Components of a Paradigm?

Each paradigm has three essential components: 1) a vocabulary, 2) a body of concepts, and 3) an approach to inquiry (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004). Let’s examine each of these briefly.


Vocabularies are the tools used by sociologists to understand the world around them. The vocabulary of functionalism attempts to show how society can maintain stability and solidarity although people pursue their interests.

A vocabulary helps define what we mean when we talk about the various aspects of society. The language of conflict theory emphasizes social inequality and the struggle for power between different groups within society.

It seeks to explain how certain classes of people are forced to compete with each other to survive.

Body of Concepts

A “body of concepts” is a way to group different aspects of social life. For example, a concept such as “modern society” discusses how modern societies differ from traditional societies. Note: Each paradigm has its own set of ideas that it uses regularly.

Approach to Inquiry

An “Approach to inquiry” refers to how scholars study the world around them.

The functionalist approach to inquiry suggests that sociologists should first examine how particular social institutions function and then try to figure out why they exist (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004). The conflict theory approach of inquiry seeks to show how class interests are reflected in the various social institutions such as the economy or the family.

What Are Some Examples of the Two Types of Paradigms?

Conflict theory is a theoretical paradigm that emphasizes social inequality and the struggle for power between different groups within society.

The conflict approach suggests that each social institution is shaped by those in power positions and less powerful (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

Conflict theorists tend to look at how certain classes of people are forced to compete to survive.

On the other hand, functionalism is a theoretical paradigm that suggests that society can maintain stability and solidarity even though people pursue their interests.

A functionalist approach to sociology believes that “society works because it has institutions which fulfill certain functions.” (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

Functionalists tend to look at how social institutions such as the economy or family work together to enable society to function well.

How Do You Use a Paradigm?

The two major theoretical paradigms in sociology provide the framework for much of what sociologists do.

If you intend to study crime and punishment, then functionalist ideas about social institutions like justice will be significant to your research.

If you are curious about why people marry and have children, on the other hand, you will want to study it from a conflict view.

What is the Purpose of a Paradigm?

The purpose of a theoretical paradigm is to make sense of the world around us. For instance, conflict theory suggests that society can be understood by examining the relationship between social classes (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

Two major paradigms in sociology assume very different views on how we look at the world as a whole.

One (functionalism) suggests that society is like a well-functioning machine. In contrast, the other (conflict theory) suggests that culture is more like a battleground where different groups constantly compete to survive.

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Why Are Paradigms So Important?

A paradigm is a lens or framework that we use to look at the world around us. As you will see in this article, different sociologists use similar concepts but put them together differently.

For example, functionalists and conflict theorists study social inequality; however, they do so with very different perspectives on how human beings interact.

The two different perspectives often lead sociologists to look at the same social phenomena in very different ways. For instance, some sociologists are curious about studying how people get married and others talk about why marriage happens.

The way we frame the study of a particular phenomenon depends on the theoretical perspective that we use.

What Are the Four Paradigms of Communication?

Communication is an essential topic for sociologists because it helps us understand how people come together as social beings.

Paradigms of communication can also be used to study power structures in society, mainly when communication channels are controlled by those with the most economic and political power (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

There are four different theoretical paradigms that sociologists use to study communication. These include critical theory, symbolic interactionism, structuralism, and functionalism (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

Critical Theory:

Critical theorists believe that the way we communicate is shaped by how society is structured. Two main ideas come out of critical theory. The first is the idea that communication is mediated by the social structure in which we live.

In other words, different kinds of people are privileged to communicate through particular media (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004). For example, those who own newspapers and radio stations communicate their ideas to a broader audience.

On the other hand, ordinary people will not have the same kind of access to media outlets. The second important idea in critical theory is that social structures control how we think about the world around us (Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

Critical theorists believe that all of our thoughts and ideas are socially constructed. Our thoughts and beliefs do not necessarily have a reality beyond what society has created.

Symbolic Interactionism:

Like critical theorists, symbolic interactionists think media outlets allow people to communicate their opinions to larger audiences (Krippendorff, 2004).

However, symbolic interactionists are interested in how ordinary people use media outlets to help define who they are and influence how other people see them. For example, a TV show might depict young adults living together without any adult supervision.

The symbolic interactionist would be interested in understanding how ordinary people learn about the world through such mediated experiences (Krippendorff, 2004).

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Sociologists who believe in structuralism are interested in understanding how communication is organized by social institutions such as families or the media (Krippendorff, 2004; Marin-Lamellet & Marin-Lamellet, 2004).

They also want to understand why some people have more power than others. Structuralists are interested in the way communication is structured by social forces. For example, some people might be given more ability to spread their ideas than ordinary people (Krippendorff, 2004).


Sociologists who believe that the goal of society is to create harmony among different groups of people are called functionalists (Krippendorff, 2004).

Functionalists believe that media outlets allow different groups of people to communicate with one another. For example, a newspaper is published in a community where many immigrants live.

The newspaper’s readership might reflect this fact, and there would be space in the paper for letters written by both American-born and foreign-born residents.

What is a Paradigm According to Kuhn?

According to Kuhn, a paradigm is a “commonly accepted worldview” used to make sense of phenomena.

In social sciences, the prevailing paradigm is generally known as the sociology paradigm or the sociological perspective.

Paradigm is the total theory of reality shared by members of a particular tradition or subculture (Kuhn, 1962).

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The Sociology Paradigm

The sociology paradigm or the sociological perspective has strongly influenced communication studies since the late 19th century.

When applied to mass media research, it considers communication a set of ideas about social life and society, which emerge from the social relationships of any given society or culture.

In this regard, communication is an integral part of human interactions in various contexts (Bryant & Zillmann, 1985; Gutiérrez Borrás, 1991). It also consists of how messages are created and spread, the social relationships, power structures, norms, and values that affect these processes (Flores-González & Flores-González, 2002; Moraes et al., 2008).

However, this paradigm is not without limitations as it concentrates on how media contribute to the maintenance of existing discourses.

The sociology paradigm also ignores the fact that media communications may also contribute to societal change as well.

What is the Difference Between Paradigm and Theory?

The difference between paradigm and theory is that:

1. Theoretical perspectives and paradigms make assumptions about the way we perceive reality; theories are based on empirical data, whereas the paradigm is a framework or interpretation of fact (e.g., the “sociological perspective”).

2. Paradigm dictates how all succeeding theories must be formulated while ideas are generated as solutions to a single problem or question.

3. Paradigms are based on underlying assumptions that can be tested, while theories are conclusions derived from empirical data (Krippendorff, 2004).

4. Paradigms are accepted as a totality while theories have to be proved by scientific methods and may compete with one another (Krippendorff, 2004).

5. Theories change more quickly than paradigms because theories can be applied flexibly to different research areas; however, this flexibility allows them to lose their significance as testable statements (Krippendorff, 2004).

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 What is the Difference Between Paradigm and System?

The difference between paradigm and system is:

1. A paradigm outlines a conceptual framework, whereas a systematic attempt to explain phenomena uses theories.

2. Systems enable information to be orderly, while paradigms provide overarching frameworks of structural relationships between concepts (Krippendorff, 2004).

3. The systems are used to make sense of a situation, whereas the paradigm helps communicate concepts in order and is much broader than systems (Krippendorff, 2004).

4. A system organizes things into categories, whereas a paradigm describes broader relationships within those categories (Kripke, 1976).

5. Criticism based on incongruity can cause a system to change, while criticism based on fundamental theoretical flaws can lead to a paradigm change (Krippendorff, 2004).

6. For paradigms to be replaced by new ones, the problems have to reach crisis dimensions, and solutions that are within everyone’s grasp have to be proposed; at this stage, the status quo is replaced by a new set of ideas that resolves the previous problems (Krippendorff, 2004).

7. The question “What is?” is answered by the system approach, while the question “How?” is responded to by the paradigm approach (Kripke, 1976).

8. A system solves particular problems or deals with specific issues, whereas a paradigm offers a more complete and integrated picture of reality (Kripke, 1976).

9. A paradigm deals with fundamental questions about the nature of existence, whereas a system can help you find your way out of a building or put together an IKEA shelf (Thompson & Schmitz, 2014).

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What is a Paradigm Shift?

A paradigm shift is a complete change in the fundamental assumptions of a scientific discipline. An example would be when Einstein proposed his theory of relativity which completely overturned previously accepted concepts about space and time.

A similar thing happened during Copernicus’ time when he suggested that the earth was not at the center of our solar system (Krippendorff, 2004).

What is a Paradigm Effect?

A paradigm effect is a change in how something works or is viewed due to changes to its associated paradigm (Krippendorff, 2004).

What is Kuhn’s Paradigm Shift Theory?

Kuhn’s theory meant that Kuhnian perspectives were scientific revolutions resulting in major conceptual shifts, but he never used the term Kuhnian revolution (Vinn & Genovese, 2013).

Kuhn also did not suggest that scientific revolutions would wipe out the entire traces of the previous scientific period (Vinn & Genovese, 2013). Kuhn (1970) indicated four conditions that lead to a paradigm shift in science.

What Are Kuhn’s Conditions for a Kuhnian Revolution?

A Kuhnian revolution occurs when the accepted model of reality is replaced by a new one that explains and predicts certain aspects of truth in a better way (Krippendorff, 2004).

For a Kuhn-revolution to occur in science, four conditions have to be met:

(1) The accumulation of problems that leads to a crisis.

(2) Development of a new paradigm

(3) The rejection of the old paradigm and

(4) Adoption of the new one.

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What Are Barriers to a Paradigm Shift?

The perception that the incumbent paradigm is not working is necessary for a revolution to occur, but it does not guarantee that one will (Warming, 2014).

A lot of researchers are invested in their research, and they won’t change them easily. Isolating when concepts and assumptions stop being questioned or scrutinized by those who hold them is a barrier to a paradigm shift.

Leaving science in the hands of academics and funding agencies would mean that this will always be a barrier to a paradigm shift. It allows them to control what is being investigated without much scrutiny (Warming, 2014).

Why Are Paradigms So Powerful?

Paradigms are powerful as they are often intertwined, and Kuhn stated that scientific revolutions could be so powerful as to destroy the entire traditions of a Kuhnian period (Vinn & Genovese, 2013). Kuhn (1970) believed that paradigms could be so compelling as to suppress all debate over fundamental issues within its Kuhnian field (Krippendorff, 2004).

Kuhn also believed that paradigms could restrict ‘normal science’ within Kuhnian fields, preventing Kuhnian scientists from tackling any fundamental changes and making major Kuhnian paradigms hard to shift (Krippendorff, 2004).

However, Kuhn did not believe that this was a bad thing. Kuhn stated that Kuhnian paradigms are as powerful as Kuhn says that scientific progress depends on Kuhnian paradigm stability, which Kuhn believed was essential for scientific and technical innovation (Vinn & Genovese, 2013).

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Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shift is instrumental in explaining and understanding the history and progress of science. The nature and deep-rootedness of paradigms can influence how scientists determine what they study, why they learn it, and its extent. It can make even what questions are considered relevant or valuable to raise (Vinn & Genovese, 2013).

The limitation of Kuhn’s model of the scientific revolution is the excessive focus on Western science and natural sciences. The difficulty in transposing his model beyond science and into other fields, such as policy or design, shows that there is no one size fits all (Vinn & Genovese, 2013).

The theory of paradigm shift can help explain the process and factors behind the change.  Kuhn’s framework allows one to understand how to approach a problem that may be caused by a lack of understanding or being solved incorrectly. It provides suggestions on how to solve these issues.

By understanding how science works and why paradigms shift, one can address problems head-on to bring about reform or revolution.

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