Sociological Theory Today
While these three paradigms still provide the foundation for modern sociological theory, some
theoretical evolution has occurred in the discipline. Structural-functionalism was a dominant
force after World War II and until the 1960s and 1970s, when sociologists realized that it could
not explain the rapid social change happening across the United States.
Conflict theory gained prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, when sociologists revitalized the
study of institutionalized social inequality and critical theorists began to promote change
through the application of sociological principles. Yet, just as structural functionalism was
criticized for focusing too much on the stability of societies, conflict theory has been criticized
for ignoring social stability.
Since the 1980s, symbolic interactionism has expanded in influence – particularly through the
efforts of postmodern social theorists who emphasize the individual nature of reality. Research
done from this perspective is often criticized for lacking objectivity and employing an extremely
narrow focus. Proponents, of course, consider this one of the paradigm’s greatest strengths.
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