Sociology is a science which studies society and uses various methods of investigation and analysis in order to develop the understanding of different social phenomena, interaction of social groups and processes happening in the society. There are several key perspectives in sociology which are presented by the frameworks aimed at analysis of certain phenomena. Key perspectives are functionalist, critical and social action perspective (Macionis, 2010).
The purpose of this assignment is to select a subject and to consider it from the point of view of two different sociological perspectives. I decided to select human body as the topic for analysis. However, this topic is too broad and after a certain consideration I have decided to narrow down the subject to the perception of heart in sociology. I believe it is appropriate to discuss this subject using functionalist (global) and social action (more sociologically focused) perspectives.
1. Functionalist perspective
The very idea of functionalism is built on the perception of human society as a system divided into parts which can work together and the functionality of which can be synchronized, just like the organs of human body work together and represent a separate independent system. Thus, the concept of human body and of heart as the central organ perfectly matches the functionalist perspective. The analogue of heart in sociology can be the financial system, which supplies other social institutions with funds required for their existence just like the heart pushes blood to all organs of the human body. Again, social institutions return the transformed finances to the financial system, in a way similar to the processes of the human body; moreover, if some institution becomes unnecessary or does not perform the required functions (like an organ becomes “ill”), in a society this institution will have to pass away (similar to the amputation of incurable organs). So, from a broad functionalist perspective financial system is similar to the heart in human body, and performs similar functions.
Heart and health issues related to the heart can be also considered in their direct meaning using a functionalist perspective. These issues also play significant role in the life of the society, since patients with heart diseases require special treatment, have to lead a balanced life, their friends and relatives should be aware to recognize symptoms of a heart attack etc. Thus, from a functionalist perspective, it is possible to determine that there are several interconnected groups of people which have emerged due to the existence of heart diseases. They are: patients, medical staff, close relatives, family ad friends, colleagues, researchers studying heart problems etc. Each of these groups demonstrates relatively stable patterns of behavior (Giddens, 2010) with regard to heart-related issues, and all of them interact together in order to address health problems of heart sufferers. Both above-described points of view represent the globalized perception of the heart as part of human body and analysis of this subject using a functionalist perspective.
2. Social action perspective
While functionalist perspective is used to analyze the phenomena at macro level, the perspective of social action (action theory) considers the phenomena on the micro level (Lamertz & Martens & Heugens, 2003). This perspective holds a number of approaches, e.g. the relationship of actors and social meanings developed by Max Weber, Marxist materialist approach and symbolic interactionism which emerged in the works of G.H. Mead (Andersen & Kaspersen, 2000). In this paper, the analysis of heart as of the part of human body and a symbol is performed using the positions of symbolic interactionism. The main premises of symbolic interactionism are the following: people treat certain things using the meanings they ascribe to these things; the meaning of these things is shaped by the social interaction of people; the meanings are changing in the process of social interaction (Macionis, 2010).
The symbol of heart is commonly associated with expression of love, and it is heard to find an individual in the modern world who does not know this association. People manufacture a variety of things with heart which are meant to express love and affection. However, in the human body the heart is responsible for pumping blood to all organs, and there is no logical reason to associate this organ with the feeling of love. Evidently, since a certain period of time the society adopted this association.
The roots of the heart symbol descend so far as to the ancient Greece. Scientists then believed that human soul is placed in the heart, and associated platonic love, agape, with the connection of the hearts. Roman physician Galen believed that heart is the place generating the emotions. The society no longer supports these ideas, but the heart as the symbol of love and associated emotions has remained. This symbol has grown from a simple emoticon to a very powerful expression of feelings between people, and according to action theory perspective, the transformation of this symbol has not changed (Lamertz & Martens & Heugens, 2003). In future societies people might mean something different using the symbol of heart in their communication. However, in our society heart symbolized love, affection and positive emotions.
Different sociological perspectives allow to study one phenomenon from different sides and give chances to understand the diverse effect of this phenomenon on the society (Hedstrom & Wittrock, 2009). The perception of human body and heart as a part of it from the point of view of functionalist perspective and from the point of view of symbolic interactionism appeared to be significantly different, and revealed different aspect of the chosen topic. From functionalist perspective, human body could be perceived as a model of the society, and in this case the analogue of heart is the financial system which, as it turned out, performs rather similar functions. From the other side, heart as an organ and heart-related health issues have formed several sociologically interconnected groups of people, which have a separate place in the society. Finally, using the perspective of symbolic interactionism, it is possible to determine that heart is not only a part of a human body but a powerful symbol used to express love and positive feelings between people as part of social interaction. The analysis of the concept of heart from different sociological perspectives allowed to deepen the understanding of society and its various aspects.
Andersen, H. & Kaspersen, L.B. (2000). Classical and modern social theory. Wiley-Blackwell.
Giddens, A. (2010). Sociology: Introductory Readings. Polity.
Hedstrom, P. & Wittrock, B. (2009). Frontiers of sociology. BRILL.
Lamertz, K. & Martens, M. & Heugens, P. (2003). Issue Evolution: A Symbolic Interactionist Perspective. Corporate Reputation Review, 6 (1), 82-96.
Macionis, J.J. (2010). Society: The Basics. Pearson Education.