Just Sociology

Understanding Consensus Theories: How Shared Norms and Values Maintain Social Order

Consensus theories are sociological perspectives that focus on the agreement and social cohesion among members of a society, which serves as a basis for social order. The term consensus refers to the shared norms, values, and expectations of individuals in a society, and the legitimacy of the authority that represents them.

In this article, we will examine the definition of consensus theories, examples of consensus theories, including Emile Durkheim’s functionalism, and the perspectives of pluralism and the

New Right.

Definition

Consensus theories are sociological perspectives that view social order as a result of a broad agreement among individuals in society. This agreement is rooted in the shared values, beliefs, and norms of the society as a whole, and serves as a basis for social cohesion.

Consensus theories suggest that social order is maintained when individuals conform to these shared norms and values, and when there is a legitimate authority to enforce them. Social institutions, such as government and education, play a critical role in maintaining consensus by promoting these shared norms and values.

Examples of Consensus Theories

One of the earliest consensus theorists was Emile Durkheim. His functionalist theory proposed that society is like an organism in which each part has a specific function to perform, and that social order is achieved through a collective consciousness or shared understanding of norms and values.

Functionalism posits that deviations from these shared norms and values create social problems. Robert Merton also developed a consensus perspective, known as strain theory, which focuses on the idea that structural constraints can cause individuals to experience strain, leading to deviant behavior.

Pluralism, another consensus theory, emphasizes the existence of diverse subcultures within a society that share common societal norms and values, such as the American Dream. This perspective suggests that diverse subcultures benefit the wider society by providing input and participation in the decision-making process.

The

New Right also falls under the umbrella of consensus theories, emphasizing the importance of a strong community and individual responsibility in maintaining social order. However, they differ from other consensus theorists in that they view the pursuit of individual goals as critical to social stability.

Durkheim’s Functionalism

Durkheim’s functionalist theory emphasizes the notion of collective consciousness the shared norms, values, and beliefs that hold a society together. This collective consciousness provides a basis for social order through a value consensus, or shared understanding of what is acceptable behavior.

Durkheim argues that social facts, or objective social phenomena, exist independently of individuals and have a coercive power over individuals through socialization. Furthermore, Durkheim suggests that social institutions are like organs of society, each playing a specific cognitive function.

The economy produces goods, politics governs the society, and education serves as a socializing agent. He believed that society is strengthened when these institutions work together to promote shared norms and values, which in turn serves as a basis for social order.

Pluralism and

New Right Perspectives

Pluralism

Pluralism is a consensus perspective that emphasizes societal diversity, with each group sharing the same underlying norms and values of society. The concept of the American Dream embodies the idea that each individual can achieve success through personal effort and determination.

Pluralism suggests that subcultures can coexist within wider society, as long as they share this common understanding of what constitutes a successful life. Pluralism recognizes that there will be differences in ideology and cultural practices, but suggests that these differences can be overcome through mutual respect and shared norms.

This perspective puts forth the idea that subcultures contribute to social stability by providing diversity, and as long as they do not challenge the dominant norms and values of society, they can coexist in a functional nation.

New Right

The

New Right perspective emphasizes the importance of a strong community and individual responsibility, but differs from other consensus theorists in the emphasis on the pursuit of individual goals. The

New Right believes that a strong sense of community is necessary for social order, but that individuals should have the freedom to pursue their own interests and goals.

The

New Right argues that social problems arise when individuals fail to take responsibility for their actions, or when there is an absence of shared norms and values. They view negative dysfunctions, such as crime and drug addiction, as the result of individuals failing to take personal responsibility for their actions.

The

New Right emphasizes the importance of socializing agents, such as family and education, in promoting shared norms and values. Conclusion:

In conclusion, consensus theories provide a perspective on how societal order is achieved through shared norms and values, with legitimate authority to enforce them.

Emile Durkheims functionalist theory recognizes the importance of social facts and institutional support for social order. Pluralism recognizes that societal diversity can contribute to social stability if there is agreement on what constitutes a successful life.

The

New Right places emphasis on individual responsibility while recognizing the importance of strong community ties. These theories provide important perspectives on how social order is achieved in societies, and understanding these perspectives can help inform solutions to social problems.

Expansion:

Consensus vs. Conflict Theory

Definitions

Consensus theory and conflict theory are two sociological perspectives that offer different insights on how societies work. Consensus theory, as discussed in the previous section, emphasizes the importance of shared norms and values and legitimate authority in maintaining social order.

Conflict theory, on the other hand, emphasizes the role of social struggle and limited resources in shaping society. Conflict theory suggests that societal order is created through a power struggle between competing groups, with those groups that hold wealth and power attaining the most influence.

As a result, social conflict is an inevitable part of society, as people compete for limited resources and influence. Unlike consensus theory, conflict theory suggests that the articulation of consensus might conceal or benefit certain groups over others.

Differences

The key differences between consensus and conflict theories involve the ways in which they view societal order. Consensus theory assumes that societies function through a shared agreement on norms and values, with legitimate authority maintaining order.

In contrast, conflict theory views order as arising from the exercise of power by certain groups over others, with societal conflict being a constant process. Additionally, while consensus theory views societal change as a slow, evolutionary progression, conflict theory suggests that change is driven by social struggle, often through conflict between groups seeking access to limited resources.

Finally, while consensus theory emphasizes the importance of social institutions in promoting shared values and maintaining order, conflict theory suggests that these same institutions can create and reinforce power disparities.

Consensus Theories in Criminology

Durkheim and Anomie

Emile Durkheim’s functionalist theory has informed much of criminological theory, particularly his notion of anomie. Anomie is the condition that arises when there is a loss of control over institutions, including economic systems or social institutions, leading to a sense of normlessness in society.

Durkheim suggests that a lack of social structure, due to weak institutions, can lead individuals to feel disconnected from social norms and values, resulting in deviant behavior. Durkheim argued that individual deviance is caused by a breakdown in value consensus, resulting in a lack of regulation of behavior.

In other words, those who do not share society’s values may not feel bound by its norms and may engage in criminal behavior. By contrast, Durkheim argued that strong social institutions that promote shared values can prevent individuals from deviating from societal norms.

Merton’s Strain Theory

In contrast to Durkheims functionalist perspective, Robert Merton’s strain theory focuses on the role of economic opportunities in promoting or inhibiting criminal behavior. Merton argues that those who are denied opportunities to achieve success through traditional means, such as through educational or employment channels, may turn to illegal activities to attain their goals or aspirations.

In this sense, Mertons theory highlights the idea that economic crime can result from a lack of access to legitimate opportunities. Merton identified five modes of adaptation to social norms and values: conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion.

Conformity involves accepting societal norms and values and pursuing legitimate opportunities to succeed. Innovation involves deviating from societal norms and values to seek success, often through illegal or unconventional means.

Ritualism refers to individuals who adhere to societal norms but are unlikely to achieve success. Retreatism involves abandoning societal norms and values altogether, often through drug use or other socially isolating habits.

Rebellion involves rejecting dominant norms and values and seeking to replace them with new ones. Conclusion:

Consensus theories and conflict theories provide different insights on how societies work, emphasizing shared values and norms or social struggle and limited resources, respectively.

In the field of criminology, both Durkheim’s functionalist perspective and Merton’s strain theory have informed our understanding of deviant behavior. Durkheim’s notion of anomie highlights the importance of social structure in maintaining societal order, while Merton’s strain theory suggests that a lack of access to legitimate opportunities can lead to economic crime.

By understanding these theories, we can better understand the factors that contribute to criminal behavior and work to prevent it. Expansion:

Evidence

Consensus Theories in Criminology

Consensus theories have been evaluated in the context of criminology through a range of research studies, shedding light on their applicability and effectiveness in predicting criminal behavior. One such study is the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, a longitudinal cohort study that tracked over 400 individuals in England from early adolescence into their adulthood.

The study found evidence to support Durkheim’s notion of anomie and Merton’s strain theory. Specifically, the study found that individuals who experience a lack of socialization, defined as weak institutional support, at a young age are more likely to exhibit delinquent behavior in adolescence and adulthood.

The study suggested that children from poorer single-parent families were more likely to experience weak institutional support, leading to a lack of socialization and deviant behavior in adolescence and adulthood. This study provides empirical evidence that supports the consensus view that social structure, such as weak institutions, can lead to deviant behavior.

Another study that supports consensus theories in criminology is the National Youth Survey. This study found that pressure to achieve material success and a lack of legitimate opportunities for success are key features of Merton’s strain theory.

Specifically, this study found that young people who experience difficulty achieving success through traditional channels, such as education and employment, are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior as a means of achieving success. The National Youth Survey also found support for Durkheims anomie theory, suggesting that those who feel disconnected from social norms and values may be more likely to engage in delinquent behavior.

This study suggests that the struggle to achieve material success and a lack of social structure, or weak institutions, can lead to deviant behavior. Furthermore, research has supported the notion of shared societal norms in promoting social order.

For example, a study conducted by Trnudd and Sarnecka on the role of moral foundations in predicting support for violence in Finland found that individuals who had a strong moral belief in care and fairness were less likely to support violence. This suggests that shared moral principles, such as fairness and care, can serve as the basis for social norms and values that promote social order.

Conclusion:

The evidence supports the notion that consensus theories in criminology have some degree of applicability in understanding criminal behavior. The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development and the National Youth Survey, among other research, provide evidence that supports Durkheims anomie theory and Mertons strain theory.

These theories suggest that weak institutional support, such as a lack of socialization and access to opportunities for success, can lead to deviant behavior. Additionally, the study conducted by Trnudd and Sarnecka suggests that shared moral principles can serve as the basis for social norms and values that promote social order.

By understanding these theories, and the empirical evidence supporting them, we can work towards developing strategies to prevent criminal behavior and promote social stability through institutional support, access to opportunities, and shared norms and values. In conclusion, consensus theories provide a perspective on how societal order is achieved through shared norms and values, with legitimate authority to enforce them.

This article has explored the definitions of consensus theories, examples of consensus theories, including Emile Durkheim’s functionalism, and the perspectives of pluralism and the

New Right. We have also discussed the differences between consensus and conflict theories, as well as the role of consensus theories in criminology, supported by empirical evidence.

Through understanding these theories, we can better understand the factors that contribute to criminal behavior and work to prevent it, promoting social stability and order. FAQs:

– What is the difference between consensus and conflict theories?

Consensus theories emphasize shared norms and values, with legitimate authority maintaining societal order, while conflict theories see social conflict and limited resources as drivers of societal change and order. – What is Durkheim’s functionalism?

Durkheim’s functionalist theory emphasizes shared norms and values that serve as a basis for social order, maintained through social institutions functioning like organs of society. – What is Merton’s strain theory?

Merton’s strain theory highlights the role of economic opportunities in promoting or inhibiting criminal behavior, where a lack of access to legitimate opportunities can lead to economic crime. – What is the evidence supporting consensus theories in criminology?

The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development and the National Youth Survey provide support for Durkheim’s anomie theory and Merton’s strain theory, suggesting that weak institutional support, such as lack of socialization and opportunities, can lead to deviant behavior.

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