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Do functionalist and conflict theories explain trends and

Theories of the sociology of higher education access and participation The emergence of the sociology of higher education as a sub-discipline in the 1960s coincided with a rapidly changing society and concomitant massification of higher education. In subsequent years, lines of inquiry expanded to include two additional sub-fields: Since that time, it has expanded to include four emerging threads of investigation: In the interest of space, in this chapter I focus on those theories, and related criticisms, employed by sociologists of higher education, of access and participation with an emphasis on inequality.

I provide an overview of the following theoretical approaches: I complement these descriptions with seminal and contemporary examples from the research literature for each theory, or combinations thereof. Functionalism From a functional perspective, society is envisioned as an organic whole and is comprised of systems that are interconnected for the benefit of society. Highly skilled occupations require high-level skill acquisition — either in the form of generic or specific skills.

These skills are obtained at formal educational, and particularly in North America, at post-secondary institutions. As a result, the number of years that individuals are required to remain in the formal educational system continues to increase. This functional perspective is foundational in policy literature produced by organizations such as the OECD. More specifically, this person can expect to be enrolled in full-time studies for 16. Occupational positions are stratified by the level of skills earned by individuals, again through formal training.

As some occupations are more prestigious than others, and require more specialized training, the number of available positions is limited. Hence, do functionalist and conflict theories explain trends and is functional in that those with the highest levels of skills are employed in positions with the highest level of occupational prestige, income, and power, whereas others who are deemed to be less able are slotted early into lower educational tracks and eventually less skilled, lower level positions.

Bauman 2000 claims that in contemporary society those without high-level skills are tethered to geographical place and hence belong to the solid modernity of the past.

Social conflict theory Critics of functional theory argue that evidence does not support many of its purported claims. According to Collins 19712002education for the most part is irrelevant, counterproductive, and inefficient at teaching the types of skills — in particular vocational skills and cutting-edge technical skills — that would enhance productivity in the workplace.

Three Major Perspectives in Sociology

Using evidence, for example, that class origins and occupational attainment in the USA have been constant throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, conflict theorists reject the premise that social change dictates how functional demand changes. Instead, they argue that ascriptive factors, rather than technical skills, play a major role in determining occupational success. As an example, Karabel 2005 elucidates how admission policies at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were distorted to focus on physical attributes, sociability, and athletic ability with the goal of excluding certain groups primarily Jews who would otherwise be able to compete for admission places if ability were the sole criterion.

In relation to higher education, hierarchical institutional arrangements and related participation and completion rates lend themselves to a conflict theory argument. In Europe, different vocational tracks e. Credentialism theory is do functionalist and conflict theories explain trends and line of argument emerging from conflict theory. The functionalist view that increasing levels of education are necessary to contend with an increasingly complex society has generated substantial criticism.

Collins 19792002 asserts that there is little evidence to support the view that 1 the majority of jobs in modern society require more sophisticated knowledge and skills than in previous years and 2 that there is a positive relationship between formal education and productivity.

Dore 1976 argues that credentials become inflated with rapid educational expansion; thus, the competition for desirable occupations then exerts pressure to increase the quantity of credentials required by employers. In this way, higher education serves as a screening device by sorting individuals of differing abilities.

Credentials are recognized by employers and by the larger society as constituting adequate preparation for occupational status; therefore, credentials rather than knowledge ensure market survival Aronowitz and Giroux, 1985.

  1. A plethora of studies in the realm of higher education employing reproduction theory has emerged over the last thirty years.
  2. According to Collins 1971 , 2002 , education for the most part is irrelevant, counterproductive, and inefficient at teaching the types of skills — in particular vocational skills and cutting-edge technical skills — that would enhance productivity in the workplace. First, it is not possible to determine characteristics of the individual, institutional aspects of educational status allocation, and the internal organization and processes of educational institutions that affect participation and attainment Bidwell and Friedkin, 1988 because this perspective only considers factors exogenous to post-secondary participation.
  3. Canadian Public Policy, 33 1 , 93—116. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 18 5 , 657—673.

Ironically, new technological advances such as massive open online courses MOOCs are challenging the relationships among formal education, skill acquisition, and credentialing practices. Currently there is also a lively debate on the optimal balance of general versus specific skills and academic versus vocational education, fuelled by organizations such as the OECD 2012. From a sociological perspective, framing these arguments either from conflict or a functional lens will lead to vastly different policy directions.

Stratification theory Another prominent theoretical approach is the social stratification perspective Clark, 1973. Several important findings have been revealed in these studies. That is, enrolment of women in undergraduate programs has now exceeded enrolment of men, but they continue to be underrepresented in certain disciplines e.

Although studies such as these have contributed greatly to the understanding of participation in higher education of various groups in society by highlighting the existence, persistence, or diminishment of certain structural inequalities, they provide little insight into how individuals make decisions about participation in post-secondary education and the processes that underpin these decisions.

This approach has two primary limitations. First, it is not possible to determine characteristics of the individual, institutional aspects of educational status allocation, and the internal organization and processes of educational institutions that affect participation and attainment Bidwell and Friedkin, 1988 because this perspective only considers factors exogenous to post-secondary participation.

Second, this perspective does not allow for a discussion of the processes behind these disparities Boyd et al. Although it is not unusual to conclude that a measure such as socioeconomic status is related to the probability that an individual will continue on to post-secondary education, it remains unclear as to how these correlations come about and hence serves as an incomplete measure.

Such criticism led to the development of a status attainment research agenda, which addresses some of the limitations encountered by a social stratification approach.

Status attainment The seminal work of Duncan and Hodge 1963 and Blau and Duncan 1967 generated a series of studies which now fall under the rubric of status attainment models. The original path model of occupational status attainment presented by Blau and Duncan 1967 was developed to address two questions: The model was subsequently modified by the addition of psychological and social-psychological variables that included mental ability, academic performance, the influence of significant others, and educational and occupational aspirations Sewell, Haller, and Ohlendorf, 1970 ; Sewell, Haller, and Portes, 1969.

Since educational attainment was demonstrated to be a powerful predictor of subsequent occupational attainment, educational attainment became the dependent variable. Similar to the findings of studies that employ occupational attainment as the dependent variable, studies of educational attainment have demonstrated not only the direct relationship between educational attainment and the status origins of students, but that these effects are mediated by the intervening variables contained in the model.

These variables, in diminishing importance, include academic ability, prior academic performance, educational aspirations, parental and peer social support, and track placement Bidwell and Friedkin, 1988. The Wisconsin model of status attainment has been described as one of the most significant and influential advances in recent sociological research Kerckhoff, 1976.

Coser 1975 explains that because of the complexity of these models, it is possible to assess the contributions of social inheritance and individual effort in the status attainment process.

Yet, one major criticism of status attainment models persists. Extra-individual or structural constraints, such as class barriers or between-group differences in opportunity structures, have been given minimal attention.

Kerckhoff 1976 explains that the theoretical approach used in the interpretation of status attainment models is that of social interactionism and the focus of such a socialization model is on the individual and her or his evolving characteristics. This perspective, Coser 1975 adds, is rooted in the prevailing American ideology of individual achievement.

Although structural constraints and selection criteria are absent from most status attainment models, they have not escaped investigation. In general, these studies reveal how various components of post-secondary educational life, such as the social organization of education and the hidden curriculum, contribute to social reproduction.

Reproduction do functionalist and conflict theories explain trends and Reproduction theory, as originally advanced by Bourdieu and Passeron 1977 and specifically about the field of higher education 1979provides a rich arsenal of theory that is directly relevant to the field of higher education. According to reproduction theory, in order to do functionalist and conflict theories explain trends and for practices actionthe series of effects that underlie them can only be accounted for by illuminating them.

Capital can exist in objectified form, such as material properties, or in incorporated form as in cultural capital.

Similar to Collins 1971the culture of the dominant class is transmitted and rewarded by the educational system.

  • From a practical rationality perspective, reasoning is undertaken to determine what to do Audi, 1982;
  • From a practical rationality perspective, reasoning is undertaken to determine what to do Audi, 1982;
  • Decaying American cities have become a supreme legacy of the warfare system.

Schools reinforce particular types of linguistic competence, authority patterns, and types of curricula. However, Bourdieu provides a clear theoretical connection between families and the educational system.

Children from privileged social do functionalist and conflict theories explain trends and acquire cultural resources of the dominant class in the form of habits, good taste, and attitudes within the home environment. Upon entry into the educational system, students who are familiar with the dominant culture are able to receive and decode it.

The volume of the social capital possessed by an individual is determined by the size of the network of connections that can be mustered and the volume of the various forms of capital possessed by each member within a given network Bourdieu, 1986. Social networks transmit information. From a higher education perspective, the most valuable is practical or theoretical knowledge of current and future worth of academic qualifications. Informed individuals make wise educational investments e.

According to Bourdieu 1977 disposition has three intersecting dimensions. First, it is the outcome of an organizing action, and hence has a structuring component. Second, it implies a way of being, a habitual state. Third, the idea of predisposition, tendency, propensity, or inclination is embedded in the definition.

Each individual is confined to one, and only one, position and this position is defined by 1 the positions that she or he occupies in the different fields, including the field of higher education institutions and 2 the distribution of powers that are active in each field.

Because direct mechanisms of reproduction, such as discrimination based on ascriptive characteristics including gender, race, or sexual orientation, are no longer considered to be legitimate, dominant groups will continue to invent new indirect mechanisms of reproduction in order to circumvent the levelling hand of meritocratic criteria. A plethora of studies in the realm of higher education employing reproduction theory has emerged over the last thirty years.

For example, Reay et al. Rational choice theory Although rational choice theory originates from the discipline of economics, it is firmly embedded — either implicitly or explicitly — in sociology of higher education research Hechter and Kanazawa, 1997 and particularly in studies of post-secondary participation and attainment.

According to rational choice theory, when an individual is confronted with several courses of action, the action taken is the one that she or he believes is most likely to have the best outcome. That is, rational choice involves choosing the best means available for achieving a given end. In this sense, rational choice is instrumental, and actions are chosen as efficient means to a further end. Those endorsing this perspective argue that it is a form of optimal adaptation to existing circumstances Elster, 1986 ; Harsanyi, 1986.

  1. National Postsecondary Educational Cooperative. Also, rational choice theory is not useful in explaining the different preferences, desires, and beliefs that individuals hold and reasons offered, amounts of information used, or costs and benefits considered.
  2. They also expanded Marx's idea that the key conflict in society was strictly economic.
  3. Upon entry into the educational system, students who are familiar with the dominant culture are able to receive and decode it. From a higher education perspective, rational choice theory has been used to attempt to explain the means that individuals use to pursue certain goals.
  4. Sociologists today employ three primary theoretical perspectives. Each perspective uniquely conceptualizes society, social forces, and human behavior see Table 1.
  5. While European functionalists originally focused on explaining the inner workings of social order, American functionalists focused on discovering the functions of human behavior. Emile Durkheim suggested that social consensus takes one of two forms.

Aiming to explain human behaviour, rational choice theory proceeds in two steps. The first step is normative — to determine what a rational person would do in a given circumstance. The normative or prescriptive component prescribes how individuals should act in a given situation, and emphasis is placed on guidelines, procedures, and analytical tools for optimizing decisions. It also predicts that individuals will act in the prescribed way. This is followed by the second step, descriptive in nature, which sets out to ascertain whether the action outlined in the first step is what the individual actually did.

In contrast to the normative model, the descriptive model describes the way that decisions are actually made in the real world. The focus of the descriptive model is to provide an account of decision-making behaviour, including each step in the process.

Various rational choice theorists emphasize different dimensions. Do functionalist and conflict theories explain trends and a practical rationality perspective, reasoning is undertaken to determine what to do Audi, 1982. This is contrasted with theoretical or epistemic reasoning which is undertaken to determine what is the case or what to believe Audi, 1982 ; Benn and Mortimore, 1976 Practical reasoning focuses on three components: A technical rationality perspective is often used to explain behaviour regarding educational choice.

From this perspective, the type of decision is important to consider. Decisions can be of three types: Choice regarding post-high school destination is generally assumed to be a decision under risk. From a higher education perspective, rational choice theory has been used to attempt to explain the means that individuals use to pursue certain goals. However, they challenge the explanatory power of such an interpretation.

Also, rational choice theory is not useful in explaining the different preferences, desires, and beliefs that individuals hold and reasons offered, amounts of information used, or costs and benefits considered. Feminist theory A unique feminist theory of the sociology of higher education does not exist.

However, consistent with the principles of feminist theory in general, feminist research in higher education could be said to adopt the definition by Chafetz, which she describes as a label that minimally includes four tenets: