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A Town in Turmoil: Theoretical Analysis

A Town in Turmoil: Theoretical Analysis

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to develop a critical analysis of the article ‘A Town in Turmoil’ from a sociological perspective. In particular, applying sociological theory emphasizes on three social theories- structural, conflict and symbolic theories. In brief, the story revolves around a racial conflict that began at Jena High School in rural Louisiana. In particular, the events began after Kenneth Purvis, a black junior student at Jena High, was granted the permission to “sit under the shade of an oak tree” in the school courtyard (Kovach and Campo-Flores 13). According to Kovach and Campo-Flores (13), when granting the permission, the deputy principal told Purvis “…you can sit anywhere you like…” However, this permission seems to have irritated the white students because it was one of the areas traditionally used by whites only. In the next few months, the school experienced violence because the white students clashed with their black counterparts. In addition, it drew the involvement of locals in the small town of Jenna.

Structural Functional Theory
Overview

According to Macionis (14), structural functionalism (functionalism) is a sociological theory that considers the society a body analogous to an organism with a number of organs or parts. These organs must be coordinated in order to promote social function, stability and unity. The theory argues that the society is analogous to an organism that has evolved with time. It approaches the society from a macro-level, from which it focuses on the structure and functions of the society. Elements of a society are important in analyzing social structure and functions. In addition, the society has five major structures or organs- the family, economy, religion, government and education system. Every society expects these elements and structures to work and function in a coordinated manner. It also expects its members to avoid straying away from the norms (Macionis 14).

For a society to function in the normal way, social structures must assume that systems have an underpinning state of equilibrium. If a change or failure of any of these five structures or elements occurs at any time, the entire system is affected and can collapse. In addition, every society has a social system defined by two major functions- manifest and latent. The term manifest represents the positive function that is desired, intended and expected. On the other hand, latent is the negative function.

Application in the case
From a functionalism perspective, Jena high school is an institution within the Jena society. Therefore, it is an “organ” of the society. The Jena community has its unique elements and structures that define its boundaries. From an evolution perspective, the Jena society has developed unique expectations of its structures. For instance, the society expects the school to perform its functions within the education system. However, the school, like the society, has its own culture and expectations of its members. It seems that Jena High School has a culture of separating whites from blacks. One expectation of its members is that the particular oak tree is reserved for the white students. In functionalism, this is “manifest” function. Any attempt to deviate from such tradition is likely to cause a conflict between the organs or members of the small Jena society. By allowing Purvis to rest under the oak tree, the vice principal has attempted to bring forth a “latent” function that is neither expected nor intended. This is the cause of the turmoil in the school.

On a wider scale, the school turmoil causes conflict in the whole society because it has already failed to function in coordination with the entire society at Jena. Since the school is an organ of the whole social system, it is expected to keep with the traditions and norms that have evolved alongside the society. By failing to obey the norms and traditions, the black students have ignited a conflict because the school function seems to be failing. Therefore, to control the turmoil in the town, the school must be the main point of focus in implementing strategies that will reduce racism.
Conflict Theory
Overview
In his theory, Karl Marx became the founder of the idea of ‘a society in conflict’. Marx perceived the society as a system made up of fragmented groups that tend to be in continuous state of competition for the economic and social resources (Sears 179). To maintain order in the society, the system must have a dominating group (the bourgeois) made up of those individuals or groups with the greatest access to economic, political and social resources. This group has power over those who do not have greater access to the resources (the Proletariat) and must provide labor to the bourgeois. There must be a conflict in such a society because those with the power of access to resources must always defend their positions and advantages. On the other hand, those with low advantages must fight to access of resources. Eventually, the Proletariat group will eventually recognize that they have inferior status and attempt to revolt in order to outdo the dominant group.

Application to the case
Evidently, the society at Jena and Jena High school is entirely dividend into two groups- the whites and the blacks. In rural Louisiana and the US in general, it is common for the whites to have more power and access to social, political and economic resources than the blacks. As such, they can be seen as the Burgeons within the context of the conflict theory. Therefore, the blacks are the Proletariats in this case. It seems that it has been the culture of the school to have the white students from the bourgeois backgrounds to occupy or sit in certain areas of the school that are considered for the elite class of students, while the blacks occupy other less privileged areas. The blacks have the desire to be in such areas, but due to their weak access to these positions, they must hold back. The society has been stable this way. However, Purvis is an example of students from the low class group that has recognized their submission and inferior status, which has motivated him to revolt. Since he cannot just revolt in a manner that would most likely show deviance, he seeks permission from the school, authorities. By allowing Purvis and his friends to occupy the area under the oak tree, the school management has already set up a way for conflict between the two groups. First, the black students have revolted by sitting in the position. They want to outdo the whites in order to access the resource. On the other hand, the whites must fight to control the resources and defend their advantages. As such, a conflict emerges, causing violence and injuries as each group fight for the resources.

Symbolic Interaction Theory

Overview
Symbolic interaction theory attempts to perceive the society from micro-levels. It takes the society as a wide body made up of families. Each family is a unit of interacting personalities (Sears 46). The theory argues that people communicate and relate with symbols such as rules, words, gestures and roles. Using these interactions, individuals give meaning to the society and the world. Thus, the society exists within every individual. The self in relation to others a critical aspect of the theory because it is the way in which individuals learn they are “good” or “bad”, what is right or wrong and who is important or not.

Application to the case
Within the context of Symbolic Interaction Theory, it is important to view the school as a unit of individuals. The individuals include the students and their teachers, including the school management. Over the years, the society has used symbols to communicate and interact. The students have learned what to do at what time and place based on the society that exists within every one of them. One of the symbols involves racial segregation as an accepted culture that allows the whites to occupy prestigious positions such as under the oak tree. By allowing the blacks to sit under the tree, the school has attempted to disrupt the relationship between individuals by interfering with their use of symbols to interact. This is the cause of the conflict. Purvis and his black friends have leant that the area under the oak tree is reserved, from social traditions, for the whites because they are important. By sitting in the position, they blacks are defiant and have broken the social norm. therefore, the whites must fight back to defend the traditions.
 
Works Cited
Kovach, Gretel and Arian Campo-Flores. “A town in turmoil”. Newsweek. Web. 14 Sep. 2007.
Macionis, Gerber. Sociology. New York: Pearson Inc., 2010. Print
Sears, Alan. A Good Book, In Theory: A Guide to Theoretical Thinking. North York: Higher Education University of Toronto Press, 2008. Print.

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