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Sociology of Education

Education sociologists analyze educational problems and issues using the knowledge, concepts, and research methods of sociology.

Sociology of education as a discipline focuses on two levels of analysis. At a macro level, sociologists try to identify how social forces such as politics, the economy and culture create variations in schools and the output of those schools.(1) At a micro-level, researchers seek to identify how variation in practices of schools lead to differences in student outcomes.(1) Some sociologists focus on the economic aspects of education and others study socialization or allocation, among other fields.(1)

There are three theoretical frameworks through which to study the sociology of education:(1)

The Functionalist Perspective

Functionalists believe that education serves important functions in society.

  1. Education socializes children and prepares them for society. They learn a great deal of society’s culture, moral values, ethics, beliefs, habits and norms at school.
  2. Education provides occupational training, especially in  industrialized societies such as the United States. Most jobs today require at least a high school education.
  3. Education provides social control or the regulation of deviant behaviour.

The Symbolic interaction View

Symbolic interactionists in the field of the sociology of education focus on interactions during the schooling process and the outcomes of those interactions. A concept explored in this field is the teacher expectancy effect.

Conflict Theory

Conflict theorists investigate the disintegrative and disruptive aspects of education and believe that it is unequally distributed throughout society and is used to separate groups based on class, gender or race. Education level is a mechanism for producing and reproducing inequality in our society and can be used for a tool for discrimination against minorities, working-class people and women.


(1) Anderson, M.L. and Taylor, H.F. (2009). Sociology: The Essentials. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

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