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In the field of sociology, there are different theoretical orientations. Examples of these orientations include positivism, realism and interpretivist sociology. The positivists believe that sociology can be "scientific" like the physical sciences. This is because they believe that social phenomena are essentially the same as physical phenomena and therefore, the research methods of the physical sciences can be used to study society. On the other hand, the realists believe that society is affected by hidden, underlying forces which are not obvious and which need to be investigated and clarified. The interpretivists believe that reality is "socially constructed" and subjective and therefore, it is important to try to understand the perceptions of individual actors undergoing social interaction.

Here are two examples of how differences in theoretical perspectives can affect social research:

Example One: Emile Durkheim's study of "Suicide"

Durkheim was a realist who argued that individuals are constrained and affected by larger social forces. Suicide is generally considered an individual act. However, Durkheim's study of suicide rates led him to conclude that suicide is more than an individual act and that it is affected by larger social forces of integration and regulation. Durkheim used official suicide statistics for comparative study. He noted that suicide rates tend to be relatively stable over time and that they were different for different social groups. Suicide rates were higher for Protestants than for Catholics. They were also higher for unmarried people than for married people. Durkheim argued that this was because Protestants were more individualistic whereas the Catholics were more group-oriented. Similarly, unmarried people tend to live less stable lives in contrast to married people. Thus social forces such as integration (a sense of belonging to the society which one lives in) and regulation (the extent to which an individual's desires and actions are kept in check by values and social constraints)can affect the propensity of people to commit suicide. If there is too little integration, this increases the risk of egoistic suicide. If there is too little regulation, the risk of anomic suicide is higher. On the other hand, too much integration will lead to altruistic suicide and too much regulation will lead to fatalistic suicide. Examples - the higher risk of egoistic suicide among immigrants who feel alienated from the foreign society which they are living in, the higher risk of anomic suicide among people who live nonconformist lives such as rock stars (e.g. Kurt Cobain). An example of altruistic suicide would be the Japanese kamikaze suicide pilots of World War Two who deliberately crashed their airplanes to destroy American warships ("Die for the Emperor of Japan"). An example of fatalistic suicide due to too much social regulation would be the love suicides of ancient Chinese society, i.e., a pair of lovers killing themselves because their families refuse to let them marry each other. Therefore, one can conclude that Durkheim's realist orientation led him to look for hidden forces which can affect suicide rates.

Example Two: Erving Goffman's study of "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life"

Goffman, on the other hand, was an interpretivist sociologist (more specifically, a symbolic interactionist) who believed that it is important to focus on interactions between individuals and how individual behaviour is affected by subjective feelings and perceptions. Thus, Goffman chose a social action and micro approach to the study of everyday behaviour. Goffman argued that people put on shows ("dramaturgy") to present a particular image of themselves to others ("impression management"). Using the analogy of the stage, he argued that in front of other people, individuals engage in "frontstage" behaviour. People will also use "props" to support their dramaturgy, e.g., branded clothes and expensive cars to project an image of success. By themselves or when they are with people whom they know very well such as close relatives, people will engage in "backstage" behaviour. Thus, Goffman's theoretical orientation led him to focus on social action instead of how social structure can constrain individual behaviour. He also does not pay attention to how ideas of "appropriate behaviour" and positive images are derived.


According to Karl Marx, human society has passed through a few stages, i.e., from primitive communism to ancient slavery to feudalism and then to capitalism. After the overthrow of capitalism by the working class, human society will move to the final stage of communism.

During the first stage (primitive communism) and the final stage (communism), there is no exploitation of one class by another class because private property (private ownership of the means of production) does not exist. Exploitation in the Marxist sense refers to the expropriation of surplus value from the labour of the subordinate class by the ruling class. "Surplus value" means the total value created by the member of the subordinate class minus what the member gets or is paid.

In ancient slavery, exploitation existed because one class (the slave-owners) owned and expropriated surplus value from the other class (slaves). The slaves created value but all they got in return was just enough to stay alive. Ancient slavery emerged from primitive communism when one group of people could own another group of people (such as captives from wars).

In feudalism, one class of people (the lords) controlled the means of production (land) and also controlled the lives of the other class (peasants). Therefore, the lords were able to expropriate surplus value from the peasants. The peasants grew food which was taken away by the lords and which sustained the luxurious lifestyle of the lords.

Under capitalism, the capitalist class owns the means of production (money or capital, factories etc.) and hired workers to labour for them. The capitalists exploit the workers by making them produce as much as possible while paying them as little as possible (pay them just enough to stay alive and reproduce themselves). The working class starts to fight back against exploitation as its class consciousness grows ("class in itself becomes a class for itself"). This class struggle intensifies and finally the capitalist class is overthrown by the working class. Private property will be abolished and a classless, communist society without exploitation will then be created.

The "class struggle" or "class conflict" (between the ruling class and the exploited class) is what drives human history forward. Class struggle can also intensify as a result of increasing contradictions between the "forces of production" and the "social relations of production". Contradictions refer to mismatches or clashes between two things. The forces of production refer to things such as technology while the social relations refer to the way work is organised.

An example of how increasing contradictions between the forces of production and the social relations of production led to the emergence of capitalism from feudalism:

In England, the rise of capitalist agriculture witnessed the "Enclosure Movement" whereby common land was fenced off to raise sheep for wool (for woolen textile production). Peasants were forced off the land and they had to migrate to find work in factories. As the industrial revolution proceeded, the forces of production came into increasing contradiction with the feudal social relations of production. The feudal system whereby peasants were tied to their lords and could not move around broke down. As mentioned earlier, the peasants were either forced off the land or they were lured to work in the factories set up by the new rising class of capitalists (the bourgeoisie). Because of explotation in the factories, the class struggle between the capitalist class and the new working class (the peasants were transformed into workers or the proletariat) intensified. Class struggle between the capitalist class and the lords also intensified. What eventually emerged after all this social upheaval was the capitalist mode of production.


"Modernisation Theory" refers to a group of theories which propose that some countries or societies are poor because their traditional culture, attitudes and values hinder economic development. Therefore, in order for economic development to occur, traditional values and attitudes will need to be replaced by modern values and attitudes.

"Dependency Theory" refers to a group of theories which propose that some countries and societies are poor NOT because of their traditional culture, attitudes and values but because they are dominated and exploited by the rich and powerful countries.

Modernisation Theory claims that societies lie on a continuum ranging from traditional to modern. Traditional societies are mostly rural and agricultural while modern societies are mostly urban and industrial. It is desirable for traditional societies to modernise.

Modernisation can occur in the political, economic, social, cultural and psychological spheres. Political modernisation refers to the development of key political institutions such as political parties, parliaments, the right to vote, the secret ballot, etc.) Economic modernisation refers to an increasing division of labour, modern management methods, technological change and industrialisation. Social modernisation refers to a rise in literacy, increasing urbanisation and a decline of traditional authority. Cultural modernisation refers to increasing secularisation of the society.

Modernisation Theorists claim that there is such a thing as a traditional individual and a modern individual. In psychological modernisation, the people change from traditional to modern in their thinking and in their behaviour. Supposedly, traditional individuals are fatalistic and bound by customs and traditions. On the other hand, modern individuals are not fatalistic, and they are ready for new experiences and ideas. Modern individuals are also flexible, dynamic, independent and rational. In the opinion of David McClelland, the "need for achievement" in modern individuals is high. (An example of a traditional, fatalistic individual as compared to a modern, rational individual: If you ask the fatalistic individual how many children he or she would like to have, the reply would be something like "Insyallah. It depends on God's Will". But a modern, rational individual would say that "I will have two children because I will be practising family planning using birth control methods".

Modernisation Theory also includes versions such as Convergence Theory and Walt Rostow's "Stages of Economic Growth". Rostow proposed that economic growth occurs through stages. The final stage is the "age of high mass consumption" which happens after rising investment occurs in the middle stages. Convergence Theory proposes that all industrial societies, whether capitalist or centrally planned (communist) will become more and more alike because of the "logic of industrialism". This is because all industrial societies need the following in order to function effectively: an educated, urbanised and disciplined workforce, a high degree of division of labour and rational planning, investment and production.

Dependency Theory also consists of many versions. Dependency Theory has been significantly influenced by Marxist theories of imperialism and was developed to challenge Modernisation Theory. The most radical version is Andre Gunder Frank's "development of underdevelopment" thesis. Frank said that, in the past, when Europe colonised much of the world, they underwent development while their colonies became underdeveloped at the same time. The economic surplus was taken from the colonies and used for the economic development of the West. The colonies became underdeveloped while the West became developed (Frank said that "Development and underdevelopment are two sides of the same coin". Similarly, the Marxist economist Walter Rodney wrote a book called "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa"). The process continues today through the exploitation of the Third World countries by powerful multinational corporations (MNCs) from the rich countries. Frank also called the rich and powerful countries the "metropole or centre" and the poor and weak countries the "satellites or periphery".

Another version of Dependency Theory is Latin American Structuralism. Economists from Latin America such as Raul Prebisch were resposible for the appearance of this version of Dependency Theory. Latin American Structuralism argued that the terms of trade tend to deteriorate for agricultural products as compared to industrial products. This is the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis (named after Raul Prebisch and Hans Singer). Third World countries which export primary products need to export more and more in order to buy the same amount of industrial goods. Therefore, they will always remain poor unless they carry out "import-substition industrialisation" (ISI) for a protected market.

Other versions of Dependency Theory (broadly defined) include more explicitly Marxist theories such as those of Bill Warren (his book is called "Imperialism, Pioneer of Development"). Warren argued that the Third World remains poor because their feudal and semi-feudal social structures block economic development. When these are swept away either by imperialism or revolution, economic development would occur.

There is also Immanuel Wallerstein's "World-Systems Analysis". Wallerstein argued that capitalism first arose in Western Europe and then spread out to envelope the rest of the world. Today, there exists a "capitalist world-economy" which consists of many competing political units within a global capitalist economic system. The nations of the world are divided into the core, semi-periphery and the periphery. The core nations such as USA, Japan, Germany etc. dominate the system at the expense of the semi-periphery and periphery. The periphery are the poor and weak nations of the Third World while the semi-periphery consists of nations which have both the characteristics of the core and the periphery. Wallerstein argues that nations can rise or fall in the world-system. For example, Argentina has fallen from the core into the semi-periphery while nations such as Taiwan and South Korea have risen from the periphery into the semi-periphery.

Since Dependency Theory was introduced to challenge Modernisation Theory, there are hardly any similarities between these two groups of theories. Perhaps the only similarity is that both groups of theories attempt to explain why so many Third World nations remain poor (this includes Latin American nations which have had over 100 years of political independence).

The differences between Modernisation Theory and Dependency Theory are many:

The unit of analysis for Modernisation Theory is the individual nation state whereas Dependency Theory focuses on the unequal relationships between rich, powerful nations and poor, weak nations within a global capitalist economic system (in the case of World-Systems Analysis, the unit of analysis is the whole world).

According to Modernisation Theory, some nations are poor because their traditional culture, values and attitudes hinder economic development. Therefore, these have to be changed to modern ones. Dependency Theory argues that this is not so. The Third World is poor because of unequal and exploitative relations between powerful nations and weak nations. Frank's version of Dependency Theory argued that the Third World was underdeveloped by colonialism in the past and by neocolonialism at the present. The solution, according to Frank, is to delink from the world capitalist system and undergo autarkic or self-reliant development.

The Latin American Structuralist version of Dependency Theory argued that countries which export primary products suffer from the deteriorating terms of trade for primary products as compared to industrial products. Their solution is to carry out ISI.

Bill Warren's Marxist version argued that countries such as the Philippines are poor because of semi-feudal class structures. After a socialist revolution, economic development will be able to occur.

World-Systems Analysis says that nations can rise and decline in the world-system. Nations can rise but they can also fall.

According to Modernisation Theory, a change in culture from traditional to modern is a good thing. But dependency theorists argue that culture change is not necessarily a good thing, e.g., Westernisation has led to widespread consumerism and materialism in Third World societies.

Lastly, Modernisation Theory shows the influence of Structural-Functionalism (evolutionary change, emphasis on culture and values) while Dependency Theory shows the influence of Marxism (focus on unequal and exploitative relationships).


"Education" can be defined as secondary socialisation in institutions set up to teach people in a relatively standardised way (e.g. a fixed syllabus). The process is legally sanctioned, e.g., compulsory education whereby it is illegal not to send your children to school. This is formal education. There are also informal education and nonformal education. "Informal education" refers to informal learning such as learning from family members, from friends, from colleagues and the mass media and so on. Informal education also includes OJT (on-the-job training). Nonformal education refers to organised learning outside of school. Examples would be adult literacy programmes and agricultural extension programmes. Agricultural extension programmes are programmes in which the Ministry of Agriculture sends civil servants out into the countryside to teach farmers the latest agricultural technologies and techniques.

"Educational provision" refers to the supply of educational opportunities to relevant groups of people. Sources of supply would include public schools, private schools, schools run by religious bodies and so on.

Some of the major changes in Malaysian education include the following:

Lengthening of years of education
Integration of the school system
Changes in the language of instruction
Growth of private education
Affirmative action programmes for Bumiputera students
The introduction of new courses such as Moral Education and computer literacy classes

After independence, the Government increased spending on education. Education was seen as an important tool for nation-building and for economic development. The school leaving age was raised and the years of education lengthened from at least 6 years of primary school to nine years, to eleven years and so on.

After Independence, there were attempts to integrate the school system, e.g., mission schools (schools run by Catholic or Methodist misionaries) were integrated into the school system. The curriculum of public schools was standardised. After the May 13, 1969 race riots, Malay was emphasised as the language of instruction. Although Chinese language and Tamil language Government primary schools continued to exist, the students were expected to transfer into Malay language secondary schools after one year of "Remove Class". The language of instruction in Malaysian universities was also changed to Malay. In recent years, the Government has allowed greater use of languages other than Malay (English especially) as the language of instruction at the university level.

Private education has grown tremendously in the last few years. Many private colleges which use English as the language of instruction have appeared. There is even a private college in South Johor which offers tertiary-level courses in Chinese (Southern College). Malaysia's Vision 2020 programme is ambitious. Malaysia aims to be a fully industrialised country by 2020. In order to reach this goal, the Government believes that the number of engineers, computer scientists, managers etc needs to be increased. This is one important reason why the Government has permitted the private college sector to grow.

Affirmative action programmes were introduced to reduce inequality between Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera Malaysians after the May 13 riots of 1969. Toward this end, Bumiputera students were admitted into Malaysian universities in large numbers using a quota system, scholarships were increased and the best Bumiputera students were sent overseas for higher education.

New courses have been introduced into the Malaysian schools, e.g., Moral Education. Courses such as Moral Education have been introduced in response to what the Government perceives as an increase in social problems in Malaysia. "Malaysian Studies" courses have also been introduced at the university level.

Human Capital theory argues that educated workers are more productive workers. The Malaysian Government has been influenced by this view and therefore, Malaysia spends a significant amount on education. Education is seen as an investment in human capital and the private colleges have been encouraged to grow to raise the level of human capital in Malaysia.

Modernisation Theory argues that education can help in economic development by introducing "modern values". Modern values will lead to modern behaviour which is more conducive to economic development than traditional values. Education is supposed to lead to the appearance of "Melayu Baru" ("New Malays") who will be able to participate in the modern economy and compete successfully with the other ethnic groups.

From a Structional-Functional or a Durkheimian point of view, education will transmit common values to new generations of Malaysians. These common values serve to integrate Malaysian society and bring about social solidarity. A follower of Durkheim would also argue that the education system can be used to create a new moral consensus and prevent anomie and the growth of social problems. Examples would be "Islamic Studies" and "Moral Education" courses in Malaysian schools. Political and social stability would make Malaysia more attractive to foreign investors and this would increase the rate of economic development.

Marxists, on the other hand, would argue that the Malaysian education system (part of the "superstructure") has changed in response to changes in the economic "base structure". As the Malaysian economy changes from traditional, agricultural to industrial and capitalist, workers are needed to provide labour to the factories owned by local and foreign capitalists. Therefore, the education system changes in order to supply these workers. The education system increasingly emphasises technical and business education. Marxists would also argue that the Malaysian education system helps to reproduce the class structure (working class kids are channeled into vocational education and working class jobs) and that the "hidden curriculum" helps to turn out a docile working class which benefits the capitalists. The hidden curriculum teaches students to be respectful to authority, be on time and to follow orders without questioning them. The school system is part of the "ideological state apparatus" used to brainwash the working class into accepting the "ideological hegemony" of the capitalist class.

Liberal feminists believe that the education system can be used to reduce gender inequality by changing the socialisation of male and female students. As more females become better educated and start to study scientific and technical subjects and participate in the labour force, gender inequality would be reduced to some extent.

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