Sociologists study the way people interact and create a theory, or set of testable propositions about society. These theories, often called paradigms, provide a useful framework for understanding the ways technology and media are used. Some of the most commonly used sociological theories see technology and media as a tool to accomplish particular social functions or purposes. These include structural functionalism, conflict theory and symbolic interactionism.
Structural functionalism is a macro-level approach that views media and technology as tools to help society run smoothly. In this view, media has many manifest functions, including providing entertainment and allowing us to find information easily. Some of these functions are obvious, such as the entertainment value of television and its ability to connect us with friends and family. Other functions are less apparent, such as the influence of media on our behavior. For example, media may encourage us to shop at certain stores and to buy products that are advertised on TV or online.
Another macro-level theory is conflict theory, which views society as a constant battle over limited resources. The most famous proponent of this theory was German sociologist Karl Marx, who believed that social classes struggle for food and other material goods. He theorized that those in the top class, the bourgeoisie, exploited the working class, or proletariat. The bourgeoisie used social institutions, such as religion, to keep the proletariat from realizing their low status and revolting.
Feminism is a form of conflict theory that focuses on the inequalities between men and women. New media offers opportunities to equalize the status of men and women, but it also provides an arena for antifeminist activities, such as online sexual harassment.