Three Major Socioogical Perspectives and Reality Television

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Symbolic interaction is the theory of how shared interactions and meanings form the motivation behind people’s actions. As we interact with the world around us, we change the way we behave based on the meaning that we give certain social interactions. Reality television is a symbol of social life because reality itself is socially constructed and created by interactions between the people in the show. Reality television is unscripted and casts people that are considered “real life” or “normal,” while the series records their lives.

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Some people are crazy about reality TV because viewers find the characters relatable to themselves. They either root for the main character to be successful or want to watch the drama that unfolds to make up for their own lack of interesting events in their lives. They may also feel that, by watching, they live vicariously through them. Some are unmoved by reality TV because they may not be interested in what other people are doing. The changing venues and types of reality television help explain the popularity of this new wave of media frenzy because they are constantly adding new series’ that people can relate to, or that people would want to be a part of.

Functionalism is the theory that society is interconnected by specific parts that work together to maintain a state of balance for society. Each part, different but related, serves its own purpose. For example, a shared value works as the parts; they are from different people but related through reality TV. Perhaps both people like the same series. Sharing this value can help prevent conflicts among society, because it brings a sense of community. Society has changed since its introduction because people often mimic what they see on television; it is likely that they want to live the life of those they watch, as stated in “symbolic interaction”. That being said, so many people watch reality television and have shared values among one another because of it. It changes society based on what those people see, because those people change.

Conflict theory states that society is composed of different social groups, and rather than working together, they compete for power and resources. Shows that revolve around competition are an example of this; the competition within the show provides conflict because viewers find that the struggles that the participants are going through are relatable through their reactions to events. Not everyone has the same chances of obtaining and participating in reality TV, because producers want people who have conflict to provide viewers with that sense of excitement when they watch their series. Participants compete over resources, such as money or a new vehicle; these struggles are what viewers find relatable. This theory states that society is divided “into two broad classes of people – the “haves” and the “have-nots”” (p. 2). For example, a participant shares their story about how they came onto the series so that they may win a new vehicle to drive their child to school because their previous car was involved in some sort of accident. Viewers would find this relatable and they would want that person to win.

Shows such as, “The Amazing Race,” is an example of Reality TV that utilized all three sociological theories. They use normal people that viewers can relate to, so that they may live vicariously through them, as seen in symbolic interactionism. They can imagine themselves doing the exciting activities, such as bungee jumping and mountain climbing. Functionalism takes place when viewers witness the stars of this series using the latest slang, and would incorporate what they hear into everyday life. The conflict of this series is the competition between the participants, and how they have to race one another doing said exciting activities to win a large sum of money.

  1. Mooney, Knox and Schacht (2007). The Three Main Sociological Perspectives. [online] University of Hawaii, p.2. Available at: [Accessed 5 Oct. 2018].  
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Three Major Socioogical Perspectives and Reality Television. (2022, Jul 05). Retrieved from