My Playing Field – Theories and Characteristics

My Playing Field



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The terms playing field describes the situation we are born in, along with the effects it has on us. Also known as our “opportunity structure”, the “playing field” could turn out to be either disadvantageous or advantageous to us, depending on the prevailing circumstances. Our playing field consists of key characteristics such as family, gender, ethnicity, social class, education, and health, among others. All of these characteristics have a huge impact on our lives because they set the stage our development.  For instance, my playing field included: female, a “hurried and resilient child”. Both of my parents worked hard to put me through school. To our family, having an education was not an option, but mandatory. As such, my family highly emphasized that I have high school education after which they sent me to the United States for my college education.  All of these factors could have huge consequences on my life.  The essay explores the family, social class and education as the specific characteristics of the playing field, and the effects that they had on me.



Burges, Locke and Thomes have defined family as “a group of persons united by ties of marriage, blood, adoption, constituting a single household, interacting and inter-communicating with each other in their respective social roles of husband and wife, father and mother, son and daughter, brother and sister, and creating a common culture” (1963). The family acts as the foremost social environment that educates and trains a child. Besides molding the character of family members, the family unit also helps to shape their personality. In addition, the family enables its members to uphold social regulation of its members by respecting legal regulations and social taboos.  There are various theories that are used to explain the sociological role of the family:

Theoretical perspective

The theoretical perspective of family and marriage argues that the family unit aids in sexual control, economic production, socialization of children, and reproduction (Bessant and Watts 17). In the family, there is often struggle between husband and wives for attention, childcare, sex, respect, money, and housework. In this context, my parents have worked hard to meet my school fees demands in schools, as they believed in the power of education. For that reason, I have total respect to my parents for the work they have done.

Structural functionalism theory

This approach looks at the family unit with regard to roles and functions. The family acts to socialite children. It focuses on societal organization and roles between institutions. Through socialization, the family prohibits an individual from deviating from social norms. Being hard working parents, my family has played a major role in molding my behaviour and ensuring that I did not deviate or drop out from school. As such, my family has provided a platform for better socialization that instill positivity.

Conflict theory

According to this theory, life entails competition and discord. Society is divided into groups and individual are always in conflict with one another. Groups in society compete for scarce resources like income, prestige, wealth, or power (Bessant and Watts 19). Competition brings in inequality. The conflict theory is indicative of the influence of the wider racial, economic, and gender inequalities on families. For example, being from a minority ethnic group, my parents were required to work hard to provide for our family and put us through to school and acquire the necessary education. Despite the economic and racial inequalities, I could say that my experience has been moderate.


Education has also led to the emergence of a credential society whereby employers rely on degrees and diplomas to ascertain who qualifies for a given position. Industrialization resulted in the emergence of credentialism. This has in turn led to a larger population and urbanization. As a result, there has been a high increase in anonymity. Most employers now do not possess personal knowledge as regards potential employees. In this case, an educational certificate acts as proof of an individual’s responsibility and ability. Collins (194) argues that a better comprehension of credentialism could be used as an explanation to the class-based variations evident in the modern-day society with regards to educational attainment. Collins further notes that socializing institutions such as public schools not only teach the values of achievement and competition to the middle class, but also rewards its members. In other words, a credential society rewards certification, which are ranked higher than actual abilities and skills.  For example, after completion of my elementary school, I was awarded with a certificate as a reward and recognition for my hard work

Education plays a significant role in the contemporary industrialized and complex societies.  As a result, this has led to the emergence of various theories to try and explain its objective and nature:

Functionalist perspective

According to this theory, education fulfills many crucial roles in society. To start with, education helps to socialize children, in addition to preparing them to face life in society. For example, by attending to schools, the experience has assisted in helping me face life, as I can see the world from different perspectives. Thus, besides, teaching children “book knowledge”, education also imparts in them important values of society’s culture, including ethics, norms, beliefs, moral values, religious beliefs, politics, and habits (Lenson, Cookson & Sadovnik 270). In addition, industrialized societies need a qualified workforce to run the industries and as such, education offers the mush needed occupational training. Finally, functionalist theorists argue that education acts as a social control by way of regulating wayward or deviant behavior. For example, attending to school, has shielded me from trouble on the streets and in neighborhoods.

Conflict theory

This theory examines the disruptive and disintegrative aspects of education. Conflict theorists contend that since education is unequally distributed in society, for this reason, it segregates groups based on race, class, and gender. As such, education level acts as a mechanism for reproducing and producing inequality in society. Conflict theorists also contend that educational levels could also act as a tool for discrimination (Bartos and Wehr 46). For example, during my intern, my potential employer requested for specific educational qualifications and skills, for which I lacked as a potential candidate. Education, according to conflict theorists, discriminates against minorities, women, and the working-class. My community is discriminated in the workplace because of the low level of education, and as such, they tend to work in menial jobs.

Symbolic interaction

This particular theory looks at education from the point of view of the interactions that goes on in the schooling process, along with the results of such interactions (Xuan 14). For example, interactions between teachers and students could lead to the development of expectations from both parties. For example, my teachers always encourage me to work hard and improve on my grades, in addition to providing personal assistance. On the one hand, teachers expect students to behave in a certain way, and students could end up behaving according to such expectation, in a phenomenon called “teacher expectancy effect”. For instance, supposing a White teacher expects that a certain black student will not perform better in a math test, in comparison to a White student. As time goes by, the White teacher could act in such a manner as to encourage the black student to score lower marks than the White student.

Social Class

Parents’ occupation has a lot of influence on the occupation of their children. Our parents socialize us to fit in a given social class. For example, although my parents are middle class, they always encourage us to become better and improve our social class.

Blue collar vs. white collar

The characteristics of a blue collar worker entails taking orders, high level of supervision, and less creativity or problem solving. Such parents are likely to bring home these characteristics. For example, my parents are harsh and like giving orders, in addition to high level of supervision. Consequently, my parents expect us to obey orders at home. In addition, my parents tend to supervise and are less likely to let them be creative (Dufty 59). On account of this socialization, children of blue collar job workers may end up choosing blue collar jobs later in life. On the other hand, the work of a white collar employee encourages autonomy, problem solving, self-control, and creativity. The children of such a parent will likely to be socialized to maintain their social class.

Conspicuous/competitive consumption vs. deferred gratification

Competitive or conspicuous consumption involves trying to keep up with others. On the other hand, deferred gratification entails frugality or working towards the future. This latter phenomenon is quite rampant among the middle class. For example, being a middle class, our parents encourage deferred gratification, which involves working towards the future. A family’s social class can socialize its children to either opt for defer gratification, or competitive consumption (Mischel, Shoda and Rodriguez 937). A conspicuous consumer acquires or spends income on luxury goods in an attempt to display his/her discretionary economic power to the public. In this way, they hope to maintain or attain a certain social status.

Natural growth vs concerted cultivation

These are sociological terms used to explain parenting skills in different social classes. The “accomplishment of natural growth” is normally practiced by the working-class parents, whereas “concerted cultivation” is practiced by the middle-class families. Students from the middle class families attend extra curricula activities such as soccer practice or piano lessons after school. Middle-class parents take a keen interest on how their children spend their free time. Concerted parents stress on negotiation (Handel 19). As such, their children learn how to question figures in authority at an early age, including their parents. Such children are not easily intimated by the authority. In addition, they get used to structured environment at an early age. I come from a middle-class family in China and I can attest to the above. While in elementary and high schools, I would normally attend gymnastic lessons and language classes after the normal school hours. On my way to school or home, my dad would urge me not to feel shy when asking questions from my teachers or instructors. I have always been free with my parents. They wanted me to attend college in Australia but I was intent on attending college in the United States.  However, they finally let me come here because they respect my choices in life.

On the other hand, children from working-class families or the “natural growth homes” spend a lot of time playing with their friends and siblings. Their parents spend limited amount of time at home owing to the nature of their work. After work, they have to either queue at social service agencies or for public transportation home.   They are less interested in cultivating the interests and talents of their children (Handel 22). Such parents make no room for negotiations with their children and hence, tend to be authoritarian. Such children end up feeling subdued around authority figures like their teachers. They also rarely ask questions.



Poor people are more likely to have more children that the rich. This is indicative of poor planning abilities because birth control is free, and yet most of them do not take advantage of it. It also shows that they are less concerned about the future. On the other hand, the middle-class tends to have fewer children, as it is in the case of our family. They are also aware of and take advantage of birth control. This is indicative of good planning abilities and concern about the future.

Mental illness

The likelihood of the poor being labeled mentally ill or being mentally ill is higher in comparison with the rich. Rich people are labeled eccentric, not mentally ill. The chances of a poor and mentally ill individuals getting effective treatment are slim, owing to poverty. In contrast, rich people are more likely to receive medical attention promptly.


The situation we are born in or our “playing field” can influence our lives either positively or negatively. The playing field presents us with an opportunity structure to approach life positively. There are certain key characteristics of the playing filed but the current essay has mainly concentrated on the family, education, and social class. Functionalist perspective, symbolic interaction and conflict theory have all been used to help us understand the sociological influence of education on our lives. On the other hand, the family acts as the foremost social institution for socializing children. To cement the diverse roles of the family in socialization, use has been made of the theoretical perspective, structural functionalism theory, and Conflict theory.  Social class also influences how an individual is socialized. For example, he concerted cultivation style of child rearing as practiced by the middle-class parents ensures that their children are able to express themselves boldly, make independent decisions, and adopt to a structured environment at early age. On the other hand, the working-class families’ practice

what is know as “accomplishment of natural growth” style of parenting whereby parents take less interests in the extracurricular activities of their children. Such children lack enough mentors in life and are easily intimidated by the authorities in power like teachers.

Works Cited

Bartos, Otomar and Wehr, Paul. Using Conflict Theory. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Bessant, Judith and Watts, Rob 2002. Sociology Australia (2nd ed). Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Burgess, Earnest, Locke, Harvey and Thomes, Margaret.  The Family:

 From Institution to Companionship. New York; American Book

Company, 1963, Print.

Collins, Randall. The Credential Society: A Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. New York: Academic Press, 1979. Print.

Dufty, Norman F. The Sociology of the Blue-collar Worker. Boston: Brill Archive, 1969. Print.

Handel, Gerald. Childhood Socialization. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2006. Print.

Levinson, David, Cookson, Peter and Sadovnik, Alan. Education and Sociology: An Encyclopedia. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2002. Print.

Xuan, Dong. “Symbolic Interactionism in Sociology of Education Textbooks in Mainland China: Coverage, Perspective and Implications.” International Educational Studies, 1.3(2008): 14-19. Mischel, Walter, Shoda, Yuichi and Rodriguez, Monica L. “Delay of Gratification in Children.”

Science, New Series, 244. 4907(1989): 933-938.

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