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Shopping for Theoretical Perspectives at Wal-Mart
No unread replies.No replies.
For this discussion, you’ll be asking and answering theoretically driven questions about a familiar social institution: Wal-Mart (or Target, or another large-scale shopping center).  Wal-Mart, the highest-grossing company in the United States, is part of a widespread retail phenomenon called the “big box”.  Big box stores are huge, warehouse-like buildings that feature just about every imaginable commodity under one roof.  The Wal-Mart Super Center in East Peoria, Illinois, is an excellent example: in its vast, cavernous interior, you can buy groceries, guns, gardening equipment, books, clothes, appliances, furniture, pharmaceuticals, and greeting cards, all while waiting for your photos to be developed and your tires to be rotated. Wal-Mart seeks to be all things to all people – judging by its position at the top of the Fortune 500 list, it seems to have succeeded.
Wal-Mart’s success, though, has driven out of business thousands of local “mom and pop” stores, which just can’t compete with the low prices and huge selection of the big box.  When Wal-Mart moves into a town, independently owned businesses soon go under.  Also, the company has been accused of underpaying and exploiting its low-wage workers, union busting, and engaging in sex discrimination in hiring and promoting.  There are at any given time multiple lawsuits pending against this corporate giant for its labor practices.
Think about your own shopping experiences (if not at Wal-Mart then at another big-box retailer).  You might even want to visit your local store.  Walk up and down the aisles and observe the other shoppers.  Note how and where the goods are displayed.  How do the shoppers and staffers interact with the products and with each other?  If you get a chance, try to view several of Wal-Marts television commercials as well.  Then sit down with the following questions and write out your answers.  They should help you see how making different theoretical assumptions can allow us to analyze the same object but come up with different interpretations.
Functionalist questions:
What are the functions of Wal-Mart?
Are they the same or different from the functions of Wal-Mart in our individual lives?  How do the two type of functions connect?
Does Wal-Mart have both manifest and latent functions?  What are they?
Are there any dysfunctions of Wal-Mart for society?  If so, what are they?  How might these dysfunctions serve as incentives or catalysts for social change?
Conflict questions:
Does Wal-Mart affect every group in society in the same way?  If not, what are the differences?
How does Wal-Mart perpetuate the inequalities (of gender, race, class, religion, age, sexual orientation, etc.) in our society?
How does Wal-Mart contribute to conflict between unequal groups in our society?
How might Wal-Mart contribute to social change or the amelioration of inequalities in society?
Interactionist questions:
What kind of symbolic world are you likely to encounter inside a Wal-Mart store, and how does that affect the shopper’s experience?
How does Wal-Mart influence our interpersonal interactions?
How do interpersonal interactions shape the Wal-Mart experience for shoppers? For workers?
How does Wal-Mart contribute to our socially constructed reality?
Write a two-page essay describing your observations and answering the questions posed above.  Make sure to refer to specific observations made during your Wal-Mart visit to support your analysis. 

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