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Oil Price Regulation: A Sociological Analysis


Oil and gas prices have skyrocketed over the past few months, necessitating intervention from the government. U.S. President Joe Biden recently made a crucial move to regulate oil prices in the country. In a statement published in the New York Times, President Biden said that his government was willing to tap into the oil reserves to regulate the current oil prices that have affected many citizens (Reuters). The President’s statement on Tuesday 23rd November 2021 follows a similar move that he had made a week before, instructing the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether dealers were unfairly hiking gas prices (Reuters).

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According to President Biden, releasing five million barrels of oil would lower global oil prices (Reuters). This step is analyzed through three main sociological theories: functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interaction theories. Correlational research can be done, focusing on interviews to determine people’s perspectives of the event and understand which theory best explains the President’s intervention plan.

First Theory

Systems within a society are interconnected, with each part significantly influencing the others and, thereby, determining the status and performance of the whole system. The functionalist theory is a macro-sociology theory based on the collaboration of various social systems for the benefit of the entire community. According to Benokraitis, functionalists hold the view that social stratification is “both necessary and inevitable” (154). In this sociological perspective, unequal opportunities and powers in society are crucial, without which many projects would fail.

In line with the functionalist perspective, President Biden, the Federal Trade Commission, dealers, and the citizens are different parts of the American community which must work together for the common good. Boden et al. argue that from a functionalist perspective, people believe and commit to something intended to contribute to the desired end (400). In this event, the President works together with the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that dealers do not overcharge the citizens.

Second Theory

The conflict theory is founded on the premise that different groups in society have diverse interests, with each working to maintain personal power and influence. This theory contrasts with the functionalist perspective by looking at individual aspects as separated rather than working for an expected end. The conflict theory was coined by Marx, who subdivided society into capitalist and working classes, with the bourgeoisie having the power to manipulate the lower and middle-class workers. Benokraitis shows that different economic challenges affecting the poor are not a result of globalization but a consequence of policies favoring the capitalist class (155).

Similarly, Omer and Jabeen note that inequality is “an inevitable result of capitalism” providing a basis on which to evaluate the sources of power and how specific groups benefit from the established social arrangements (196). Therefore, this theory assumes that society will always comprise people with more power than others and that people often struggle to satisfy their needs at the expense of others.

In reference to the rise in gas prices and interventions, there are two distinct groups: the influencers, comprising the government, the Federal Trade Commission, and dealers on one side, and the public on the other. In this case, the influencers have the power to set oil and gas prices for their benefit. The citizens have no choice but to take the set prices, which may be unfair. Conflict theory explains this event by showing that while the influencers may be setting the prices, they are motivated by the gains without considering the citizens. However, the government chooses to fight for the consumers by regulating gas prices through the Federal Trade Commission.

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Third Theory

The symbolic interactionist perspective deviates from the bigger picture and focuses on the interactions within the smaller individual groups. The symbolic interaction theory is founded on the symbolic meanings developed through social interactions and how they determine individuals’ conduct. Therefore, social contexts shape social classes through implied definitions that define attitudes, behavior, and focus in life (Benokraitis 157). Each of the elements, in this case, works differently based on symbolic interpretations of their roles. The government’s role in regulating gas prices is based on the interactionist perspective that gives authority to intervene for society’s wellbeing. The dealers, however, believe that their place in society is based on linking consumers to products, a role which they play by setting the prices.

In comparison to the conflict and functionalist theories, symbolic interactionism shows that individuals do not behave in accordance with the macro-level strategies but according to the symbolic meanings in their micro-environment. Barros et al. maintain that people receive, change, shape, and construct different meanings to fit within their micro-environments (27). Essentially, the interactionist theory facilitates an understanding of this event by proposing a closer look at the separate definitions of each individual group and their implications on behavior.

Proposed Research

Since each of the theories above have different implications, it would be essential to research the approach that best explains the event. Correlational research would be appropriate for this case as it enables easy comparison between the various groups. Interviews and questionnaires would help one gather first-hand information on the issue. The respondents would be sampled from oil and gas users, government officials, and dealers in the petroleum industry. These data collection methods are the best since they are easily administered and are less costly. Respondent confidentiality can be ensured by allowing them to fill the questionnaires anonymously and holding separate interviews.

Ethical issues are an essential consideration in this case as they determine the success of the research conducted. When interviewing individuals, it would be crucial to respect diverse opinions without passing judgment. For this reason, it is ethical to maintain neutrality as a researcher. In addition, respondents should not be forced to answer any questions that may create discomfort. Lastly, the information gathered should not be used for unintended purposes, and respondent details should be hidden when publishing the research data.


People may associate gas prices and government intervention with different elements. Based on the current circumstances, such as the pandemic and global oil prices, many respondents would refer to the interaction between different functional areas for social stability. Sixty percent of the respondents can blame the pandemic, thirty-five percent lean on the pursuit of individual benefits, and five percent prefer to remain neutral. People could feel that the government is playing its constitutional role by protecting the Citizens, and petroleum dealers are working to avail the products to the people. The functionalist theory best explains this event since each body reacts to the macro-environmental factors in performing their duties for social stability. Since this is a global issue, it is understandable that the conditions would be different without the pandemic.

Works Cited

Barros, Leandro E., et al. “Symbolic Interactionism and Career Outsider: A Theoretical Perspective for Career Study.” REAd. Revista Eletrônica de Administração (Porto Alegre), vol. 25, no. 1, 2019, pp. 26-48.

Benokraitis, Nijole V. SOC6: Introduction to Sociology. MindTap, 2019.

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Boden, Matthew T., et al. “Why Do People Believe What They Do? A Functionalist Perspective.” Review of General Psychology, vol. 20, no. 4, 2016, pp. 399-411.

Omer, Sonia, and Sadia Jabeen. “Exploring Karl Marx Conflict Theory in Education: Are Pakistani Private Schools Maintaining Status Quo?” Bulletin of Education and Research, vol. 38, no. 2. 2016, pp. 195-202.

Reuters. “Video: Biden Taps into U.S. Oil Reserves amid Rising Prices.” The New York Times. 2021. Web.

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