Symbolic Interactionism, Social Conflict Theory, and Structural Functionalism

Essential of Sociology

Sociology refers to the systematic study of social interactions, social groups, and human society. It centers on how groups and people interact, and also the behavioral rules that shape those interactions. Sociology stresses interaction patterns including how patterns are developed, how they are upheld, and how they are altered. Sociology is grouped into six main areas that include social order theory and social organization, social control, social change, social groups, social processes, and social problems. All these can be explained using major sociology theoretical perspectives that help in interpreting, analyzing, explaining, and comprehending social phenomena. Theoretical frameworks are highly needed to be able to interpret social facts. Theory in this case refers to the general statement on how some sections of the world work and fit together (Brinkerhoff et al., 2011). The three main theoretical views in sociology which have offered a general sociological studies framework include symbolic interactionism, social conflict theory, and structural functionalism. Among them, the theoretical perspective that best fits sociology’s definition demonstrating people interaction is symbolic interactionism, as it defines the most essential elements of sociology.

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Symbolic Interactionism, Social Conflict Theory, and Structural Functionalism 

Structural functionalism  

Structural functionalism denotes society as a social system comprising of different institutions, organizations, and structures affecting each other and influencing the entire system. It centers on the institutions’ unction and their contribution to the social system continuity. According to Laluddin (2016), society structural analysis can be achieved by creating a functional analogy between an organism and society. In this sense, society is perceived as an organism demonstrating various degrees of structural complexity that can be weighed in terms of various component elements of its structures. Therefore, a structure consisting of identical elements would be less or more self-sufficient. Thus, the level of the integration of the whole relies on the extent of the variation that lives between the specific structural elements.

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This implies that the existence of extra variation between the structural elements results in greater integration in the whole and permits it to survive by lowering its internal disharmony. This theoretical perception focuses more on the functions of different parts of the society and how they integrate to form a whole structure. It does not center on individual interactions, but on individuals’ functions and how they complete a complex social structure. If perceived in terms of interaction one can conclude that it gauges the society-based interdependence of parts of the society. Society only survives based on how each part depends on others through their basic contribution to society.

Social Conflict Theory

Unlike structural-functionalism that perceives society as a well-integrated, harmonious social system with common goals and shared values, conflict theory perceives society as a ground of widespread struggle and conflict at each level. Rather than valuing consensus as a way of keeping society intact, it uses power exercises to play this role. Individuals, organizations, and institutions possessing power are perceived as imposing their standards and values of conduct on those without power by exercising their power and use of force. They create a particular social pattern in a way that favors their interest and permits them to acquire more wealth and power via the exploitation of the groups that are less privileged in the society. Thus, conflict theory perceives society to be organized on the patterns that uphold the discriminatory status quo. It sidelines some and favors others by depriving some of their rights by confining them in one place and not permitting any change that might work in the favor of the disadvantaged in society (Laluddin, 2016). This theory depicts the negative form of interaction where the powerful ones exercise their power over the poor, initiating resentment in society.

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Symbolic Interactionism

Different from the other two, symbolic interactionism is a theory that handles social events on a small scale as it deals with the social interaction of individuals at a personal level. This theory is supported by different perspectives including Jeans Piaget, George Herbert Mead, and Charles Horton Cooley. Piaget argues that the child begins from a purely individual state wherein there is no possible exchange with others in the first months of existence. However, the socialization starts growing progressively afterward forever. In the beginning,  the child does not know any signs or rules and must conquer via a gradual adaptation created by accommodating and assimilating others,  and two significant elements of the outer society that include mutual comprehension, founded on the word, and shared discipline founded on reciprocity rules (Pescaru, 2019).

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Herbert and Cooley also tried to understand how a person obtains social and personal characteristics, especially self-identity. They deduced that individuals were not born with a sense of self. They obtained it via interaction that happens between them in society. Therefore, self-identity can be regarded as a social product rather than an instinctive event possessed by an individual. Herbert also regarded people’s minds including language development as a product of social interaction. This theory perceives social patterns about individuals’ subjective comprehension of their social world (Laluddin, 2016). Unlike the other two that center on a wider part of the society, this centers on people interaction at a basic level, and hence it acts as the theory that gives the basic explanation of sociology, and that focus on the most essential elements of sociology which is socialization.

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Similarities and Differences Between Symbolic Interactionism, Social Conflict Theory, and Structural Functionalism

The three sociological perspectives share several similarities. To start with, they all offer theoretical paradigms for explaining how society operates by influencing people and vice versa by uniquely conceptualizing society, human behavior, and social forces. Another similarity is evident between structural-functionalism and conflict perspective. Both apply macro-level analysis whereby functionalism analyzes the relationship between parts of society while conflict theory analyzes competition for scarce resources. There is also another similarity between structural-functionalism and the symbolic-internationalist perspective. Notably, both perspectives focus on the positive aspects of society that contribute to its stability. Functionalism focuses on the multiple interrelated components that work together to keep society functioning and the symbolic-interactionist perspective focuses on the relationships among individuals within a society and how the use of symbols influences the said relationships (Van Tubergen, 2020). Thus, although each of the three sociological perspectives uniquely conceptualizes society, they all share some similarities.

Due to their uniqueness in conceptualizing society, human behavior, and social forces, the three sociological perspectives have several differences. First, while structural-functionalism and conflict theory analyzes society from a macro level, the symbolic internationalist perspective analyzes society from a micro-level (Van Tubergen, 2020). Structural-functionalism and conflict theory are grand theories that attempt to explain large-scale relationships to answer fundamental questions regarding why societies form and why they change while the symbolic-interactionist perspective is a micro-level theory that studies specific relationships between individuals or small groups (Tyler, 2020). Another difference between the perspectives is evident in the aspects of society that the three theories focus on. While structural-functionalism and symbolic internationalist perspective focuses on the positive aspects of society, conflict theory focuses on the negative aspects. Structural-functionalism and symbolic-interactionist perspectives focus on the aspects that contribute to a society’s stability while conflict theory focuses on the aspects that contribute to instability. Lastly, while the structural-functionalism perspective defends the status quo, conflict theory challenges the status quo. Notably, the former believes that people cooperate to effect social order hence the efforts to avoid social change while the latter encourage social change owing to the underlying assumption that people are always competing for scarce resources (Van Tubergen, 2020). Thus, the three sociological perspectives have various contrasting assumptions despite their shared goal to conceptualize society and its dynamics.

Which Insights into Socialization between symbolic interactionism, social conflict theory, and structural functionalism gives us the most useful insights into the development of the Self?

Sociology is an extensive subject that deals with people’s interaction including social order theory and social organization, social control, social change, social groups, social processes, and social problems.  These fields are summarized using three main socialization theories that give different perspectives of sociology including symbolic interactionism, social conflict theory, and structural functionalism. Among them, symbolic interactionism is a theoretical perspective found on the most basic aspects of sociology. It, therefore, offers the most basic explanation of sociology demonstrating the development of socialization from the most basic stage of life. This means it is the theory that holds the most essential aspects of sociology.

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