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What are the major differences between the functionalist and symbolic interaction...

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gracedaymon | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:12 AM via web

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What are the major differences between the functionalist and symbolic interaction perspectives in sociology? 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 4, 2012 at 6:26 AM (Answer #1)

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These are two of the three major perspectives on sociology.  Each of them understands society and social phenomena in a very different way.  Functionalism looks at the large structures in our society while symbolic interactionism looks at the way in which individuals act within the society.

According to the functionalist perspective, everything in a society has a role that is necessary for the functioning of the society.  This means that even poverty and economic inequality, for example, play an important role in keeping our society stable.  

Symbolic interactionism does not ask about such "big picture" questions as why poverty persists.  Instead, it looks at how individuals act.  It says that people attach meanings to various things that they see as symbols in our society.  They then act in ways that accord with the meaning that they attribute to those symbols.  For example, one person might see sagging jeans as a symbol of poverty and avoid or be suspicious of a person wearing them.  Another person might react to that symbol in a different way.

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