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What are the differences between structuralist and interactionist sociologists?

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The ideology behind structural sociology is that society needs to always come before the individual. Structuralists based their understanding upon the fact that they examined societies as a whole through relationships and contrasts. Therefore, a culture (group/s of people) was examined based upon their own practices and activities which defined...

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The ideology behind structural sociology is that society needs to always come before the individual. Structuralists based their understanding upon the fact that they examined societies as a whole through relationships and contrasts. Therefore, a culture (group/s of people) was examined based upon their own practices and activities which defined them.

Interactionists, on the other hand, examined the relationships between the people within a specific group or culture. The focus of the interactionist was on the individual, rather than the group (like the structuralist). The goal of the interactionalist was to examine the attitude, values, and beliefs of the individual within a society.

Therefore, the interactionists wished to study how an individual acted within the confines of a society while the strucruralist examined how the society, itself, acted.

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These are very different perspectives on sociology with interactionism being a very micro- level theory that is close to psychology and structuralism being a very macro- level theory.  Let us look at the two most important differences:

  • Level of analysis.  Interactionists look at individual people.  They want to know how people construct meanings and how the meanings they construct affect their actions.  By contrast, structuralists are concerned with major sections of society.  For example, they might look at what function family serves in society.
  • Methodology.  In general, interactionists are less "scientific" and less quantitative.  They prefer to do open-ended qualitative interviews, for example, whereas structuralists are more likely to do quantitative studies that try to be as scientific as possible.
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