Where there is life, there is unity, stability, and purpose. Societal institutions of all precepts have stressed this universal understanding for centuries, providing for followers and nonbelievers an idea of which to navigate through their concept of existence. Because there are so many parallels to follow as a person initiates that journey, sociologists and theorists have compiled throughout time an assortment of frameworks that explain these navigations and how the differences come together to enable consistent change.
Having the chance to maintain autonomy in beliefs while building structural continuity through societal institutions is the premise of German sociologist Max Weber’s symbolic interactionism, which focuses on the ways in which an individual’s role as a separate entity is used to promote general collectivity. This groupthink is maintained as symbolic exchanges actively create a constant environment. Wedding rings, for example, have been transformed into universal symbols of commitment, love, and trust, even though their many designs evoke emotions that differ among people. However, aiming to uphold individuality can also become a deterrence; no matter how many different ways one idea is viewed, its ending product remains the same, says critics, who believe that this constant dissecting of a broader idea causes for interactionism to continuously overlook over the main objective.
Conversely, functionalism posits that predetermined structure upholds societal institutions. Meeting an institution’s needs in this way can best be done by striving towards homogeneity, which stresses that oneness is the ingredient that creates an equilibrium for members to rely on. If it were not for the academic arena, says functionalism, parents would not have an institution to rely on for shaping their children into contributable members of society. While receiving praise for this emphasis, functionalism’s greatest criticism comes from the perspective’s inability to recognize the importance of individuality, making each person a puppet and the social institution a puppet master.
Conflict theory is the third theoretical perspective. Rising to prominence in America during the 1960s, conflict theorists believe that it is the inequality and competition that exists throughout society that serves as the best proponent for societal change. Criticized for being a double-edged sword, this perspective laments that despite the probable economic advantages of the people being encouraged to achieve more and the resultant advancement in society, acts of constant competition amongst one another will forever ensure that the rich remain rich and the poor remain poor.
Researching and evaluating these three perspectives surmounts to the realization that all three are a combined catalyst for the way that society continually exists. The gap between classes persists, just as people will always strive to maintain autonomy while relying on institutional structure to enable this autonomy. However, the symbolic interactionist theory warrants my highest approval; despite the American society focusing highest on upholding a sense of individual achievement and success, the lessons from these achievements that each person can apply to their lives shows that after all things said and done, the greatest reward comes from individuals learning from each other.