Sociologists in modern world analyze social institutions at various levels using different perspectives, ranging from concrete to sweeping generations. As a result, three major theoretical perspectives are employed namely the conflict, functionalist and symbolic interactionist perspective. These lines of thought offer different explanations on how society influences people and vice versa by uniquely conceptualizing societal human behavior and human forces. The symbolic interactionist perspective
This thought urges sociologists to consider signs, symbols and details of everyday life, the significance and how different people interact with one another. According to this theory, people are believed to attach meaning to symbols and then act accordingly to their subjective interpretation of those symbols. An example of these symbols is verbal communication or conversations where the uttered words have a meaning, intention and require interpretation. These signs ultimately dictate how people act and determine the meanings to be attached to different symbols (George, 1993, p. 3).
The strength of this kind of thought is that it tries to analyze the relevance of symbols used in day to day life. In weddings, symbols like white bridal dress, flowers, music, church ceremony, wedding cake, vows of life long commitment and wedding bands have their respective meaning. The theory therefore helps the society to understand real life part of the symbols. On the other hand the theory focuses on micro issues of the society and ignores the macro issues, by trying to figure out the meaning of symbols and not the quality or justification of the meaning.
The theory also slights influence of institutions and social forces on individual interactions (George, 1993, p. 27). The functionalist perspective. This theory depicts that all aspects of the society are interdependent and are important in the whole functioning of the society. Institutions like schools. Families and governments are seen to play specific functions that propel the society forward. This theory is highly saluted because when every element in the society plays the defined roles, there is order, stability and undisturbed production.
Children become law abiding, citizens pay taxes, parents support their children and the government delivers promptly (More, 1999, p. 43). It is however criticized for ignoring the negative activities within the society such as divorce. It only justifies complacency and status quo to the society. It also makes people inactive because they believe compensations will be delivered by the other parts of the society if undesirable happenings come across them (More, 1999, p. 48). The conflict perspective
This is a thought that challenges status quo, encourage social evolution and believe that powerful and rich people force order upon the weak and poor. This result to social conflicts which develop the potentiality for inequalities based on gender, race, religion, politics and economy. The community then becomes an ever changing society due to the group’s constant competition (Gunther, 2004, p. 11). This theory can adequately be used to create awareness on social conflicts and at the same time avoid such injustices after different social classes iron out their differences and aim towards societal common benefits.
Since harmony and social consensus can not prevail always in a society in real life situation, this theory provides information about the root causes that can disturb the societal oneness. It is therefore a perspective which addresses injustices that can exist within a social setup (Gunther, 2004, p. 14). The theory is criticized for dwelling much upon negative points of the society. It attributes humanitarian efforts, civil rights, democracy, altruism and other positive societal aspects to capitalistic designs that control the masses inherently not interested in preserving the society and social order.