Differences Between Symbolic Interactionism and Functionalism

download print

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 663 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Mar 19, 2024

Words: 663|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Mar 19, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Theoretical Foundations
  3. Key Concepts
  4. Methods of Analysis
  5. Critiques and Limitations
  6. Conclusion


Within the field of sociology, there are various theoretical perspectives that seek to explain and understand social phenomena. Two prominent perspectives are symbolic interactionism and functionalism. While both perspectives aim to provide insights into the complexities of human behavior and social structures, they differ in their theoretical foundations, key concepts, and methods of analysis. This essay will delve into the differences between symbolic interactionism and functionalism, highlighting their unique approaches to understanding society.

'Why Violent Video Games Shouldn't Be Banned'?

Theoretical Foundations

Symbolic interactionism and functionalism have distinct theoretical foundations that shape their perspectives on society. Symbolic interactionism is rooted in the work of George Herbert Mead and focuses on the role of symbols and interactions in shaping social reality. According to symbolic interactionists, individuals construct meaning through their interactions with others and interpret symbols to create shared understandings. In contrast, functionalism, influenced by the works of Emile Durkheim, views society as a complex system composed of interdependent parts. Functionalists believe that society functions to maintain social order and stability, with each part contributing to the overall functioning of society.

Key Concepts

Symbolic interactionism and functionalism also differ in the key concepts they employ to analyze social phenomena. Symbolic interactionism places a central emphasis on the concept of the self and the process of social interaction. The self is the individual's sense of identity, shaped through interactions with others. Symbolic interactionists also highlight the importance of symbols, such as language and gestures, in communication and meaning-making. They contend that these symbols are shaped by social interactions and play a crucial role in constructing social reality.

In contrast, functionalism focuses on the concepts of social structure, social function, and social integration. Social structure refers to the patterns of social relationships and institutions that shape society. Functionalists argue that social structures serve specific functions, contributing to the overall stability and equilibrium of society. Social integration, another key concept in functionalism, refers to the degree to which individuals are connected to others in society. Functionalists argue that high levels of social integration promote social cohesion and stability.

Methods of Analysis

Symbolic interactionism and functionalism utilize different methods of analysis to understand social phenomena. Symbolic interactionists emphasize qualitative methods such as participant observation and in-depth interviews. These methods allow researchers to gain a deep understanding of individuals' subjective experiences and the meanings they attach to social interactions. Symbolic interactionists also employ content analysis, examining symbols and language in media and cultural artifacts to uncover underlying social meanings.

On the other hand, functionalists tend to employ quantitative methods such as surveys and statistical analysis. These methods allow for the examination of large-scale social phenomena and the identification of patterns and trends. Functionalists also analyze social institutions and systems through a macro-level perspective, examining how they contribute to overall social order and stability.

Critiques and Limitations

Both symbolic interactionism and functionalism have received criticism and face certain limitations. Symbolic interactionism has been criticized for its focus on micro-level analysis, which some argue limits its ability to explain larger social structures and systems. Critics also contend that symbolic interactionism may overlook the role of power and inequality in shaping social interactions and meanings.

Functionalism, on the other hand, has been criticized for its tendency to view society as a harmonious and stable whole, neglecting the existence of conflict and social change. Critics argue that functionalism may downplay issues of inequality and power dynamics, focusing instead on the maintenance of social order. Additionally, functionalism has been criticized for its limited emphasis on individual agency and the subjective experiences of individuals.

Get a custom paper now from our expert writers.


In conclusion, symbolic interactionism and functionalism offer distinct perspectives on society, each with its own theoretical foundations, key concepts, and methods of analysis. While symbolic interactionism focuses on the role of symbols and interactions in constructing social reality, functionalism emphasizes the interdependence of social structures and their functions in maintaining social order. Understanding the differences between these perspectives allows for a more comprehensive analysis of society and its complexities. By critically engaging with these theoretical frameworks, sociologists can gain deeper insights into the dynamics of human behavior and social structures.

Image of Dr. Charlotte Jacobson
This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Differences Between Symbolic Interactionism And Functionalism. (2024, March 19). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from
“Differences Between Symbolic Interactionism And Functionalism.” GradesFixer, 19 Mar. 2024,
Differences Between Symbolic Interactionism And Functionalism. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2024].
Differences Between Symbolic Interactionism And Functionalism [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 19 [cited 2024 May 29]. Available from:
Keep in mind: This sample was shared by another student.
  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours
Write my essay

Still can’t find what you need?

Browse our vast selection of original essay samples, each expertly formatted and styled


Where do you want us to send this sample?

    By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.


    Be careful. This essay is not unique

    This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

    Download this Sample

    Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts


    Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.



    Please check your inbox.

    We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!


    Get Your
    Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!

    We can help you get a better grade and deliver your task on time!
    • Instructions Followed To The Letter
    • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
    • Unique And Plagiarism Free
    Order your paper now