Functionalist, Interactionist, and Conflict Theory
Different theories in sociology not only describe the role played by social institutions in society but also how those institutions help socialize individuals in the construction of the social self in society. The three main theories of sociological analysis are the functionalist, the interactionist, and conflict theories.
Functionalism views society and its inhabitants as in need of certain products and services. There is a need for a justice system, government, and the means of producing goods and services. Social institutions arise as part of the overall society, where the "different parts contribute positively to the operation or functioning of the system as a whole" (Functionalism 2). Functionalism sees social institutions as conveying the values and norms that are mutually agreed upon by individuals as forming the social contract regarding interaction. Individuals evolve a social self that is based on these norms and values. The institutions that are the parts of society (business, government, education, and so on) reinforce these norms and values and sanction those who violate them.
Interactionism is a sociological theory that places a great deal of emphasis on interactions among individuals, groups, and others who interact on what is known as the micro-level of sociological analysis. The sum and nature of these interactions form society and the social self. This is because one evaluates others and also evaluates the self, modifying behavior and attitudes in the creation of a social self. As George Herbert Mead explains it, "Society is dependent upon the capacities of the self, via evaluating oneself" (Interactionist 2). This evaluation maintains society and its institutions, but society and its institutions are always in the process of change because ongoing evaluation leads to new definitions of institutions and the social self. Th...