From a functionalist perspective, social institutions such as families and governments are analyzed and explained as collective means to satisfy specific or individual biological requisites. These social institutions, along with the rest, are composed of interconnected roles or norms such as the interconnected roles within the family (e.g. father, mother, etc.). As it essentially concerns the workings and the very structure of the society, the functionalist perspective views the society as composed of interdependent branches which work together to meet the functions needed for the general society’s survival. Moreover, as functionalists understand that the behaviors within the society are primarily structural in nature, the functionalist perspective delves into the socialization of individuals defined according to their specific and contingent behaviors and roles which satisfies the society’s necessities. It is also the sociological perspective which believes that rules and regulations aid in organizing the social relationships among the members of the whole society. In essence, the functionalist perspective is founded on the concept that the society is a whole system composed of the totality of interdependent segments. It is also founded on the belief that functional requirements must be satisfied for the survival of the society. Lastly, it is also founded on the presumption that phenomena are accepted to exist as they are functional within the society.
On the other hand, conflict theory refutes the assumptions of the functionalist perspective. Part of the reason to this is that conflict theory asserts that the society or any other body of organization functions in order to make every individual participant in the organization and the rest of the groups struggle for the maximization of the benefits. These struggles, on the other hand, contribute to the changes within the society which include revolutions or changes in the political system or structure. One of the more radical presuppositions argued by conflict theory includes the idea that the whole society is eternally under conflict which is grounded on the belief that social changes inevitably arise in order to maximize benefits. There are also moderate assumptions such as the belief that conflict and custom are always intertwined. One way to understand conflict theory is in terms of the pyramid structure. In this structure, the elite class of the society defines and dictates the terms or conditions to the bigger masses. The existing laws, traditions as well as institutions are crafted in order to serve the purpose of supporting those who are in power either from tradition or from the perception of the society. In essence, conflict theory ascertains the idea that there are ways in which those in power keep and stay in power. These ‘ways’ to sustain power are results or accompaniments of the various social changes brought about by the need to maximize social benefits.
On the other hand, interactionism is grounded on social interaction which presents the idea that nothing within the society is determined, hence the argument that people can be liberated as individuals. Further, it is believed that the individual can attain the capacity to alter the history and society from below rather than being placed under the manipulation from those ‘above’ the society. In essence, interactionism attempts to study the individual as an agent able to free himself and as an individual acting within the boundaries of the society.
I believe that the best perspective of sociology is interactionism as it primarily argues for the liberation of the individual within the society. As it gives emphasis to the role of individual and the individual per se, interactionism consequently creates the impression that the individual is the central figure of the society and not the institutions as the other theories may profess. Indeed, it should be the case that emphasis should be given to the individual since there will be no society without the individual in the first place. Liberation from the institutions and social hierarchy which preempts the individual from freedom should indeed be the core of sociology.