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Sociologists today employ three primary theoretical perspectives: the symbolic interactionist perspective, the functionalist perspective, and the conflict perspective.These perspectives offer sociologists theoretical paradigms for explaining how society influences people, and vice versa.A sociological approach in functionalism is the consideration of the relationship between the functions of smaller parts and the functions of the whole.Functionalism has received criticism for neglecting the negative functions of an event such as divorce.Critics also claim that the perspective justifies the status quo and complacency on the part of society's members.Functionalism does not encourage people to take an active role in changing their social environment, even when such change may benefit them.Mead (1863–1931) introduced this perspective to American sociology in the 1920s.According to the symbolic interactionist perspective, people attach meanings to symbols, and then they act according to their subjective interpretation of these symbols.

Although symbolic interactionism traces its origins to Max Weber's assertion that individuals act according to their interpretation of the meaning of their world, the American philosopher George H.Verbal conversations, in which spoken words serve as the predominant symbols, make this subjective interpretation especially evident.The words have a certain meaning for the “sender,” and, during effective communication, they hopefully have the same meaning for the “receiver.” In other terms, words are not static “things”; they require intention and interpretation.Sociologists analyze social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives.

From concrete interpretations to sweeping generalizations of society and social behavior, sociologists study everything from specific events (the micro level of analysis of small social patterns) to the “big picture” (the macro level of analysis of large social patterns).

Conversation is an interaction of symbols between individuals who constantly interpret the world around them.