One of the most evident similarities among the three perspectives is that all of them are concerned with broad social aspects on how they influence society. This means they look at the wider social picture and formulate ways through which institutions affect society.
The macro perspective of these theories analyses the manner in which the society fits together as a whole. In this respect, the theories consider society a system of relationships, which form the social structure that we live in. In addition, the theories consider these social structures as the determinants of peoples’ character within the society.
Despite the differences that exist between functionalism and conflict theory, both schools of thought view society via the behavior of people. The greater considerations around these theories revolve around how people influence or are influenced by the society in which they live. In all three perspectives, analysis of the social perspectives takes place at different levels; this, in turn, provides sociologists with an orienting position that enlightens them about society and its occupants. The analysis conducts a study beginning with the specific events and ends with the big picture observed in both the micro and macro levels of study in the society’s social patterns.
Both the conflict theory and the functionalism perspective offer the macro-level approach to the study of people and their impacts on society. The symbolic perspective, on the other hand, takes into consideration the micro-level analysis, which revolves around how people think and translate different models. The macro and micro levels of thinking are completely different and present different ideologies regarding the phenomenon under study. Both the functionalist and the conflict perspective use assumptions in their analyses on how things are within the social sphere. The symbolic perspective, on the other hand, does not make assumptions; rather, it analyses individuals’ behavior and actions relative to the things happening around them.
A great distinction, however, exists between the functionalist and conflict perspectives. Functionalism takes into consideration how groups of people come together and unite to build the society and considers whether the group actions are good for the development of the society. Conflict theory, on the other hand, does not view society as an entire system that comes together but as a continuum of conflicts. These conflicts arise between the bourgeoisie (the haves) and the proletariat. The conflict perspective is of the opinion that the conflicts can only end if the low-income workers rebel against the bourgeoisie.
Further, the conflict theory paints a dark picture of human nature and considers humans as entities that are always in constant disagreements over capitalism and the attainment of higher social classes. The functionalism perspective looks at the positive side of people like characters who can form groups and work together to attain the desired objectives.
Functionalism also depicts the attributes of value as something that exists amid groups of people and institutions and is applicable for the betterment of society. The symbolic perspective, for its part, argues that human value emanates from personal interactions, which come gradually. Finally, the functionalism and the conflict perspectives use macro-level analysis to present their opinions, while the symbolic interactionism perspective uses micro-level analysis, which narrows down to individual levels of thinking.