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.
While European functionalists originally focused on explaining the inner workings of social order, American functionalists focused on discovering the functions of human behavior.
Among these American functionalist sociologists is Robert Merton (b.
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.
The pioneering European sociologists, however, also offered a broad conceptualization of the fundamentals of society and its workings.
Their views form the basis for today's theoretical perspectives, or paradigms, which provide sociologists with an orienting framework—a philosophical position—for asking certain kinds of questions about society and its people.If all goes well, the parts of society produce order, stability, and productivity.If all does not go well, the parts of society then must adapt to recapture a new order, stability, and productivity. And a new social order, stability, and productivity occur.Symbols may include wedding bands, vows of life‐long commitment, a white bridal dress, a wedding cake, a Church ceremony, and flowers and music.American society attaches general meanings to these symbols, but individuals also maintain their own perceptions of what these and other symbols mean.For example, one of the spouses may see their circular wedding rings as symbolizing “never ending love,” while the other may see them as a mere financial expense.