Functionalism focuses on what is good for the whole of society. Functionalists took a similar way as biologists to explain this perspective. Social systems were dissected into their parts, or institutions (family, education, economy, polity, and religion), and these parts were examined to find out how they worked and their importance for the larger social system. The idea of the functionalists was to create a science of society that could examine the parts of human social systems and make them work for the improvement of all. From the perspective of Marxism, the fundamental processes of society are competition and conflict, rather than cooperation for the good of the whole which was the emphasis in functionalism. Social action takes place within an arena of conflict and exploitation between dominant and secondary segments of society.
The concept of power is of great significance for Marxist sociologists. Symbolic interactionism focuses on the effect of language and behavior and how it affects and is affected by groups, organizations, and society.. We created the rules we live by, and, importantly, we re-create these rules everyday through our interactions with one another. Symbolic interactionism focus upon the way we create or construct the many aspects of our world by way of individuals continually acting and reacting to each other. The symbolic interactionism perspective differs in three ways from both Marxism and Functionalism. It adopts a microsociological approach whereas Marxism and Functionalism adopts a macrosociological approach.
That is, symbolic interactionism is concerned above all else with interactions between people; not with broader questions about the functions of society as a whole. The focus then, is on what goes on every day of a persons life; and how this influences a persons performance. Society is analyzed as a whole by both Marxism and functionalism. This means that both are structural approaches. Symbolic interactionism is not a structural perspective; it argues that society cannot be understood as a whole at all. For society is not a thing external to individuals, which influences their beliefs and behavior. Rather, it is nothing but how individuals make sense of it.