An approach to inequality that focuses on how micro-interactions reflect and create unequal power dynamics.
In studies of gender dynamics, interactionists may focus on the day-to-day exchanges between husbands and wives to study how male superiority is enacted. For example, when a wife cleans up after her husband or leaves unquestioned an opinion of his that she disagrees with, it is an example of how inequality is reiterated in micro-interactions.
The interactionist perspective on inequality focuses on how micro-interactions reflect and create unequal power dynamics. Interactionists consider the question of how power is exchanged in a situation. For example, when a child and an adult engage in conversation, the adult establishes their power by claiming knowledge and authority that the child cannot. When considering larger systems of inequality, interactionists look at the inequality between social roles. Social roles refer to one's position and responsibilities in society, which are largely determined in modern developed nations by occupation. The interactionist perspective on inequality looks at how certain social roles have more power, or authority, than others.
An example using real social roles can help illustrate the interactionist perspective: A CEO has more power than a receptionist. Macro-sociologists may explain this disparity by pointing to the unequal education of the two employees, the unequal salaries they earn, or the differing skill levels required to fulfill each job. Interactionists, on the other hand, would focus on the way that day-to-day exchanges demonstrate and reinforce the gap between the CEO and receptionist. When the receptionist hangs up the CEO's jacket, he takes on a subservient position; when the receptionist makes excuses for the CEO missing a deadline, he accepts responsibility for the CEO's mistake; when the receptionist laughs at jokes that he does not find funny, he flatters the CEO because he recognizes that his job depends on doing so. All of these micro-interactions, which may seem trivial at the time, add up to status inequality, according to the interactionist.