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Compare and Contrast Functionalism and Marxism

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Functionalism and Marxism are both known to be structural perspectives, due to the fact that they concentrate on a group of people rather than on the individual himself. Although very similar the two are different in very distinct ways, in fact Functionalism falls under the sub-heading of consensus structuralism, while Marxism falls under the sub-heading of conflict structuralism. As the sub-headings suggest they may be considered as opposites in various ways. The similarities and differences of the two opposing though similar theories will be discuss throughout this essay.

There are five main elements which outline the views of functionalism and tell us exactly what functionalists believe. The first element is known as the biological analogy, which is a metaphor in which the whole of society, with all its different parts, is compared to the human body. In this analogy functionalists sustain that since society, like the body is made of different but equally important parts, it is important to study each part in detail on its own, just like a biologist does when studying an organism. Therefore every part of the institutions of society, such as: the family, education, the media and the economy, must be studied in great detail if one is to fully understand it. Functionalism also mentions the importance of studying the effect of these various parts on society as a whole, just like it is important to know what effect the liver has on an organism.

The second element is called the structure, which states that any behaviour in society is, to a certain extent patterned. Functionalists believe that we do not really have any freedom of choice in our lives as they are affected by an institution, all of which put together form a social structure and impose certain decisions on us through a pattern of behaviour which is structured through norms and values.

The third element, function, builds on the second element, in that it explains how the structure functions. Here functionalists study and examine the various institutions, their relationships and the effect which they have on the whole of society. One may therefore conclude that the function is the contribution of the institution to the maintenance and survival of the society, in a positive or negative way.

The fourth element, functional prerequisites, sustains that for the function to work society’s needs must all be met, in order for it to survive and evolve. Therefore there must be some kind of value consensus and understanding as for society to survive and evolve there must be cooperation.

In fact, value consensus is the fifth element of functionalism. We see that functionalists believe that the majority of the population must share the same values for there to be integration and so social solidarity, this leading to an order in society, where every action becomes predictable due to the five elements mentioned above.

Both Marxism and Functionalism believe that some sort of structure exists in a society, imposing certain choices on its people. The difference between the two is that Marxists believe that the prime stimulus in these decisions is the economy, which makes people rebel and change society. One may also say that functionalism is heavily based on the fact that a society is ordered and there is value consensus, whereas in Marxism we see a lot of disorder and constant changes. Marx heavily bases his theories on the economic part of society, calling it the infrastructure. It involves the production process, where the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, employ the proletariat, the working class, paying them very low salaries, for very long working hours.

This causes the bourgeoisie to get richer, as the proletariat got poorer. In Marx’s theory there is also the superstructure, which is heavily effected by the infrastructure, and so the economy of a society. The superstructure is everything in society besides the economy. Therefore it has to do with ideas, opinions, beliefs, politics, education, media, religion and family. The superstructure is controlled by the bourgeoisie, who use this power to manipulate the proletariat, who in those days did not have enough education to understand what was going on, to do whatever they wanted. The manipulation and inhumane use of workers led to capitalism, which was an ideology where anyone who was willing to take a risk could make profit. The superstructure was then used for brainwashing, leading to a false perception. This false perception then allowed the bourgeoisie to overwork the proletariat, thus stealing money from them, in order to maximise their profits.

Marx also came up with a theory of history, in which he tries to trace the development of society, marking the different inequalities, known as contradictions, which, according to him, marked the era. He also believed that for a change to have occurred in each era there must have been a set of people, who with an antithesis challenged the old ideas of a society, known as the thesis. The antithesis and the thesis would then combine to form a synthesis, a kind of middle road between the two, under which the society would agree to live. The main era’s Marx recognises are: the primitive communism, where there is equality and sharing of the means of production; the ancient epoch, where there is the difference between the citizen and the slave, giving rise to inequality; the feudal epoch; the amount of land owned is used to determine wealth; the capitalist epoch, where the inequality is seen in the amount of money or capital one possesses; and the communist epoch, where history stops as there is no more conflict because there is a perfect equality and there is no need to better society.

Marxism and Functionalism may similarly be criticised for grouping up society too much. Marxism does this by grouping society into economic sectors, in fact it may be said that Marx concentrates too much on the economy and its implications on society, rather than other infrastructures, such as the family, which also have a very big effect on the whole of society. Functionalism, on the other hand, threats people too much like puppets, held on a string, as everyone has to do things according to their roles, and no one has any choice to make as the pressures made on them by society are too strong to be overcome.

Functionalism and Marxism may be summed up together with to main points. They both believe in a structure, something external, which influences people and makes them behave in a certain way and they both generalise, dividing society into groups rather than focusing on the individual.

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