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Functionalism vs Conflict Theory

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The theory of functionalism and conflict theory differ in several ways. They focus on different values, assume different things about society and differ in their explanations of power. Functionalism is defined as ?the analysis of social and cultural phenomena in terms of the functions they perform in a sociocultural system.

In functionalism society is conceived as a system of interrelated parts in which no part can be understood in isolation from the whole (Wallace, Wolf, 18).? On the other hand conflict theorists do not agree with the unity in society that functionalist believe in. ?Conflict theorists see an arena in which groups fight for power (Wallace, Wolf, 68).?These two theories create very different ways of looking at the world but each have strong points and evidence to back them up. Functionalism emphasizes the interdependence of the system?s parts. Contributions made by the shared values link to the existence of the social system, and the equilibrium among the interrelated parts.

The theory of functionalism values the integration of all parts of society. It also values a normal state of affairs or equilibrium (Wallace, Wolf 1998). Additionally it focuses on the society as a whole instead of individuals.

Functionalism has two major grounds. The first is the analysis of societies by analogy with biological organisms. The other is the assessment of social institutions in terms of the role and function they play in a social system. An example of the analysis of societies is society is a social organism, and the human body is a biological organism. There are four aspects of society. Economic, political, legal, and the social system, they come together to form and maintain society.

There were several early supporters of functionalism. These men developed the concepts and ideas that founded this theory. Auguste Comte is known as the founder of sociology and was the first to show society as a social organism because of the interdependence of all the parts of society. Herbert Spencer was also a major forerunner of this theory because of his idea of differentiation. By this ?Spencer meant the mutual dependence of unlike parts of the system (Wallace, Wolf, 1998). ? Talcott Parsons set out four functional basics important for society: these are goal attainment, setting goals in Government/Education, Adaptation, development of material world in the Mass Media/Industry, Integration in promoting harmony and social solidarity in Religion/Family, Latency, meeting individual needs to satisfy demand.

Emile Durkheim is known as the father of functionalism. ?He is the most important sociological forerunner of modern functionalism (Wallace, Wolf 1998).? Durkheim viewed progress as a movement from automatic unity of family based societies to the natural unity characteristic of industrial societies. Durkheim bases his theory on social structure or unity and on two specific societal needs, integration and regulation. His hypothesis is that societies characterized by too much or too little integration or regulation will have serious societal problems The main assumptions of Functionalism are that a society is a system of integrated parts; social systems tend to be stable because they have built-in mechanisms of control. Also functionalists believe that dysfunctions do not exist, but tend to resolve themselves or become institutionalized in the long run. They believe change is usually gradual, and that social integration is produced by the agreement of most members of society on a certain set of values. The value system is the most stable element of the social system.

?Conflict theory is the major alternative to functionalism as an approach to analyzing general structure of society; and it is increasingly popular and important in modern sociology (Wallace, Wolf 1998).? It?s a more liberal, realistic view of society that incorporates the power struggles and conflicts of society.

Karl Marx was the creator of conflict theory in sociology. He believed that people have an essential nature and clearly defined interests. He also analyzed both historical and contemporary society in terms of conflicts between different social groups with different interests. Marx emphasized the dominance of technology and of patterns of property ownership in determining the nature of people?s lives and course of social conflict. You can see this in society today through the impact that technology has on our everyday lives.

Another early supporter of conflict theory was Max Weber. He was highly concerned with power and with the ways in some people gained domination over other people. Weber?s arguments have had great influence on conflict theorists who believe that economic factors are not always the major influence of people?s lives and power.

Values of Conflict Theory are the end result of economic organization and inequality, once the most powerful in society have been able to convince everyone else that things like economic inequality are socially necessary. ?Values are seen as weapons used by different groups to advance their own ends rather than the means of defining a whole society?s identity and its goals (Wallace, Wolf 1998).? The main assumptions of conflict theory are that society is constantly changing and there is constant conflict and coercion. Conflict theorists assume that social structure is based on the dominance of some groups over others. Each group in society has a common set of interests whether its members are aware of it or not.

When people become aware of their common interest they become two social classes. These classes naturally conflict with the intensity depending on the presence of certain political and social conditions on the distribution of authority and rewards, and on the openness of the class system.

There are class systems to separate races, sex, and gender, but there is also a class system that distinguishes between the rich and the poor. . There are five classes that consist of the Upper/Capitalist, which are the wealthy, the Upper/Middle Class, which are the professionals, The middle class/white collar, the working class, semi-skilled workers and, the chronically poor. So this means that not only are people classified by their race, and gender, but they are also classified by their income and the type of lifestyles that they obtain.

The conflict theory states that the rich and the powerful occupy the most important and influential positions in society and use their positions to advance themselves in wealth and power. Theorists view power not only as scarce and unequally divided but as essentially coercive. Power analysis leads to the sharing of the resources that give more or less power.

As a conclusion Functionalism and Conflict theory are very much opposites but yet are the same in some ways. They mold off of each other and come together to make a good argument. The main difference in functionalism is the addressing of conflict in society. Functionalism doesn?t have a big role in how it addresses conflict in society. It is safe to say that conflict theory and functionalism are different in many ways, but if put together with its differences, can work together to make one.

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