The conflict perspective views society less as a cohesive system and more as an arena of conflict and power struggles. Compare and contrast the main tenets of the functionalist and conflict perspectives. ANSWER: SECTION A Functionalists view society as a system of Social structures or subsystems working interdependently. In order for society to function, all parts of the whole must have a general consensus.
Similarly, conflict theorists operate on the premise that society functions in a way that each individual contributes to the whole, however, conflict arises as participants within society struggle to maximize their benefits. In other words, the sub-systems are perpetuated in order to benefit only those that hold power. Functionalist Emile Durkhein (1858-1917) aimed to establish how the various parts of society contributed to the maintenance of society as a whole. Durkheim also focused on how various features of social structure function to maintain social order and equilibrium.
In contrast to Durkheim’s views, conflict theorist Karl Marx (1818-1883) saw the society as being in a state of conflict which is as a result of social inequalities. Marx based his work on inequality, focusing on inequality under capitalism. Marx argued that the production of goods and services within society is set up so that great benefits are produced for a minority dominant group, the Bourgeoisie, at the expense of an exploited and oppressed majority group, the Proletariat. Durkheim believed that the division of labour was a step toward new forms of Social Solidarity, but Marx felt this separation contributed to alienation.
SECTION B & C Emile Durkheim firmly believed that societies were social systems which were in fact moral entities. He argued that Socialization, or association with others within society was the basis by which collective consciousness or common moral values are formed. The “Collective Conscience” is the force which influences the behavior of the people. Durkheim made references to society as being a “moral reality” and a “moral entity”, which suggested that society was far more superior than we are. Durkheim believed that in order for society to be continuous, Social Order must be maintained.
The word “Functional” refers to the adhering to the rules of society such as laws, and these rules and laws were derived via the collective conscience. Those that defied these rules were termed as being “Dysfunctional”, for example, thieves and murderers are deemed dysfunctional because they disobeyed the rules and laws of the society which were formed via collective consciousness. Durkheim claimed that the division of labour itself is a moral phenomenon, not an economic one. Durkheim did not believe in classes.
He focused on moral, legal and political problems of societies as they make the transition from simple traditional societies to modern industrial societies. Durkheim suggested that each of these types of society is distinguished by different forms of Social Solidarity and by different social systems of morality. Durkheim believed that the more primitive societies have little division of labour and they consist of families and tribes. These simple societies experience “Mechanical Solidarity”, it is easy to compare the parts of the society with one another.
He believes that in this type of society, the people are unified by common shared values as a result of having common and shared experiences. He also stated that in more modern or complex societies, the unification via beliefs and moral ideas decreases, however, the society does not diminish. On the other hand, Durkheim explained that “Organic Solidarity” is formed as a result of the weakening influence of common values. This other type of solidarity is made up of the interdependence of several elements within a general acceptance of the need to be different.
Commonly shared values still exist but are now generalized, simply because experiences are not longer totally common and shared. Therefore, instead of focusing on the details of the action, common values are generally just for actual social practices. The division of labour can now be seen as a moral phenomenon. For example, the people of a modern society rely on the Shoemaker, the Baker and the Gas station Attendant, all of which may not have commonly shared daily experiences.
Durkheim believed that this division of labour is necessary to ensure the continuance of order throughout society. Hence, this new form of Social Solidarity, Organic Solidarity, is vital in the prevention of a collapsed society. Durkheim saw society to be a stable and orderly cohesive system that experiences and adapts to change in order to create a new order and by doing so, moving forward to a new state of equilibrium. Karl Marx, on the other hand, was a Conflict Theorist. The word “conflict” in itself is almost polar opposite to “Functional”.
Conflict theories differ from Functional theories because they stress on the existence of competing groups and the lack of cohesiveness, while functionalist focus on cooperation between social groups. However, similar to the beliefs of Durkheim, Marx believed that humans are shaped by the social relationships; socialization, and social system of thought; the collective consciousness, that they themselves create. Therefore, Marx believed that people were both the producers and products of society. Marx, just like Durkheim, also believed that various parts of the society are interconnected and influence each other.
Marx, however, argued that economic factors exerted the primary influence and largely shape other aspects of society. As mentioned before, Durkheim argued that these factors were moral and phenomenon and not economic factors. Marx stated that Social Change is not a smooth transition, instead he argues that contradiction and conflict in the economic system is where social change exists. Marx’s view was based on the Dialectic movement which represents a struggle between incompatible forces which grows in intensity until there is a final collision.
This would result in a sudden leap forward, and this forward movement creates a new set of forces on a higher level, and this process re-occurs, always propelling change. Marx argues that this source of change lies in contradictions with the economic system mainly, and in society in general. Marx’s view is often referred to as “Dialectic Materialism” because of the importance he places on economic factors. Marx then goes on to argue that the Fundamental contradiction of human society was created with the emergence of private property, and in particular, private ownership of the means of production.
He believed that because the means of production is owned, a minority, earlier referred to as the Bourgeoisie, is able to control, dominate and reap benefits from the fruits of the labour of the majority, also known as the Proletariat. We can see here that unlike Durkheim, Marx focused on classes. One group gains at the expense of the other, causing a conflict between these two classes. The tension and conflict generated by this contradiction is what Marx believes to be the major dynamic of Social Change.
These two sociologists, Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx, both had extremely valid theories which represent the Functionalist perspective and the Conflict theorist perspective respectively. One can see that a close examination of the works of each of these writers reveals that the very cohesiveness of society depends greatly upon the construction of the labour mechanism. The disagreements that arise between Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx are not located in the idea that a division does exist, rather the theoretical variances spring from how society both responds and reacts to this division.
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