Difference Between Functionalism and Conflict Theory

Key Difference – Functionalism vs Conflict Theory
 

Functionalism and the conflict theory are two perspectives used in Sociology between which some difference can be identified. Sociology is a discipline in the social sciences which studies human society and group behavior in society. In sociology, many perspectives are used to understand human society. Through each perspective, a different approach is used to understand the society. Functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism are the main perspectives. In this article, we will be paying attention to functionalism and conflict theory. Functionalism and Conflict theory use a macro approach in understanding the society. The key difference between functionalism and conflict theory is that, in functionalism, the society is understood as a system consisting of different subsections that have specific functions. On the other hand, the conflict theory comprehends the society through the social conflicts that arise due to the inequality that prevail among different social classes.

What is Functionalism?

As mentioned in the introduction, functionalism views the society as a system that is created of different parts. Each part has a specific function in the society. Let us simplify this. In the society, there are social institutions such as education, religion, family, economy and the political institution. Each institution has a specific function that contributes to the society or else the system. If one becomes dysfunctional, this not only affects that institution but also the very social system as well. This is why some functionalists compare the society to the human body.

Functionalists such as Talcott Parsons specifically emphasize the importance of social order. In every society, it is important to maintain the status quo so that the society can function effectively. When this social order is not maintained, it results in a condition of conflict and disarray in the society. This can occur due to the issues that arise within a particular institution or a number of institutions. For example, in times of social revolutions, the social equilibrium or social order is lost.

Another concept that is stressed by Functionalists is collective consciousness. According to Durkheim, the society is possible due to the consensus among people. This results from the collective consciousness that refers to the common beliefs of the society. These lay the foundation for functionalism.

Difference Between Functionalism and Conflict Theory

A statue of Emilie Durkhiem

What is Conflict Theory?

The conflict theory highlights that various groups within the society have different interests that can lead to conflict. There are many branches of conflict theory of which Marxism holds a unique position. Marxism highlights the significance of the economic factor. According to Karl Marx, conflicts in society arise due to inequalities among different social classes.

Another interpretation of conflict theory stems from Max Weber, who highlights that other than the economy, factors such as power and status are also important. As you can see both functionalism and conflict theory presents a point of view in approaching the society. However, there is a difference between the two perspectives. This can be summarized as follows.

Functionalism vs Conflict Theory Key Difference

Karl Marx

What is the Difference Between Functionalism and Conflict Theory?

Definitions of Functionalism and Conflict Theory:

Functionalism: In functionalism, the society is understood as a system consisting of different subsections that have specific functions.

Conflict Theory: Conflict theory comprehends the society through the social conflicts that arise due to the inequality that prevail among different social classes.

Characteristics of Functionalism and Conflict Theory:

View of the Society:

Functionalism: The society is viewed as a system that consists of different parts.

Conflict Theory: The society is viewed as a struggle between different classes due to inequality.

Approach:

Functionalism: Functionalism uses a macro approach.

Conflict Theory: Conflict theory also uses a macro approach.

Emphasis:

Functionalism: Functionalism stresses cooperation.

Conflict Theory: Conflict theory stresses competition.

 

Image Courtesy:
1. Le buste d’Émile Durkheim 03 By Christian Baudelot [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
2. Karl Marx By John Jabez Edwin Mayall [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons