Monday, November 5, 2012

How does ‘sociological thinking’ differ from commonsense?

It is often argued that sociological thinking is just a branch out of commonsense. People associate it with analysing the obvious and providing circular reasoning that never seem to have an empirical way of validation. However, further comparison of the two can show the distinctions that can be illustrated by a simple reflection on our own lives. Everything around us exists in a commonsensical dimension the size of clothes we’re wearing, the brand of car we drive, or even the manner this essay is presented. It is commonsense that we choose the clothes that fit us whether we’re an S or L size, we choose a certain type of car just because it allows us to be perceived in a certain way, and this essay is written in formal English and passed up on time because it contributes to our first year evaluation. These facts may seem unquestionably simple and straightforward, but there is a deeper sociological value in them. Who gets to decide which body shapes get to be a small size or a large size? Why do we feel much better driving a Mercedes than a Hyundai? What is so important about a degree? These are the questions sociological thought would implicate that commonsense would not able to.

First, the difference of the two is that commonsense is a collective body of observed knowledge based on personal experiences, but sociological thinking is not. Nonetheless, it is understood that a part of sociological thought is derived from commonsense and everyday observation. As Berger once claimed,

“To ask sociological questions, then, presupposes that one is interested in looking some distance beyond the commonly accepted or officially defined goals of human actions. It presupposes a certain awareness that human events have different levels of meaning, some of which are hidden from the consciousness of everyday life.” (Berger, 1963)

Sociological thinking tries to view the society not as a group of isolated individuals or separate institutions, but as a whole (Bauman and May, 2001, p. 8). According to Brown, the society is an abstract concept that cannot be seen physically. It is a conceptual web of relations between people and the social institutions (1979, p. 1-2) While commonsense is extracted and slowly built up by practical knowledge of the everyday life, sociological thinking differs as it encourages thoughts and ideas that are levels higher than individuals’ personal experiences; it sprouts thoughts on society as a whole.

Second, sociological thinking allows challenges to the presumed commonsense and urges a more radical and provoking approach to the social facts. According to Bauman and May, the relationship between commonsense and sociological thinking is a rather dependent one where sociological thinking is interpreting and investigating the meanings of social actions and facts that has been branded by commonsense. Commonsense has already labeled meanings and responses to most of the social facts that are collectively known by the members of society. (2001, p. 7).  The repitition of the actions become habitual, there are no more questionings for the meaning behind commonsense and they are somehow categorised as true and standing ways of life. (Bauman and May, 2001, p. 10) Another view of Brown’s can be incorporated to provide a clearer view of the distinction of commonsense and sociological thinking. He argues that the collection of the facts derived from collective comon sense are not equivalent to sociological thinking and research. It can only be fully understood with sociological theories(1979, p. 6-7) with are formed with the sociological thought and imagination.
Third, sociological thought can be categorised as scientific while commonsense cannot. An analytical comparison between commonsense and science by Nagel shows that science cannot be leveled with commonsense (1974, p. 21). In his rebuttal to Nagel’s claim, Elliot strived to prove that commonsense is a part of science in the most basic ways, such as the conduct of experiment requires observation that is mainly an action that requires engagement and interpretation of the researcher himself (1974, p. 24). To further assert the claim, Emile Durkheim explored the positivist methodology in social science with his research on suicide. He thus affirms that sociology can be a science, alongside biology and psychology (2004, p. 31). Sociological thinking tries to view and analyse the social world from an objective standpoint while commonsense is a product of an individual’s subjective experiences and therefore, the latter cannot be considered science.

Commonsense is culturally angled knowledge that is subjectively varied between individuals and societies. However, sociological thinking attempts to postulate a higher level of consciousness and objectiveness to the macro social trends and happenings in relation to the society as a whole. C. Wright Mills once wrote, “The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals.”(1959, p. 5). So, with the points above, it can be concluded that sociological thinking is commonsense further evolved and probed to allow a greater understanding of society.


Berger, P. (1963). Introduction to Sociological Thought. New York: Doubleday.

Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd edition). Singapore: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Brown, C. (1979). Understanding Society: An Introduction to Sociological Theory. Bath: John Murray (Publishers) Ltd.

Garfinkel , H., Elliot, H. C., Pollner, M., Smith, D., Sharrock, W. W., Moerman, M., et al. (1974). Ethnomethodology. (R. Turner, Ed.) Aylesbury, Bucks: Penguin Education .

Billig, M., MIlls, C. W., Durkheim, E., Wallace, W. L., Campbell, D. T., Cook, T. D., et al. (2004). Social Research Methods: A Reader. (C. Seale, Ed.) London: Routledge.

Wright Mills, C. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. London and New York: Oxford University Press.

Monday, October 1, 2012

AS LEVEL: Nature VS Nurture debate

The nature versus nurture debate started during the 1800s just when sociology was recognized as a part of science. It is a highly controversial topic that debates whether human behavior is basic living instincts, predetermined by cognitive programming or slowly molded by each individual’s upbringing and external social factors. It has been discussed and concluded many times by sociologists, biologists and psychologists with their own opinions.

Biologists and genetic doctors believe that humans inherit and grow according to their biological programming. Many would assume that the genes we were born with would be the ultimate factor for our intelligence and learning habits. As a study by a team of UCLA scientists in year 2009 shows, human intelligence is highly heritable and genetically determined.  This is due to the quality of axons in the white matter of the brain is strongly controlled by genetic factors. The axons are the transmitters and decoders of the external stimulations an individual may come across. It shows that the lesser the quality of the axons, the slower the brain develops and matures to fully comprehend complex thoughts and knowledge. The qualities of an individual’s axons are completely genetic and cannot be modified in any way. Therefore, it’s proven that everyone is born with different IQ levels genetically programmed that cannot be altered.

Although proven that biological factors may also play some part in determining human behavior, it is proven that our intelligence can be trained and pushed to higher levels. The results based on Dr Rick Heber’s Milwaukee Project shows to stand for the latter. He conducted a case study on 40 newborns from Milwaukee, whose parents had IQ lower than 80 and found out that the care and love provided, in other words primary socialization, is essential to a child’s mental development. The newborns involved suffered from maternal and social deprivation. They were assigned randomly into two contrasting environments which are the control group, which was left in a rougher and poorer environment and experimental group, which was brought up in a high-quality environment. According to Heber and his colleagues, all the children from the experimental group had higher IQ than all the children from the control group, when the children left the study at age of six. But the case doesn’t end here. To further prove that socialization is the main factor of human behavior, the same children were tested again at the age 14 and all were found to be performing in school as such a child with a mean IQ of 80 would, despite the previous achievements during the programme which shows that the human brain develops according how it was taught and socialized. For this reason, Professor Arthur Jensen said that this programme does not produce permanent intelligence gain which further demonstrates the importance of socialization. Hence, it is concluded that our degree of intelligence are strongly affected by our primary and secondary socialization and that our IQ would probably deteriorate if we stopped socializing.

Psychologists claim that the main determinant of human behavior is the cognitive programming of the human mind. The widely-known theory of the three parts of the mind, superego, ego and id was first brought up by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. He analyzed that there are three parts of the human mind, the id, superego and ego. The id is the part that we were born with, the part of the mind where our basic instincts are. This part of the human conscious displays our true desires and wants. The next part that matures is the ego. The ego is based on the reality principle. It balances the needs of our id while helping us keeps our head on the situation of reality. Lastly, our superego develops at the age of five. This is the part of our mind where our moral values and conscience exists. After this final part matures, our brain becomes capable of practical thought and consideration. Thus, according to Freud’s concept of the human brain, it shows that psychological factors are the main constructors of personality and behavior.
This is however a self-contradicting argument. In order for the three components of the brain to mature, they had to go through a series of primary socialization. The superego is the best example to prove that part of the brain develops and acts due to socialization. The superego is a state of mind where the norms and values of society are stored. If there weren’t any socialization, how would this part of the brain evolve to have the moral consciousness? Therefore, it is reasoned that the act and state of mind is mostly social constructed.

Sociologists came up with the latest opinion of all three sides to the argument, that human behavior is nurtured and altering every time socialization takes place. This side believes that the predetermined factors only lay a foundation for the interaction with the external society and other individuals to trigger human behaviour.

Without proper socialization, humans cannot learn to behave appropriately to fit in. Feral children are the results of children that are deprived of social interaction with other humans. The case of Ro Cham H’pnhieng, the Mowgli woman from Cambodia shows that both primary and secondary socialization are crucial for a person’s development. Ro Cham H’pnhieng, a 27 year old female who was thought to be killed by wild animals after she went missing at the age of 8. Although Ro Cham H’phieng was able to behave normally before she went missing, she became a feral case because she didn’t continue to socialize with humans. This case not only shows that socialization is important but it also indicates that it is a lifelong process and cannot be stopped.

Food is a big part of every culture and a major evidence of how human behavior is determined by sociological factors. It evolves alongside the culture itself to suit the local environment. Food has become part of our self-identity. Just like, pasta is often associated with Italians or curry with Indians, we can learn a lot about a person’s environment and social upbringing. As to the quote, “We are what we eat”, our eating habits reflect who we are and our culture. Additionally, food taboos are also evidence that external factors shape us and our behavior. The factors of food taboos are such as state of cleanliness and religious restrictions. There are a large variety of food taboos but only one is shared universally, cannibalism which is frowned upon by society due to moral values and norms. Therefore, pieces of our culture are also strong proof that human behavior was mainly determined by socialization.

Among the popular theories that prove socialization is the main determined of human behavior is the theory of suicide by one of the founding father of sociology, Emile Durkheim. The main instinct in all animals is to survive. To want to commit suicide is the exact opposite of survival and goes against human nature, therefore can be reasoned to be socially-constructed and influenced by external factors. According to Durkheim’s investigations, he found that suicide rates shoot up even when society is in peace economically and socially because the norms and values of society aren’t clear. It shows that people tend to commit suicide during normless times. He called these anomic suicides. Durkheim also touched on the reverse of anomic suicides which is fatality suicides. This theory displays suicides factored by too much norms and rules of the society. People get too wound up due to the endless dos and don’ts and expectations of society and put an end to it. Other than that, another suicide theory is egoistic suicides. These suicides are consequences of low levels of integration in society. The people who commit egoistic suicides are often socially neglected, unsupported by members of their social groups and rejected by the norms of society. Lastly, Durkheim also discovered altruistic suicides which are commonly known as sacrificial deaths. Individuals who commit altruistic suicides give primary thought and consideration to the interest of the whole community before his own welfare. Thus, this concludes that suicide is a contradiction of nature and is only brought up by negative social forces.
Languages are the main aspect of communication. The variety of languages is socially formed by the place and heritage of every different community. Look at Mandarin for instance, people all over the world speak it yet there are slangs and phrases only a certain branch of the race would know. This occurs due to the different places and societies all over the world developing while speaking the same language. The way our native tongue sounds and how we pronounce it is much affected by our socialization and surroundings. Hence, different languages are crucial evidence that human behavior is mostly socialized.

The norms and values of our culture have shaped our conception of the gender roles to a very narrow perspective. Rigid ideas that nudges the gender stereotyping such as the dominant and submitting roles of a household or even the colour association to genders are all formed by social forces. According to US feminist Barbara G. Walker’s book “The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets”, women were the alpha characters in most Neolithic civilizations. The book touches on the social construction of a matriarchal society which has been around before civilization. Walker has shown much evidence that a matriarchal society is also shaped by religion, environment and socialization of early human beings. Moreover, it also brings out points showing that transition from the matrilineal to patrilineal ways of life happened later than ancient civilization and was mostly socially constructed. This was further proved with American culture anthropologist Margaret Mead’s case study of three primitive tribes at Papua New Guinea which are the Aparesh, Mundugumour and Chambri tribes. She found out that three tribes had different gender roles for men and women which prove that the sexual division of labour in society isn’t biologically programmed into human beings. Therefore, it is shown that we weren’t born with the gender roles biologically programmed, but we’re primarily socialized to pick up the norm of our society. 

Biological factors no doubt lays a foundation for us to have the ability to learn but it’s our surroundings and social forces that lastly determine how humans behave. Psychological aspects are no doubt shaped in the human mind yet it is still in an irresolute state where social forces are the factors that trigger it into behavior. Thus, it is proven that socialization molds most parts of one’s behavior. Of the three explanations of biology, psychology and sociology, it is widely proved that socialization is the main determinant of human behavior.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Some thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises

For i have no right to present a critique on something that I do not understand completely. These are just some trains of thought that stemmed from watching The Dark Knight Rises.

I thought it was going to be another typical-dynamic(excuse my oxymoron) action movie with a twisting plot and a sigh-worthy ending. I was not wrong.

But The Dark Knight Rises struck out to me as an eccentric piece, shadowing the other superhero movies. But not necessarily in a good way. Sure, the movie had clear direction and very strong cast with incredible portfolios and Oscar-nominations, but the plot and execution of the story were injected with too many ideologies which in my opinion has distracted away from the innocent enjoyment of the movie. It is thought-provoking and has led me to think about a bundle of the dilemmas of humanity in my short two hours in the cinema. 

First, there is a question to the main plot of as to why Bane, the antagonist of the movie, heeds to the plan of destroying the city of Gotham? And what made him do everything he did without any show of emotion? It was said in the movie that he was the sole protecter of Talia, the daughter of Ra's al Ghul when she was in the prison that held her mother and her captive. The narration spoke of how Bane believed the young child was a gift and should be protected and valued. It puzzled me as to why a man of his background, broken and left in a well of despair, would still be capable of believing in such abstract ideas of freedom and love. 

And it bugged me(a lot) that the daughter of the warlord who fell in love with the soldier was actually allowed to replace the soldier in prison even when she was with child! This is an absurd idea that baffled me as it was downright stupid. Was the government or the mafia or whoever was in charge there stupid or something? The bartering of human prisoners was a route that was approved by the simple-minded. How on earth would someone else take a place of someone in prison? The whole idea of a prison is to keep the bad guys IN! Not let their pregnant lovers be all selfless and surrender their freedom in exchange for the bad guys! Yes, I am angry with fictional characters but their idiocy reflected some of the bad norms that are happening around us today. 

The whole freaking incident originated from that stupid move. If the so-called 'warlord' kept his daughter from going into prison, Talia would have not been 'born in hell and raised in darkness'(quoted from the movie). She wouldn't have been broken and messed up! This branch of thoughts led me to think about the families of the criminals today. How are society treating them? Will they be able to live freely like the others without the despising of others? Are they being properly taken care of by the social workers and our government to ensure a mentally healthy mindset for the future? 

Thanks to the movie, my love for sociology and understanding the social world was again reaffirmed. I came to realise that although often seen as a cycle of circular arguments and complications of different theoretical angles, the social sciences play a HUGE part in developing and sustaining the equilibrium of our world. 

The bad guys in the movie knew this concept and used it to their advantage. They took over Gotham and declared that the city would truly belong to the people. The people were liberated to do anything they want. They were falsely led to believe that they were truly living in economic and class equality. It was shown in the movie that for the first few days chaos erupted throughout the city. People were free to rob houses and commit oneself in any activity they pleased. 

However, after a certain period of time, the anomic times struck. It is to my belief that the people started to question their own moral paradigm and how it does not match with the new macro-structure of Gotham. Therefore, it is shown that the collective conscience and the socialisation of people still root deep into their mindsets and would steer them back in the right direction. The scenes of the streets of the city empty without any civilians are depicted to engage the audiences into the fact that true oppression had hit Gotham as no one was out and the people had woken up from their short time of blinded liberation. 

The free-ing of the city also showed subtle hints of the communism ideology. The rich were forced to attend a sentence hearing and killed. The bad guys got the peoples' support as the application of this theory pleased the working class which was the majority. 

With that thread of questions and muddled answers, I think that The Dark Knight Rises does not perpetuate typical gender stereotypes on Catwoman which is very well-received. Catwoman does not use her sexuality to get her way or trick men, much unlike the norm of action movies which is never without a woman who uses her sexuality and feminine power on others and herself. Kudos to Hathaway who is still one of my favourite actresses that never fails to bring the right attitude to the character. 

The Dark Knight Rises.
It gave me thrills and chills with Bane's disturbing violence and the prospects of destroying of an entire city. It made me gasp and sigh as the storyline twists and turns. It was a somewhat enjoyable movie. 

I guess that's all I have to say about this movie. 


Saturday, May 19, 2012

a sociology cookie a week #1

Corrective rape
Corrective rape is the use of rape against people who violate social norms regarding human sexuality and gender roles, often lesbians but sometimes gay men, with a goal of punishment of abnormal behavior and reinforcement of societal norms.The crime was first identified in South Africa where it is sometimes supervised by members of the woman's family or local community, and is a major contributor to HIV infection in South African lesbians.Corrective rape has also been known to occur in Thailand, Ecuador, Canada, the United States, and Zimbabwe.Corrective rape and the accompanying violence can result in physical and psychological trauma, mutilation, HIV infection, unwanted pregnancy, and may contribute to suicide.
——Definition from wikipedia

I was so shocked when I found out that this was a socially-approved practice in some religious groups!
And how some family members would stay and watch to CHAPERON the whole rape. It is absolutely absurd and inhumane. How are we called 'liberated minds' when this kind of behaviour is still going on in the world we call 'modern'?

AS LEVEL: Do people have choices?

Individuals are often bombarded by social choices in our everyday lives. However, the choices they make are not always entirely to their own liking, but are often made under the pressure and influence of external sociological factors. This stand is claimed by the sociological theories that take a structural view. This side believes that actions and choices of an individual is constrained and determined by the external factors of society such as one’s race and social class. On the contrary, the interpretive side of sociology challenges the structural view, stating that individuals are free to choose and act as they are. Interpretivists argued that the social constrains just shapes how an individual would react and the choice is still up to the individual.

In society today, money is more important than ever. Marxism proved that the monopolization and polarization of the sectors of production has produced an unequal portion of bourgeoisie and proletariats in society. The proletariats have few or no control over the social actions and choices they engage in because according to Marxism, the structure of society is economically based. The bourgeoisie exploit and oppress the lower class for altruistic reasons. Even if the conflict of interest between two parties arises and shows a glimpse of change, the bourgeoisie triumphs almost every time since they own much of the power and assets in society. As a result, the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. Therefore, it is reasoned by Marxists that individuals in the working class in particular, have no choices due to the economical factor.

Other than the economical factor, Marxism also proposed that individuals are helpless towards the fact that the capitalists impose propagandas that promotes false class consciousness. False class consciousness is consciousness of one's social class or economic rank in society. From the perspective of Marxist theory, it refers to the self-awareness, or lack thereof, of a particular class; its capacity to act in its own rational interests; or its awareness of the historical tasks implicit to it. The capitalists lie and manipulate the media to convey fabricated messages to the people to further indoctrinate false class consciousness and keep the working class disillusioned to being able to rise up out of their current place into a higher place if they work harder. This is a seamless excuse for the alienation, also a key concept of Marxism, felt by the working class creating products for the capitalists. Therefore, it is proven that individuals in the working class are controlled by the capitalists and have no life-choices.

Other than Marxism, feminism is also a theory that claims that individuals, in this case, females are oppressed and forced to submit to the higher authority. The ultimate oppression is often stressed by the feminists claiming that the structure of the patriarchal society is unfair to women. They claim that the economy, the mass media and the core of all socialization, the family, play important parts in spreading mainstream ideas of how women should act. Their life choices are already fixed and hard to break out of. For instance, although women are ‘free’ to work and hire nannies to care for their children, it is still always frowned upon in these modern times. A mother who does so is perceived as ‘cold’ or ‘not nurturing’ when she may be struggling to make ends meet.

Furthermore, supporting the claim that individuals have no choice is the functionalists. Talcott Parsons believe that individuals act what’s best for the society to maintain the equilibrium and not of the individual’s personal choice. The social equilibrium consists of all individuals and the institutions of society such as the legal system and schools shifting frequently to fit society’s constant change. For example, the syllabus of the education system today is very different compared to the older education syllabus. ‘Home Education’ or ‘Living Skills’ that teaches cooking and basic carpentry are introduced into the timetable for the modern children because technology and the way of life are very different nowadays. But it wasn’t included in the syllabus in the older days since the skills learnt in the particular subjects were already integrated into the chores the children actively participated in at home. Although, this also involves the idea that acting for the society is also beneficial to the individuals themselves, but the individuals are nonetheless acting out of altruism which is not a choice.

French sociologist, Emile Durkheim saw the human as having two sides, one that is egoistic which looks out for oneself and the other that is altruistic which acts with the society’s best interest is still relevant till today. He believed that individuals are divided, the belief that a human being is comprised of an antagonism between the instinctual desires of the human animal and the desire to follow and obey societal pressures to maintain self-control. For instance, if a person has been murdered by a serial killer, the victim’s family is not in power to avenge his death by murder but the serial killer should be brought to court and trialed for his crime. This is because the formal social rules have set a boundary on how much freedom a person may be granted. The constrain is the altruistic side that share consensus with the society that moral behavior is still ‘valuable’ in society, therefore leaving individuals with less or no choices in life.

The theory of over-socialized concept of men by Dennis Wrong is one of the many points that prove people do have choices in life. With the many sprouting theories that claim people are controlled within the structure of society, Wrong proves his concept of men not acting how they are socialized by an everyday example, crime. Criminals were too, brought up normally and socialized with the same moral values, but somehow, they don’t act accordingly to the society’s norms. They deviate from the normal behavior and act only on their desires. This is a sole choice from the individuals.

One of the theories that claim that individuals have choices is Harold Garfinkle’s theory of Ethnomethodology. It states that how individuals shouldn’t be considered ‘cultural dopes’ and how they are actually taking part actively in interpreting and making sense of the social world. It is therefore, in the choice of the individual to ‘interpret’ a social phenomenon in a particular way and react accordingly. The facts and characteristics of a social situation ‘documented’ is derived from past social situations and then kept in mind for future references. Then, whenever needed, the mind tries to find the underlying pattern for the previous social facts and the current situation faced. When the underlying pattern is recognized and conversant, they would form ‘accounts’ and be saved permanently. Both past and present build each up and this would be the process said by Garfinkle. With this theory, people have choices because they make their own life choices by interpreting how it is possible. One example of how people have choices due to individual interpretation is the counselor experiment conducted by Garfinkle. The students chose to believe that the answers of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ were given by professional counselors, when in fact the answers were randomly picked and had no relations to the problems the students had.

George Herbert Mead’s sociological theory, Symbolic Interactionism also relates how individuals create their own social choices. Each individual view and assess themselves regularly through the eyes of the ‘generalized other’. They can try to perceive what is expected of their social role and try to live to the expectations or abandon the society’s views and just act accordingly to what they feel. Individuals also look up to the ‘specific other’ that is chosen by themselves to reflect and learn from. The ‘specific other’ shows the way of society and reflects the norms and moral values. Thus, individuals have the choice to follow or deviate from the norms.

Lastly, Max Weber’s social action theory also explains that the individuals have the choice to choose. The example would be the Protestant Ethnic Theory that proves that every social actor in society choose to be good and are not made so. It is meaning behind the choice the social actors make that has the greatest impact. Moreover, the social action theory also speaks on how social actors put up a ‘play’ on ‘stage’ when there are ‘audiences’. The choices are chosen to be presented in a particular way because the social actors are ‘acting’ for society. The need to appear in consensus with what society perceives as normal would be just external but what happen ‘behind the stage’ are all up to the social actors preferences.

Since both sides provide strong evidence and points, it is safe to conclude that people do have choices in life but within a limited boundary set by the structure of society and the norms. Individuals choose, but they often make the decisions that are beneficial to the society and him because socialization has internalized the norms. Individuals want to fit in and feel integrated to their society. So, the choices of individuals are driven by a balance between their desires and the structure of society.

AS LEVEL: Functionalist VS Marxist

Although sociology is a recently developed field of study, the advancement of the study is progressing rapidly. Sociological theories are ways sociologists explain society and its mega structure. The structural conflict and structural consensus theories are inevitable chapters of sociology. With some similarities, these two theories have different ideologies and ways of explaining the society. In this essay, the similarities and differences will be compared and contrasted.

Functionalism, the structural consensus sociological theory is a key theory that was developed by Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of sociology. This theory sees society as a mega structure of inter-related social institutions such as schools and the legal system that is in constant consensus. Functionalists believe all parts of society all work together to maintain the functional equilibrium of the society, viewing each part as a ‘functional clog’. It also touches on functional prerequisites for the survival of a society and anomie, an idea by Durkheim which describes a normless state in society.

Marxism, the structural conflict sociological theory is a very significant chapter in sociology. It was founded by Karl Marx who believed strongly in communism. Marxism is understood as the theory and practice of working class self-emancipation. This theoretical and political tradition is radically different from the way Marxism is generally described by both critics and many 'adherents' who identify Marxism with the repressive state capitalist regimes that used to dominate Russia and eastern Europe and still hold sway in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.

The similarities of both contrasting structural theories are only exterior resemblances and have no associations with the ideas behind them. Firstly, both sociological theories are macro theories. The focus of both theories studies the society as a whole and in a large-scale manner. Other than that, analogies are used in both theories to explain the social structure. Functionalism uses the human body as an analogy that describes how all the organs in the body are vital and work together for survival. On the other hand, Marxism uses the building analogy to show how the economy is the base of all aspects in society and how the superstructure develops according to how the economy develops. Furthermore, Functionalism and Marxism are sociological theories developed in Europe. Functionalism was founded by Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist and Marxism was founded by Karl Marx, a German philosopher. Other than the exterior factors, both sociological theories have nothing else in common and often contradict each other.

The main ideologies of the structural consensus and structural conflict theory stand parallel to each other and can never come to an agreeing point. One of Functionalism’s key concepts is the collective conscience brought up by Emile Durkheim, which is defined as shared norms and valued in a society. Functionalists believe that collective conscious comes from socialization. Individuals learn what are the society’s expectations, values and norms from interacting with others. In contrast, Marxism spoke on the conflict of interest within the society itself. The bourgeoisie wants monopolization and more riches to themselves which will result in the tyrant exploitation of proletariats while the proletariats want more wages and fair working hours. To sum up, Functionalism spoke on how all individuals in society is in consensus with the social order and social rules whereas Marxism touches on the subject of how conflict is within the society.

Another key concept in Functionalism and Marxism can be compared which is the theory of social equilibrium by Talcott Parsons and the theory of dialectical materialism by Joseph Dietzgen. In sociology, a system is said to be social equilibrium when there is a dynamic working balance among its interdependent parts. Each subsystem will adjust to any change in the other subsystems and will continue to do so until equilibrium is retained. The process of achieving equilibrium will only work if the changes happen slowly, but for rapid changes it would throw the social system into chaos, unless and until a new equilibrium can be reached. Dialectical materialism contradicts the social equilibrium theory by stating how the economic base and conflict is the root of all change in society. Dietzgen believed that the economy influences change on all other social institutions and all change as the product of a constant conflict between opposites arising from the internal contradictions inherent in all events, ideas, and movements. In short, the concept of social equilibrium is about how all aspects of society works together as a whole to maintain the balance when change happens and the concept of dialectical materialism challenges it by declaring how conflict and the economy inflicts social change.

Both theories’ belief in social change is also different. Functionalism believes that social change is evolutionary, in other words, slowly and gradually. They believe that social change comes naturally. It changes in a consensus and peaceful way. But according to Marxism, social change is revolutionary. It is inflicted by conflict and can be explained by dialectical materialism which means change in the economic mode inflicts social changes. Karl Marx once even said that “Bloodshed is sometimes necessary for social change.”

Functionalism and Marxism also have opposing views on social stratification. To functionalists, division of the social class is a necessity. This contributes to the social reward and sanction theory. It is to keep everyone in society motivated to improve and become better, hence, society will still be able to function properly. Moreover, Functionalists believe that social classes exist to create balance in society. Distribution of the classes balances the society by labeling people in levels of social class so that there are different social roles for everyone. Yet in the view of Marxists, social stratification is another way of how the ruling class keeps their power by labeling individuals as working class. The bourgeoisie did such a well work that it produced false class consciousness within the proletariats. Besides, Marxists view social stratification as the base of conflict within society. The conflict strain is due to the friction of the working class’s needs for more wages and the ruling class’s exploitation and deprivation of the working class’s rights.

Both theories have arranged and explained the structure of society in different perspectives. Functionalism used the analogy of a human body to describe how every organ works together to keep the body alive, depicting how social institutions work together to create balance in society. It highlights on the importance of all roles and parts of society. Marxism, on the other hand, uses a building analogy whereby the base of the building is the economy and other institutions in society are above the base and are called superstructures.

Though the two theories are macro theories but the ideologies are a big contrast. Functionalism helps us understand how society is integrated to function as a whole. Marxism wakes us and gets us to understand more on the exploitations we are exposed to. Without functionalism and Marxism, sociology would be very inadequate.