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.