Conflict Theory and Functionalism
There are three main theories of sociology; functionalism, conflict theory and symbolic interactionism. This paper will focus on two of those theories, functionalism and conflict theory. The objective is to delineate the assumptions of two out of the three theoretical perspectives and apply these assumptions to an analysis of social stratification. How this will be accomplished will be by comparing and contrasting their assumptions and by analyzing the two theories affect on social stratification. Then I will state my opinion on which of the two better fits my personal sociological views.
Functionalism is many people's way to view the world sociologically. It states clearly that the objectivity of the researcher is necessary and can be accomplished. There are three main points, which make up a functionalist theory on sociological expression. The first point is that culture is made up of interacting, interdependent parts. Each of these parts has a function in maintaining the society as a system on the whole. The second point states that shared values and expectations(or beliefs) among the members of the society help hold the society together. The third point states that these systems have a need for stability and a need to try to keep all the parts working together congruously in a sort of system. Social change in this system is uncommon, and when it does happen, it is a very gradual change.
Conflict theory is centered on the tension, or struggle that goes on in everyday life. There are many different parts, which make up the conflict theorist's view on the sociological perspective. The first main part is that society promotes general differences in wealth, power, and prestige. Wealth, power, and prestige are qualities that all people desire. Some segments of society benefit from a social arrangement at the expense of less privileged groups. Whichever groups have the power is a central concern of this theory. These Marxist statements are the central arguments of all conflict theorist's statements of truth. The second part of the conflict theorists assumptions is that the different parts of the social system as a whole are intertwined, not because of a shared value system, however, but because of the fact that one group is inherently dominant over the other. This dominance happens because one group, the dominant group, controls the resources. The third part of the assumptions of the conflict theorist is that society does not necessarily have needs, but individuals and groups do. Because the dominant group has the access to wealth, power and prestige, they have the ability to have their needs defined as "system needs." The fourth part of the conflict theorist's assumptions is the basic question of "Who benefits?" from the social arrangements of the day. On any issue in society, there are people who benefit and people who don't benefit. This conflict always gives the advantage to the stronger party. The fifth part of the conflict theorists system of assumptions is the conflict itself, which lends tension, hostility, competitions, disagreement over goals, and values, as well as violence. Not always are these issues negative, however. They can act as an adhesive to help join groups together in the pursuit of a positive goal. The sixth and final part of the conflict theorist's assumptions is that to understand society we have to realize who holds the power and also the ability to use it. The conflict theorist will state that the main characters will cause some very defined conflicts. These would be the following; those who have authority vs. those who don't, young vs. old, producers of goods vs. consumers of goods, and racial and ethnic groups. These conflicts are based on the organization of similar interests and concerns.
Functionalism's view on the social stratification of our society is centered on their basic viewpoints. These viewpoints lend themselves to promote the functionalist's standpoints. These state that the function is a consequence, which adds to the stability of the system. A dysfunction is a consequence, which takes away stability from the system of social stratification. There are certain institutions, among them include the family, the political system, religion, economy, sports, the military, etc., which aid the structure of society. These institutions, working in order, with harmony, will not only increase the stability of the social stratification, but will add to it. The functionalist will then point out that these institutions, while independent of each other, have a shared system of values which guides them and helps hold the society together. To find out what function each institution performs in the whole social stratification system, one must ask themselves the question of what are the consequences of each institutions contributions to the social stratification of the society as a whole. This will help to understand their viewpoints.
The conflict theorists viewpoints on social stratification can be found out by asking the simple question of "Who benefits?" from the social arrangements of the day. One must look at those who hold the power of the day to find out who benefits. Today's power elite includes primarily people of a WASP background (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants). This power elite controls the wealth, and imposes their will on those who don't control the wealth. This class system of social stratification hearkens back to the days of Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller where the owners of big business controlled the lives of their workers. Whoever the power elite want to be in power will be in power. The wages of the workers will be set at what the leaders of big business want them to be set at, no exceptions. This structure of social stratification will lead to conflicts that have been pre-determined to happen. These conflicts include all social institutions. The conflicts include those of labor unions vs. owners, and racial conflicts that occur between minorities and whites. There is no way to control these. They are destined to happen.
The base arguments of both of these theoretical perspectives are inherently flawed. Functionalism is much too conservative, and does not have a way to explain major changes in society. The conflict theory does not explain some of the more orderly and stable parts of society. They both make good points, and both have good arguments. I however, cannot endorse one over the other for the simple reason that they are both essentially wrong and right at the same time. A conflict theorist is correct in saying that money and power do give you special considerations, and conflicts are at the base of most social change, however, they are wrong in assuming that all social institutions are unstable. A functionalist is correct in saying that the society is made up of interdependent and interacting parts, but wrong in their conservative assumptions. A blend of the two would probably provide the greatest base for an argument and would probably be the most real.
Word Count: 1146
This assignment, will be outlining and evaluating the functionalist perspective of the way society is organised. This essay will be exploring about the social institutions, norms and values. Functionalist analysis has a long history in sociology. It is prominent in the work of Auguste Comte (1798-1857) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), two of the founding fathers of the discipline. It was developed by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) and refined by Talcott Parsons (1902-79). During the 1940s and 1950s functionalism was the dominant social theory in American sociology. Since that time it has steadily dropped from favour, partly because of damaging criticism, partly because other approaches are seen to answer certain questions more successfully, and partly because it simply went out of fashion.
To begin with, functionalist idea is that all the systems (organs) in society are functioning in harmony it will remind healthy. Functionalism views society as a system: that is a set of interconnected parts which together form a whole. The basic unit of analysis is society, and its various parts are understood primarily in terms of their relationship to the whole. The early functionalists often drew an analogy between society and organism such as the human body, to show that societies are thought to function like organisms, with various social institutions working together like organs to maintain and reproduce societies; the functionalist perspective attempts to explain social institutions as collective means to meet individual and social needs.They argued that an understanding of any organ in the body such as the heart or lungs, involves understanding of its relationship to other organs and, in particular, its contribution towards the maintenance of the organism. In the same way, an understanding of any part of society requires an analysis of its relationship to other parts and, most importantly, its contribution to the maintenance of society. Contributing this analogy, functionalists argued that, just as an organism has certain basic needs that must be satisfied if it is to survive, so society has basic needs that must be met if it is to continue to exist. Thus social institutions such as the family and religion are analysed as a part of the social system rather than as isolated units. In particular, they are understood with reference to the contribution they make to the system as a whole.
Besides, sociology traditionally analyses social institutions in terms of interlocking social roles and expectations; social institutions are created by and defined by their own creation of social roles for their members. The social function of the institution is the fulfillment of the assigned roles. According to functionalist theories, institutions come about and persist because they play a function in society, promoting stability and integration. Merton observed that institutions could have both manifest and latent function – the element of a behaviour that is not explicitly stated, organised, or intended, and is thereby hidden.
Accordingly, the weaknesses of functionalist theory is that it tends to lead to exaggerated accounts of positive consequences of sports and sports participation however it mistakenly assumes that there are no conflicts of interests between the different citizen groups in society such as women, people with disabilities, racial groups and people who are economically poor in society yet it doesn’t recognise that sport can privilege or disadvantage people more than others. The theory also ignores the powerful historical and economic factors that have influenced social events and social relationships.
After all, functionalism has been criticized for downplaying the role of individual action, for its failure to account for social change and individual agency; and for being unable to account for social change. In the functionalist perspective, society and its institutions are the primary units of analysis. Individuals are significant only in terms of their places within social systems (i.e., social status and position in patterns of social relations). Therefore, some critics also take issue with functionalism’s tendency to attribute needs to society. They point out that, unlike human beings, society does not have needs; society is only alive in the sense that it is made up of living individuals. By downplaying the role of individuals, functionalism is less likely to recognize how individual actions may alter social institutions.
Moreover, critics also argue that functionalism is unable to explain social change because it focuses so intently on social order and equilibrium in society. Following functionalist logic, if a social institution exists, it must serve a function. Institutions, however, change over time; some disappear and others come into being. The focus of functionalism on elements of social life in relation to their present function, and not their past functions, makes it difficult to use functionalism to explain why a function of some element of society might change, or how such change occurs.