The main difference between functionalism and conflict theory is that the functionalism states that each aspect of a society serves a function and are necessary for the survival of that society while the conflict theory states that a society is in perpetual class conflict due to the limitation and the unequal distribution of resources.
Sociology is an inter-discipline of social science, which studies and analyses the concept of society and the human behaviour. Accordingly, functionalism and conflict theory are two fundamental approaches used in sociology. These two different theories or approaches analyze how the concept of society is created and how it works. Therefore, these two demonstrate two distinct approaches to understand what society is like.
Key Areas Covered
1. What is Functionalism
– Definition, Theory
2. What is Conflict Theory
– Definition, Theory
3. What is the Similarity Between Functionalism and Conflict Theory
– Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Functionalism and Conflict Theory
– Comparison of Key Differences
Conflict Theory, Functionalism, Society, Sociology, Social Science, Structural Functionalism
What is Functionalism
Functionalism (also known as Structural Functionalism) is the theory that states all aspects of a society are dependent and they serve a function. Thus, they are necessary for the survival of that society. According to the functionalist perspective, each aspect of society is interdependent and contributes to society’s stability and functioning as a whole. Furthermore, functionalism is a perspective created by Emile Durkheim.
Thus, functionalism depicts that each aspect of the society, either those defined as good or bad, are essential for the society to continue. Therefore, all these aspects have a role in keeping the society stable and maintain its social order.
For example, the government provides chemicals and manure for farmers and they can succeed in agriculture and can contribute to the overall economic development of the society, by providing people with healthy food and also by paying tax to the government to continue this procedure. Similarly, farmers can support their families from the income they get. Hence, the farmers are dependent on the government for manure and other agricultural support; the government is also dependent on the farmers for the healthy food they provide
Thus, functionalism highlights that it is the inter-dependency among these varied functions or the elements that eventually lead to the maintenance of the society in a more successful manner.
Moreover, functionalism doesn’t emphasize that these aspects should always have to be ‘good’ or worthy for the stability of the society. It advocates that if all these aspects function well, then the society will be more efficient and more stable with high productivity. Yet if these aspects do not function well, several parts or elements of the society should adapt to recapture and survive the new order and create productivity out of it.
For example, consider the above example. In addition to weather issues, manure aids provided by the government also fail to give optimum results. Therefore, it will lead to direct instability in the food production of the people. But to overcome this condition, it is necessary to adapt to recapture the loss. Thus, the government can either import food products and impose more taxes on people.
Thus, according to functionalism, disruption in one aspect has an overall impact on the other aspects, eventually affecting the equilibrium of the entire society. In order to overcome that, people should adapt to new ways. In other words, the functionalist approach emphasizes that social consensus holds the society together with the agreement of its members, and they should, therefore, work together to achieve what is best for the society as a whole.
However, this approach has received criticism due to how it sees active social change as undesirable as it seems that various parts of society will compensate naturally for any problems that may arise. Hence, it does not encourage people to be active participants for a social change.
What is Conflict Theory
Conflict theory approach is primarily about the perpetual class conflict in society due to the unequal distribution of resources. The pioneering personality of this theory is Karl Marx who emphasized the causes and consequences of the class conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariats.
According to him, there is a continuous conflict in the society due to the injustices faced by communities inside these inequal class system in a society. Therefore, there is a persistent conflict between the bourgeoisie class, who stands on the topmost level controlling the economy, and the working class or the proletariat class. Thus, this uneven distribution of resources within the conflict theory is maintained through ideological coercion where the bourgeoisie would force acceptance of the current conditions to the proletariat.
Thus, conflict theory focuses mainly on this class conflict. It showcases that the limitation of resources create these class order in a society and this order is maintained by the domination and power, rather than on consensus and conformity. Hence, according to conflict theory, those with wealth and power try to hold on to it by any means possible, chiefly by suppressing the poor and powerless. This is the way how the society goes on.
Hence, conflict theory depicts that tensions and conflicts arise when these resources, status, and power are unevenly distributed between groups in society and also these class conflicts eventually trigger a social change in the society.
Moreover, this theory was used to explain varied social problems such as social revolutions, the social discrimination, domestic violence, gender issues, etc.
Similarity Between Functionalism and Conflict Theory
- Both are theoretical approaches used in Sociology to study the concept of the society, and how the elements in it function accordingly.
Difference Between Functionalism and Conflict Theory
Functionalism is the theory that states all aspects of a society serve a function and are necessary for the survival of that society. On the other hand, conflict theory is the theory that states there is a perpetual class conflict in the society due to the unequal distribution of resources. The main difference between functionalism and conflict theory is self explanatory from this definition
The other major difference between functionalism and conflict theory is the approach. The approach used in functionalism is that all elements of the society are interdependent and they serve a function for the overall stability of the society. On the contrary, conflict theory focuses on the concept of social inequality in the division of resources and therefore, the conflicts that exist between classes, which will eventually trigger social change.
The pioneer of functionalism is Emile Durkheim while the pioneer of conflict theory is Karl Marx.
Functionalism and conflict theory are two approaches in Sociology. These two distinct theoretical approaches explain the structure and the functional organization in a society. Accordingly, functionalism states that each aspect of society serves a function and are necessary for the survival of that society. On the other hand, conflict theory depicts that society is in perpetual class conflict due to the limitation and the unequal distribution of resources. This inequality between the social classes eventually triggers the social change in a society. This is the main difference between Functionalism and Conflict Theory.
1. “What Is the Functionalist Perspective in Sociology?” Sandra Cisneros Biography, Available here.
2. Crossman, Ashley. “Everything You Need to Know About Functionalist Theory.” ThoughtCo, Available here.
3. Crossman, Ashley. “What Is Conflict Theory?” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, June 2018, Available here.
1. “General Diagram of Structural-Functionalism” By Rcragun – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Karl Marx 001” By John Jabez Edwin Mayal – International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, Netherlands (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia