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Functionalism Conflict Theory And Symbolic Interactionism Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1036 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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According to the functionalist perspective, also called functionalism, each aspect of society is interdependent and contributes to society’s functioning as a whole. The government, or state, provides education for the children of the family, which in turn pays taxes on which the state depends to keep itself running. In the process, the children become law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, who in turn support the state. If all goes well, the parts of society produce order, stability, and productivity. If all does not go well, the parts of society then must adapt to recapture a new order, stability, and productivity. For example, during a financial recession with its high rates of unemployment and inflation, social programs are trimmed or cut. Schools offer fewer programs. Families tighten their budgets. Functionalists believe that society is held together by social consensus, or cohesion, in which members of the society agree upon, and work together to achieve, what is best for society as a whole.

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Conflict Theory

Conflict theory states that human behaviour in society results from conflicts between competing groups. The conflict perspective, which originated primarily out of Karl Marx’s ideas and thoughts of class struggles, presents society in a different light than the other perspectives. Besides, conflict perspective focuses on the negative, conflicted and ever-changing nature of society. Conflict theory encourages social change and social revolution. Today, conflict theories find social conflicts between any groups in which the potential for inequality exists such as race, gender, religious, political, economics and etc. The constant competition between groups forms the basis for the conflict theory nature of society. The main theme of conflict theory is that different social group have unequal power, though all groups struggle for the same limited resources. Moreover, conflict theory has been used to explain diverse human behaviour and social change.

Interaction Theory

The symbolic interaction perspective, also called symbolic interactionism, is a major framework of sociological theory. This perspective relies on the symbolic meaning that people develop and rely upon in the process of social interaction. Symbolic interaction theory analyzes society by addressing the subjective meanings that people impose on objects, events, and behaviors. Subjective meanings are given primacy because it is believe that people behave based on what they believe and not just on what is objectively true. Thus, society is thought to be socially constructed through human interpretation. People interpret one another’s behavior and it is these interpretations that form the social bond.

Case study ( Functionalism and Conflict theory)


Functionalists regard everything in society as having a function, like the organs in the human body, everything works together for the whole. Poverty, according to Functionalists has two main functions.

Firstly, it acts as a motivator in the sense that it provides a warning. People are likely to want to work harder and succeed in life if there is a reason. What better reason than not wanting to end up in poverty.

Poverty also creates a kind of “feel good factor”. We all need to be able to measure how well we are doing and also feel that all this hard work is worth it. Take one look at people in poverty and you realise that it is and in fact you are doing well, it could be worse.

According to most Marxists, poverty is a direct result of the Capitalist system (structure) and thus conflict. Capitalism needs competition for it to work effectively. Education helps to create competition by having a hierarchy of qualifications. Not everyone will rise to the highest level where the reward are greatest so competition is high. Similarly, not everyone can have a well paid job, so people will work harder to achieve higher salaries and social status. People are as aware of the price of failure (poverty) as they are of the rewards of success (wealth).

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Poverty has another great benefit for capitalism as well as creating motivation for competition, it keeps ages low. As long as there are poor and unemployed people, wages stay low. A reserve army of unemployed means that people are hardly going to demand higher wages when they know that there are people below them who will work for less, they could price themselves out of the market.

So, poverty, like everything else in society serves the needs of capitalism, it arises from conflict and it is part of the very structure of society.

Case study for Symbolic Interaction

Symbolic Interactionism looks that the way things are perceived to be in a society. I.E. The symbol of mother rather then father, or the symbol of worker rather then owner. The way people understand these ‘symbols’ is critical to understanding how society functions. The symbols within a marriage particularly related to the type of work husbands and wives traditionally did is an important starting point. Men traditionally either worked in the fields (pre-industrial age) or labored somewhere else returning home with money to support the family, while women stayed at home, raised the children, cooked the food, and cleaned the house. These represent the traditional symbols of husband and wife. However, the actual tasks that men and women do in the modern age are different. Now it is common for both husband and wife to work. Yet as we see from the aforementioned statistics the symbols of women’s work have not changed to meet the new age. Men continue to avoid doing task such as cooking and cleaning. This inequality, is having an impact on the family and it is mostly negative. With higher divorce rates, there is a direct correlation between the way we view the roles in a marriage/family and the overall health of said family. Clearly the way we currently view the gender roles and responsibilities within a marriage needs to change. The stigmas held about men doing things that were traditionally women’s need to be removed.


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