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Functionalism and conflict: Sociological theories

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1933 words Published: 21st Apr 2017

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‘Sociology is a social science that studies society and the individual in perspective of Society. The origins of Sociology lie in the 19th century but during the 1960-70s, it became a major social science subject, taught in universities and colleges, and schools. The scope of sociology has only become more scientific with time’. (Sociology Guide, no date)

‘Sociology is the study of human social life, groups and societies. It is a dazzling and compelling enterprise, having as its subject matter our own behavior as social beings. The scope of sociology is extremely wide, ranging from the analysis of passing encounters between individuals in the street up to the investigation of world-wide social processes’. (Giddens cited on Sociology guide, 1989).

Sociology enables to gain a better understanding on how the interaction among the society members works. Through the knowledge on sociology, we are able to improve our networking which is very useful and important for businesspeople.

The study of sociology today focuses on three primary theoretical perspectives: the symbolic interactionist perspective, the functionalist perspective, and the conflict perspective.

1.2 Functionalism

Functionalism views ‘society as a system that is a set of interconnected parts which together form a whole’ (India, 2009). It emphasizes on the macro level of society and its various parts are understood mainly in term of their relationship to the whole. The founder, Emile Durkheim suggested that social consensus takes one of two forms: namely mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Mechanical solidarity is a situation where people with similar vision and beliefs together achieve goal in the society. In contrast, organic solidarity said that although people in the society are interdependent they hold different values and beliefs.

1.3 Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

The symbolic interactionist perspective, directs sociologists to consider the symbols and details of everyday life, what these symbols mean, and how people interact with each other (Cliffsnotes, no date). According to this theory, ‘people attach meanings to symbols, and then they act according to their subjective interpretation of these symbols’ (Cliffsnotes, no date).

Early Conflict Theory

Conflict theory was introduced by a great German theorist and political activist, Karl Marx (1818-1883). The founder of this conflict mentioned that history of social life began from providing the basic necessities of life such as- food, clothing and shelter (McClelland, 2000).In order to survive in the danger, humans realize the need to work together to improve the social structure (Hatch and Cunfille,2006, p.28). Karl Marx insisted that all things with values in society are the contribution of labor through their engagement in creating the society for their own existence (McClelland, 2000).

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According to Marx, the society is divided into two classes, the bourgeoisie which is the owners of capital and the proletariat- the labors. Division of labor refers to ‘breaking down of large jobs into many tiny components’ (Dhamee, 1995). Division of labors, therefore, leads to alienation that is ‘the disenfranchising of workers from the product of their work efforts’ (Hatch and Cunfille, 2006, p.29). Labor, in fact, is defined as the cost of production rather than merely the means to achieve a collective benefit for the society (Hatch and Cunfille, 2006, p.29). It gives humans a purely instrumental relationship based on their economic value of potential to do work (Hatch and Cunfille, 2006, p.29). Therefore, when the capitalists accepted this alienation, exploitation will take place. As The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (2000) cited in The Free Dictionary (no date), exploitation refers to the ‘utilization of another person or group for selfish purposes’.

The central institution of a capitalist society is private property, the system where the capital owned by the dominant groups is controlled by the small minority of the population (McClelland, 2000). The major conflict is on whether which group should get the biggest share of profit. The owner of the land argued that they are entitled as they are the providers of the factors of production whereas the labor stressed that they are the involving in all production.

Recent Conflict Theory

3.1 Max Weber

Due to the weakness of Karl Marx’s conflict theory which is too ideal, Max Weber reformulated the conflict theory and thus he is also known as ‘bourgeois Marx’ (http://www.change.freeuk.com/learning/socthink/weber.html, no date). In the process of formulation, Weber concerned so much with testing, reassessing or developing Marx’s ideas and thus, also known as the bourgeois Marx (Marxism: Structural Conflict Theory, no date) . From his study of the society, Weber went beyond ideas of Marx, for example, Weber focuses on the action in the social institution which is not the same as Marx and Durkheim who viewed the society as an object in itself (http://www.change.freeuk.com/learning/socthink/weber.html (no date). Although Weber agreed with Marx’s view that class is economic in its origin, stratification in the opinion of Weber, includes also the consideration of status, power and political parties (Marxism: Structural Conflict Theory, no date). Weber (1924) cited in http://www.change.freeuk.com/learning/socthink/weber.html (no date) states that status is ‘social estimation of labours and the development of seen lifestyles. According to Weber, conflict is occurring in any social relationship when an ‘action within it is oriented intentionally to carrying out the actor’s own will against the resistance of the other party or parties’ (Henderson and Parsons, 1947).

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In the society today, communication has becoming an important cause of conflict. As defined in Webster’s dictionary, communication involves ‘sending giving, or exchanging information and ideas’, which is often expressed nonverbally and verbally (Relationship- with -self.com, no date). For non verbal communication, messages are expressed through facial gestures, body languages and the impression through dressing, body imaging and so on. Verbal communication, on the other hand, means expressing what is on one’s mind through voicing out.

3.2 Communication: Government and Media

The communication between government and media today has become an important focus and struggle in our society. Governments as the standing pillars of a country, plays a vital role in ruling and maintaining a country in a prosperous state. In order to maintain the harmony, fairness and truthfully are the keys to the stability. In other words, government should treat all the society in a same way and fair. Besides that, government may manage the economy in a good way, so the society can live in a wealthy environment. However, the written communication in Malaysia is implying that the status quo and special treatment of the dominant groups, the Malays cannot be questioned. For instance, Malays are better treated by government than other races.

On the other view, the media plays an important role in delivering the government’s message to the public. Therefore, nowadays, everyone gains current situation on politic, economy and so on through mess media such as television, radio and newspaper. People can know the actual situations or what is currently happen in the society through the news spread by media. However, media is highly dependent on government. The media is in deep dilemma as they want to spread the truth on the other side, while being controlled by government. Intentionally, government possesses power on the media in order to secure the public trust and to build a positive image of themselves for the public. To further elaborate, government restricts and control media not to spread out government scandal and only spread good or something that is benefit for government, The information needed by the media is so scarce. Therefore, media with limited resources to spread for society is required to obey government’s laws and orders and since government is the minority that owns the information. Since media is depending on government to provide them information, government has the power to control and restrict what media can spread out to society.

From the explanation above, we can see the interplay of conflict between government and media. The government whom possesses the resources is possesses the power as well.

The Overlapping Between Early and Recent Conflict Theories

The first overlapping is that both of the conflict theories emphasizes on economic factors. In the olden days, labor and capital are competing over resources. In the world today, labor and capital still exist. The terms just are slightly different. Labor in those days is today’s employee. For example employees are competing for job advancement and position in an organization or company.

The second overlapping between the early conflict and recent conflict theory is on the reason of occurring is due to scarcity. B’s relationship to A when A possesses something that B requires. For example, government got the power over media because government contains the information that media needs to be included in their newspaper, program and so on. Another example in US, many of the candidates are participating in filling the position of a president. But, it is rare. Only one person is entitled, in other words, it is scarce and thus leads to competition. Dependency increases when resources are important, scarce and non-substitutable.

The third overlapping between early and recent conflict theory is inequality. For example in US, there is obviously inequality, the discrimination of the Black by the White. The white always been perceived as the dominant party. As defined in Dictionary.com (2010), discrimination is an act of ‘treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit’. The common discriminations are racial, gender and religious intolerance. Until today where the Black has becoming the president, the Black is still being treated as the lower class despite of the fact the situation is slightly improving.


In a nutshell, conflict theory is a theory that sees the society as a place with inequality which then leads to evolution and social change. In the early conflict theory, an investigation on social class in the free market economy was conducted. It emphasizes merely on the capitalist and the labor as the cause of inequality, which is too ideal. Therefore it leads to the reassessment of the conflict theory by Max Weber. Max Weber, being the supporter of bureaucracy, highlighted more detailed by stating that there are different types of capitalists and skills of labors are vary as well. From our discussion above, semi-struggle between government and media is unavoidable. In my view, conflicts resulted in positivity because it stresses on competition. In order to survive, people will strive to gain the limited resources which then consequence in the improvement of the society.


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