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Functionalism vs Conflict Theory in Sociology

Among the many sociological theories that study the structures of society, functionalism and conflict theory stand out as progressive ideas. This short essay will compare these theories in sequence, both in the light of their similarities and differences. First of all, it should be understood that functionalism refers to a philosophy that assigns to each aspect of sociological existence a distinct function that is important for the survival of societies or communities. On the contrary, conflict theory implies the permanent presence of classes in a state of conflict war over resources, which, moreover, are unequally distributed among the units of society: the power elites have more. Thus, the first difference is the difference in the essence of the ideas themselves. The second difference should be called the approach to the study of society: in functionalism, sociological structures are interrelated, complementary to the development of society, whereas, in conflict theory, they are seen as enemies in a competitive battle. A third distinction should be made about the nature of optimal change, which is peculiar to the theories. Functionalism sees stability in society’s slow, gradual transformation, while conflict theory identifies abrupt and radical change as the key to development. Finally, authorship can also be seen as a distinction, especially if the continuity of national ideas is taken into account. Thus, functionalism was formed by the French sociologist Durkheim, while conflict theory was created a little earlier by the German philosopher Marx.

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However, we should also emphasize some connection between the two views of sociology. First, both theories were developed during the New Age, when rational thinking took precedence. Second, both Marx and Durkheim borrowed some ideas from their predecessors and formalized visions that existed in the ancient world. Third, both theories should be categorized as macro theories that consider the same object, society. Finally, functionalism, like conflict theory, recognizes the importance of inequalities, including racism and ethical differentiation.

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