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Media and Functionalism, Conflict, and Interactionism


Mass media can be defined as the print and the electronic means by which communication takes place.

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It is through it that information is passed to different groups of people in society. Mass media plays a significant role in shaping and informing society in every nation. The media surveys the environment and provides news and information to the society, correlates the response to this information, entertains and transmits culture to future generations. Interaction between media and society has a great influence on the behaviors of individuals in it, and the educational practices they are affiliated to. When functionalists are faced with different elements of society, they are at times tempted to pose the question; what role do all these societal aspects play? A question of this nature is not misplaced seeing that societal social structures enhance stability, integration, balance, and consensus. There are various theories that are used in analyzing various aspects of mass media. Some of these are the functionalist, conflict, and interactionism theories.

The functionalist theory asserts that just as scientific methods are used when studying the physical world, they can also be applied in studying social aspects. In mass media, functionalism defines a scenario where different media groups that operate in a given society work together so as to be consistent in their operations. These groups come together and work as a whole so that every group gives similar information regarding an issue in society. Critics of functionalism are of the opinion that this theory is innately conservative. If so, how would such a theory impact the mass media that is well known to enjoy its fair share of liberalism? On the other hand, interactionism refers to the fact that the social factors interact in everyday activities and this interaction is likely to affect the behaviors of individuals in a society. The society in which the media operates will interact with the media and affect the media and its activities. Different social groups in a given society are likely to have different interests. This leads to conflicts between the groups. The conflict theory deals with such conflicts between social groups that have different interests in a given society. Functionalism, conflict, and interactionism theories affect the mass media in our society in different ways today. While the three theories differ in some approaches, there are instances where they all have some similarities. The three theories have significant impacts on both the mass media and society.

Application of Functionalism Theory to Mass Media

The functionalism theory groups all the aspects in a social institution or a society to form one which functions as a whole (Hesmondha & Toynbee 2008).

Mass media is a social institution that is made of various entities. All these entities work together to achieve the objectives of the entire mass media. It is not supposed to give wrong information to a society or any information that will mislead or lead to conflicts in the society. It is composed of such different bodies as magazines, newspapers, television, amongst others. For the media to function and maintain itself, all the problems that may exist need to be addressed. The different aspects that form the media must give similar information regarding a society. This means that all the media groups must adapt to the society where they exist. The status quo within a given society is maintained by mass media. All the groups that form the mass media must have a consensus on issues that they report to society. Different media groups must be integrated so that the institution acts as a whole. The media must also act as a whole to maintain the patterns of its operation within a given society. All the groups in the mass media must act as a system that can only work as a whole and where the exception of one will lead to failure of the whole system.

Application of Conflict Theory on Mass Media

The conflict theory deals with conflicts that arise because of different interests by different groups in a society. It argues that it is very hard to avoid conflicts in a place where there are different interest groups. The different groups that comprise the mass media have different owners with varying interests (Thompson, 2000). Trying to align the operations of these groups becomes difficult. The superior groups tend to assume that they significantly control society. A group that has more consumers would like to control the social institution and this is likely to bring conflicts. All the groups that form the mass media have an economic interest and each group intends to benefit at the end of the day. Most organizations go for those groups that have the highest number of customers in a society. Each group will therefore try to give services that will attract many customers. Competition for profits might lead to conflicts amongst the different groups. The groups may also fail to reach a consensus over an issue, leading to conflict. The conflict theory is therefore applicable in the mass media especially due to differences in interests.

Application of Interactionism Theory in Mass Media

Interactionism deals with how social actors behave in a given society. Different media groups interact with each other as they try to provide society with similar information. The groups have to make conscious decisions about their behavior based upon the way they interpret situations. Interpretation of situations differently by various groups may lead to different reactions from society. Interpretation by the different groups is crucial because it affects the understanding of the way the world is socially constructed. Individuals in society interact with the media every day and therefore are likely to believe what the media groups report.

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This will affect their behavior.

The meaning of a certain behavior to people and interpretation of the same by media will affect the social structure of a society. The media has a great influence on the social behaviors of individuals due to interaction.

Similarities and Differences

The three theories differ in how they take the composition of the mass media. Functionalism addresses mass media as a whole by considering how its various organs work together to achieve institutional goals. On the other hand, conflict theory asserts that mass media comprise of various groups with conflicting interests while interactionism views it as comprising of different groups that interact in daily operations. The interpretation of these behaviors defines the way that the world is socially constructed. In both functionalism and conflict theories, the reaction is triggered by a social factor. In interactionism theory, individuals act depending on the way they interpret behaviors.

Effects of Theories on the Views of Individuals

Functionalism Theory

Under functionalism, the different groups that form the mass media must be integrated so as to work as a whole. This implies that opinion from every person in mass media groups is influenced by others. An agreement has to be reached before the information is released to the public. Social change will be slow but consistent since all the groups come to a consensus before releasing any information. Functionalism basically looks at the different groups as working towards achieving the same goal which is consensus.

Conflict Theory

The mass media consist of different groups competing with each other and have different interests. However, there is no single group that dominates always.

Each group is independent and has to provide what it feels is the best and will attract more consumers.

Individuals in the different media groups will therefore be looking for any information since they know they will not be affected by the views of others. Individuals will be reporting what according to them is of interest to many so as emerge as the winners. The interests of the dominant classes and the media audiences will dominate the mass media.

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Interactionism affects the behavior of individuals who interact with the media.

The behaviors of the individuals in society will affect an individual in the mass media. Changes in the behaviors of individuals in society affect an individual in that he or she is supposed to interpret these behaviors. For example, if a new style of dressing emerges, the way that an individual will interpret the style will tell if he or she is going to adopt it or not. If the individual perceives a behavior to be positive, he or she is likely to adopt it and even apply it to friends. A change in the dressing style affects the young people who move with fashion.

Functionalism Theory and Social Change

When all the groups that form the mass media act as a whole, all the groups will give similar information to society. Any changes in society will be viewed according to the consensus that has been reached. The mass media will report what has been agreed.

Conflict Theory and Social Change

Under the conflict theory, each media group has its own interests and competes with other media groups (Schaefer, 2009).

This affects the approach to social change in mass media as each group reports the changes in a society in the way that it feels will please individuals in the society. Information provided favors interest groups so that any media group can have high sales.

Interactionism Theory and Social Change

The media interacts with individuals in society and reports the changes in the social aspects. The theory affects the approach to social change in a given culture in that the interpretation of the behaviors defines what the media will report. The media will give information on their own views independent of external factors.

Functionalism Theory and the Views of the Society

The mass media affects society in a very great way with the information and news that it reports. The theory of functionalism ensures that each media group reports the same information.

When all media groups agree to report the same information concerning a certain behavior in society, individuals within that society are likely to believe what the media reports (Craib, 2000). Any individual with a different view will also be convinced since all the media groups are giving similar information. This is because individuals believe that the media is an independent institution and cannot be pressurized to give any wrong or misleading information.

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Conflict Theory and the Views of the Society

Under conflict theory, each media group gives its own information regarding the change in behaviors in a given society. Individuals in that society will have different views regarding the same issue. This is because they listen to different media groups and are likely to believe what they hear from these stations. If a number of media groups give the same information regarding an issue, some individuals are likely to believe it despite other stations giving differing information.

Interactionism Theory and the Views of the Society

Interactionism deals with how individuals act and make conscious decisions about their own behavior depending on the way they interpret situations.

When individuals view the information in the media, they are likely to make decisions whether to adapt what the media reports or retain their status quo. Thus, information that the media give will affect an individual’s conception of how the world is socially constructed.


Functionalism, conflict, and interactionism theories have a great effect on the mass media.

Functionalism defines a case where all the different functionalities in different media groups are combined to work as one system. Information that is released is a result of consensus amongst these groups. Conflict theory sees the different groups in an institution to have different interests and to be competing with each other. Interactionism theory explains how the media interacts with society and other media groups and the effects of these interactions. All these theories affect the way that the media performs its operations so as to effectively play its role in society.


Craib, I. (2000). Modern Social Theory: From Parsons to Habermas, Harvester Wheatsheaf. London: McMillan Publishers.

Hesmondha, D., & Toynbee, J. (2008). The Media and Social Theory. London: Routledge.

Schaefer, R. T. (2009). Sociology: A Brief Introduction. (8th Ed.). New York: McGraw- Hill.

Thompson, J. B. (2000). The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media. California: Stanford University Press.

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