Sociology has been influenced by many perspectives among those are Karl Marx also known as the Marxist theory and Functionalism. This research paper seeks to compare and contrast these two theories. These two theories are very different in comparison but they also have a few similarities on their views about the understanding of social life. Marxism has been called a radical approach to functionalism.
Emile Durkheim was a positivist, and firmly believed that there were natural laws in society that shaped behavior. Functionalism can be compared to biology in that it sees society as an organism in which various parts of society are seen to be intertwined to form a complete system it was his faith in positivism that influenced his belief that sociology should concern itself with the study of social facts. Functionalists believed that society is constructed of various institutions. They group them into four subsystems which are economic, political, kinship and cultural and community organizations. They consider that society operates much like an organism this comparison is referred to as the organic analogy. They believe a society must have structure before it can function.
Functionalists do not study the inequality of power in society instead they tend to assume it is necessary to prevent chaos. They also believe that social change occurs when it functionally necessary to do so, through adaptation or integration. They believe change is evolutionary and not revolutionary. Functionalist believes society is usually in equilibrium or in order and that war is and abnormal social state, they do not consider conflict as a part of society. They also believe the individual is formed by society through the influence of institutions and they do not believe that the individual can control his or her own life.
The Marxist theory is based on conflict he believed that society was constructed according to classes. He believed society operated through class conflict as each class pursues its own interest, in all societies; individuals are placed into social classes. They are informally separated into these classes by means of their income, and worth to the society. The individuals in these classes become aware of their identities and interests, by socializing with other individuals who are considered to be in the same class.
For him, class is the basis of power. He does not consider inequality necessary however and believes that socialism could achieve equality. In his opinion class conflict is the cause of social change and that the victory of a new class introduce a new historical period, therefore he believes change is revolutionary. Marx believes that society is mostly conflict between the classes though he acknowledges that periods of social order can occur where the classes agree but that these periods are only beneficial to the rich.
Some Marxists agree with functionalists in that the individual is powerless to society while others believe that the prime source of individual identity as coming from class membership. In relation to order they both believe that every society is a relatively persistent, stable structure of elements, every society integrated, every element in society has a function, contributes to the maintenance of the system and that every functioning social structure is based on a consensus of values among its members. They also agree that society reality is viewed as a system - parts are interrelated functionally and relations between system components are reciprocal. The Marxist theory believes that survival of the human species depends on food and material objects hence leading to social relationships with other people meaning that in their own way they too believe that all of society is connected.
They also believe that each system part has a social purpose (Durkheim) or a social consequence and that system tends toward equilibrium and also that change is caused by system strains and imbalances. While their views on the natural state of man are opposed, the underlying concept is the same. With Marx, along with Emile Durkheim, have a completely different notion of the individual and society. While Hobbes, Locke, and Weber believed that the individual is what composes society, Marx and Durkheim believe that possibly society is what forms the individual.
Marx believes that the nature of the individual is an explicit representation of the nature that society is in at the time. He believes that man is inherently good, however, the individual's disposition often becomes confused with the state that he is living in. For example, a person who is generally good natured may seem to be corrupt if living in a society where violence is rampant. He argues that individuals are dependant on society for survival.
Marx states that individuals depend entirely on the economic basis of their society. If the economy does well, the society will do well, and the individuals will prosper. If the economy falls, society will deteriorate, and the individuals will suffer. Marx believes that society is held together, not by individuals, but by scientific laws of matter. The rudimentary basis of society is material production, which is the basis for his most famous work on class structures. Holding similar views to Marx is Emile Durkheim and his belief that society is what defines man.
He theorizes that individuals are built on a sense of belonging, and that it is the society which provides that belonging. His work on suicide is a strong example of this. He felt that people needed to belong to, and know the norms of, a group. In his mind this need was so great that people would commit suicide over it. This, in the mind of Durkheim, sufficiently proved that people need to belong. Durkheim hypothesized that society is held together by the collective conscience of its members.
Society must be held stable by each institution carrying out its specific role in promoting cohesion and order. So, in this way, the institutions in society define the structure of its individuals. However, these two great minds differ on the subject of conflict. While Marx believes that society is built on conflict, Durkheim believes that society is built on equilibrium and that conflict occurs only rarely. They also differ in relation to the distribution of power, Durkheim views the inequality as necessary for society to function and that without is the world would be chaotic while Marx views it as something which can be changed.
Introduction to Sociology- Mike O'Donnell Sociology Themes and Perspectives- Haralambos and Holborn.