Summary: Functionalism Vs Conflict Theory Difference Between

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There has always been a dispute about what really holds society together and for centuries people have been intrigued by the relationship between individuals and society. In the 70’s the industrial revolution led to a rise in capitalism meaning a greater gap between those who owned wealth (eg, factories and land) and those who were forced to sell their labour as a way to make a living. It was at this time that theorists such as Durkheim & Marx began to challenge these ideas through their works. By providing studies which proved that societies could be stronger than ever imagined Durkheim was able to enlighten people to the fact that society is made up of many social groups and he could even pinpoint their behaviour and roles in any given society. People began to open up to the ideas of how a society could be and it’s benefits which at the time was a groundbreaking revelation. Thus, laying these foundations made him the Father of Sociology.

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In contrast to Durkheim’s theory, Marx believed that capitalism would only lead to negative things such as crime stemming from oppression. He believed in complete equality. His argument was that the inequalities caused by capitalism would be it’s own downfall, that people would refuse to work and this would lead to the collapse of capitalism which would then be replaced by communism.


Known as the ‘first ever professor of sociology’ he was responsible for laying much of the foundation for the study of sociology. He believed that social structure and order were imperative in restraining the selfishness of individuals for the greater good of society. This included values, rules and collective consciousness being critical in its success.

The key features of this theory include:

  • There is such a thing as a social structure which exists independently. This social structure consists of values and rules being passed through institutes educating and shaping the individual to become a better fit for a functioning society.
  • Individuals should be regulated for the greater benefit of everyone in society. Regulating individuals helps in restraining their selfishness. This allows for the individual to become an effective and functioning part of society, effectively integrating them.
  •  If we study society at a scientific level, we can determine general laws which explain and shape human behaviours and actions.
  •  We should look at society as a system or organism. Enabling us to determine the contribution each section makes to the whole.


However, he began to realise that as society evolved so did the individualism of the people within it, this made maintaining social order difficult. How social order could be achieved in a complicated and dynamic society was one of his main concerns.

A similar theorist is Talcott Parsons. Considered one of the most influential figures in sociology in the 20th century. He too believed it was imperative that individuals were integrated into society, allowing people to do as they pleased would not be possible when trying to build a society. Both ideas and theories follow very similar thought processes.

Conflict Theory

Marx was a German philosopher and economist whose ideas remain relevant to this day.

Marx theory states that as long as there are limited resources there will always be a fundamental conflict. He believed social order could only be achieved by control and power, that it is not possible for it to exist in harmony and conventionality. This implies that the wealthy will reserve and protect their resources whilst those less fortunate will go to whatever means necessary to obtain them. This means there will always be a conflict between the rich and the poor.Marx holds a mutual view on conflict, in that it is neither good nor bad but that it is an inevitable and unavoidable aspect of human nature which can tell help us explain why things are the way they are.

Marxism began to gain popularity in the 70’s when it was realised that functionalism is flawed.According to Marx society is constructed of classes. In all of which there are two major classes. These classes can be defined by the relationship an individual has to the means of production. Basically, this means that those which own the means of production, (eg land, factories) become the powerful class. Those who have to sell their labour as a means of earning a living automatically belong to the lower class.The theory is that if the government don’t do something to help reduce inequality before the wealth gap becomes too wide, it will result in conflicts such as protests and movements.

A great quote from Marx to illustrate this point is:

  • ‘A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut.’ Wage Labour and Capital .
  • For Marx everything started with one question. “What does it mean to be free?”


He believed that in order for there to be a free society there must first be conditions. These conditions included the centralisation of economy and the abolition of politics and social classes.

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