Compare and Contrast Two Sociological theories

Topics: Sociology, Marxism, Karl Marx Pages: 6 (1924 words) Published: February 5, 2014
Compare and Contrast and Two Sociological Theories

This essay will compare and contrast and contrast two leading sociological theories: Marxism and Functionalism. Marxists predominantly believe that within society inequality and prejudice are rife, whereas Functionalists live under the impression that society operates in a state of social equilibrium wherein class and social status are necessities which we allow to transpire. This essay will explore the different viewpoints each theories take on subjects such as religion, community, family and education.

Marxism is a conflict theory founded by German Philosopher and Sociologist Karl Marx in the 19th Century. It brings forth the idea that society is imbalanced and biased. ‘Marx maintained that, with the possible exception of the societies of prehistory, all historical societies contain basic contradictions, which means that they cannot survive forever in their existing forms. These contradictions involve the exploitation of one social group by another: in feudal society, lords exploit their serfs; in capitalist society, employers exploit their employees. This creates a fundamental conflict of interest between social groups, since one gains at the expense of another. This conflict of interest must ultimately be resolved, since a social system containing such contradictions cannot survive unchanged.’ (Haralambos & Holborn 2013 - Page 11) Marxists believe that two opposing classes are at the heart of the conflict within society; the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie in Marxist, and general sociological terms, defines a person of wealth and capitalistic means whose concern would typically be wealth, production and capital. The proletariat population conversely would be the general wage earners. The proletariats only noteworthy asset is that of their ability to work, they are usually industrial workers, selling their labour for the best price they can get in a stereotypical capitalist society.

Functionalism, or structural functionalism, in stark contrast to Marxism, is a theoretical perspective which promotes the idea of societal stability and order through many complex processes taking place, all of which can be observed an analyzed scientifically. Haralambos & Holborn says of Functionalism that: ‘Various parts of society are seen to be interrelated and, taken together, they form a complete system. To understand any part of society, such as the family or religion, the part must be seen in relation to society as a whole’ (Haralambos & Holborn 2013 - page 10) A common analogy coined by Herbert Spencer, a prominent English sociologist, is to label important parts of society such as norms, traditions and family as ‘organs’, contributing to the overall wellbeing and health of the ‘body’. (http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Functionalism_(sociology).html) Many of the key ideas found in Functionalism can be traced back to renowned sociologist Emile Durkheim from the 19th century. Durkheim was a pioneer of sociology in all aspects, fighting for its acceptance as a recognized science long into his academic career along with being one of the first sociologists to introduce scientific and statistical data into his theories.

Emile Durkheim also believed that sociology should be a purely holistic study, that it should be an analytical study of the entirety of society and not just individual components, data should be of a quantitative nature rather than qualitative. This is a rare example of where the two theories opinions align: Marxism also generally trusts in quantitative studies, believing a study of the masses is the only way to truly gauge social effects. Both methods have their merits in equal right. Quantitative data allows for much better averages to be taken, given that the research base is so much broader. However...
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