The way I explain this to my class is to think of a clock. What makes a clock a clock? First, you have to have certain parts, such as hands, gears, springs, and a power source. But this is not enough. You have to put the parts together, of course. Still, however, you may not have a clock because you cannot put the parts together in any way you choose. Rather, you must put the parts together IN A SPECIFIC RELATIONSHIP TO THE OTHER PARTS. Then, and only then, do you have a clock. Then and only then does it function as it should.
This is the essence of functional analysis. Society has parts that must work in a specific relationship to the other parts in order for society to function smoothly. When one or more of the parts fails at its task, society is broken--we have social problems, in other words.
Now structural functionalism is concerned with the major structures of society, and how they function together to make society work. This is a macro (or large scale) look at functionalism. Smaller institutions, such as family or exchange networks, are generally not included in such analyses. Rather, the focus is on large structures such as education or the economy. But, the principal is the same.
Structural functionalism refers to the distinct structures or institutions that shape a society and each structure has a specific function or role to play in determining the behaviour of the society. For exaample to maintain security for the members of a society, it has military system to defend the members from exteranl threat, and police system to maintain law and oeder of the society. The systems are the structures of the society and the functions of the systems are to provide security and stability for the society.
Conflict theory emphasizes the role of coercion and power in producing social order. This perspective is derived from the works of Karl Marx, who saw society as fragmented into groups that compete for social and economic resources. Social order is maintained by domination, with power in the hands of those with the greatest political, economic, and social resources. When consensus exists, it is attributable to people being united around common interests, often in opposition to other groups. According to conflict theory, inequality exists because those in control of a disproportionate share of society’s resources actively defend their advantages. The masses are not bound to society by their shared values, but by coercion at the hands of those in power. This perspective emphasizes social control, not consensus and conformity. Groups and individuals advance their own interests, struggling over control of societal resources. Those with the most resources exercise power over others with inequality and power struggles resulting. There is great attention paid to class, race, and gender in this perspective because they are seen as the grounds of the most pertinent and enduring struggles in society. Whereas most other sociological theories focus on the positive aspects of society, conflict perspective focuses on the negative, conflicted, and ever-changing nature of society. Unlike functionalists who defend the status quo, avoid social change, and believe people cooperate to effect social order, conflict theorists challenge the status quo, encourage social change (even when this means social revolution), and believe rich and powerful people force social order on the poor and the...