Main article: Conflict theory
Functionalism aims only toward a general perspective from which to conduct social science. Methodologically, its principles generally contrast those approaches that emphasize the "micro", such as interpretivism or symbolic interactionism. Its emphasis on "cohesive systems", however, also holds political ramifications. Functionalist theories are often therefore contrasted with "conflict theories" which critique the overarching socio-political system or emphasize the inequality of particular groups. The works of Durkheim and Marx epitomize the political, as well as theoretical, disparities, between functionalist and conflict thought respectively: To aim for a civilization beyond that made possible by the nexus of the surrounding environment will result in unloosing sickness into the very society we live in. Collective activity cannot be encouraged beyond the point set by the condition of the social organism without undermining health. — Émile Durkheim The Division of Labor in Society 1893,  The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. — Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels The Communist Manifesto 1848,  20th century social theory
The functionalist movement reached its crescendo in the 1940s and 1950s, and by the 1960s was in rapid decline. By the 1980s, functionalism in Europe had broadly been replaced by conflict-oriented approaches. While some of the critical approaches also gained popularity in the United States, the mainstream of the discipline instead shifted to a variety of empirically-oriented middle-range theories with no single overarching theoretical orientation. To many in the discipline, functionalism is now considered "as dead as a dodo." As the influence of both functionalism and Marxism in the 1960s began to wane, the linguistic and cultural turns led to myriad new movements in the social sciences: "According to Giddens, the orthodox consensus terminated in the late 1960s and 1970s as the middle ground shared by otherwise competing perspectives gave way and was replaced by a baffling variety of competing perspectives. This third 'generation' of social theory includes phenomenologically inspired approaches, critical theory, ethnomethodology, symbolic interactionism, structuralism, post-structuralism, and theories written in the tradition of hermeneutics and ordinary language philosophy." The structuralist movement originated from the linguistic theory of Ferdinand de Saussure and was later expanded to the social sciences by theorists such as Claude Lévi-Strauss. In this context, 'structure' refers not to 'social structure' but to the semiotic understanding of human culture as a system of signs. One may delineate four central tenets of structuralism: First, structure is what determines the structure of a whole. Second, structuralists believe that every system has a structure. Third, structuralists are interested in 'structural' laws that deal with coexistence rather than changes. Finally, structures are the 'real things' beneath the surface or the appearance of meaning. Post-structuralist thought has tended to reject 'humanist' assumptions in the conduct of social theory. Michel Foucault provides a potent critique in his archaeology of the human sciences, though Habermas and Rorty have both argued that Foucault merely replaces one such system of thought with another. The dialogue between these intellectuals highlights a trend in recent years for certain schools of sociology and philosophy to intersect....
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