Structural Functionalism and Conflict Theory

Structural functionalism Stay-at-home dad Robert K. Merton

Structural Functionalism & Conflict Theory
Karl Marx and Max Weber were the first conflict theorists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Following Marx and Weber were three mid-20th century conflict theorists: Lewis Coser, Ralf Dahrendorf, and Randall Collins. Coser draws his theoretical ideas from Simmel. Like Simmel, Coser maintains that conflict is healthy for society. In contrast, Dahrendorf combines theoretical ideas from Marx and Weber. Dahrendorf sees power as the main feature in all social relationships. However, Collins incorporates Weber, Durkheim, and Goffman’s theories to provide a micro-level orientation to conflict theory. Collins also used geopolitics at a global level to examine political conflicts historically and geographically.

According to Marx and Weber, the root of most social conflict comes from an unequal distribution of class, status, and power, as well as a group’s sense of deprivation caused by class (Allan, 2007). Coser, Dahrendorf, and Collins added to Marx and Weber’s theories. These conflict theorists assert that the degree of deprivation is essential in creating class consciousness and critical awareness. In particular, Coser discusses the consequences of inter and intra group conflict. Internal conflict can build up over time between groups and become explosive. Internal groups have a psychological need to be in conflict with each other. Modes of releasing hostility and developing authority with a corresponding justice system are necessary for healthy internal conflict. Further, external conflicts between groups create well defined and guarded boundaries to distinguish membership. Group membership becomes exclusive, which is necessary for group survival. “Conflict sets boundaries between groups within a social system by strengthening group consciousness and awareness of separateness, thus establishing the identity of groups within the system” (Coser, as quoted in Allan, p. 219, 2007). Coser maintains that conflict can...
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