Can the Functional and Conflict Theories Help Us Understand Change?

Topics: Sociology, Anthony Giddens, Émile Durkheim Pages: 4 (1115 words) Published: July 23, 2006
Sociology is the study of people and society. It provides the people who study it with the knowledge to understand different social groups, and the roles of the social activities that take place within them. This knowledge allows people to see past the way in which we commonly understand our world, and see things in a more objective manner, making it easier to explain society in an unbiased way (Holmes, Hughes & Julian 2003:2). Different theories, viewpoints and social facts help us to achieve this understanding of society (Holmes, Hughes & Julian 2003:4). The Functional Theory tells us that every different aspect of society has a role to fulfil, and that, while those roles are being fulfilled, society is healthy. Should an individual or institution deviate from that role there must be consequences that benefit society in order to keep it "healthy". The Conflict Theory tells us that roles are not fulfilled for the benefit of society as a whole, but only for the benefit of the elite, and that there is much inequality within society. Is it possible that two such differing viewpoints can both give an understanding of our world and how it changes?

Functionalism views all parts of society together, as a complete system, much like biologists view the organs of the human body as a complete system (Haralambos & Holborn 1995:7). Societal behaviour is seen as structured and social relationships follow certain rules, values, roles and norms, resulting in relationships that follow patterns of behaviour. The social structure, or system, functions when there is order and stability brought about by the different institutions of society carrying out their roles, such as how the family instils social roles, norms and expectations in the next generation. Members of society understand these roles because of ‘Value Consensus': values of society that are agreed upon and integrated into the social structure. These shared values provide social unity and co-operation between members...
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