Conflict Theory and Functionalism There are three main theories of sociology; functionalism, conflict theory and symbolic interactionism. This paper will focus on two of those theories, functionalism and conflict theory. The objective is to delineate the assumptions of two out of the three theoretical perspectives and apply these assumptions to an analysis of social stratification. How this will be accomplished will be by comparing and contrasting their assumptions and by analyzing the two theories affect on social stratification. Then I will state my opinion on which of the two better fits my personal sociological views.
Functionalism is many people's way to view the world sociologically. It states clearly that the objectivity of the researcher is necessary and can be accomplished. There are three main points, which make up a functionalist theory on sociological expression. The first point is that culture is made up of interacting, interdependent parts. Each of these parts has a function in maintaining the society as a system on the whole. The second point states that shared values and expectations(or beliefs) among the members of the society help hold the society together. The third point states that these systems have a need for stability and a need to try to keep all the parts working together congruously in a sort of system. Social change in this system is uncommon, and when it does happen, it is a very gradual change.
Conflict theory is centered on the tension, or struggle that goes on in everyday life. There are many different parts, which make up the conflict theorist's view on the sociological perspective. The first main part is that society promotes general differences in wealth, power, and prestige. Wealth, power, and prestige are qualities that all people desire. Some segments of society benefit from a social arrangement at the expense of less privileged groups. Whichever groups have the power is a central concern of this theory. These Marxist statements are the central arguments of all conflict theorist's statements of truth. The second part of the conflict theorists assumptions is that the different parts of the social system as a whole are intertwined, not because of a shared value system, however, but because of the fact that one group is inherently dominant over the other. This dominance happens because one group, the dominant group, controls the resources. The third part of the assumptions of the conflict theorist is that society does not necessarily have needs, but individuals and groups do. Because the dominant group has the access to wealth, power and prestige, they have the ability to have their needs defined as "system needs." The fourth part of the conflict theorist's assumptions is the basic question of "Who benefits?" from the social arrangements of the day. On any issue in society, there are people who benefit and people who don't benefit. This conflict always gives the advantage to the stronger party. The fifth part of the conflict theorists system of assumptions is the conflict itself, which lends tension, hostility, competitions, disagreement over goals, and values, as well as violence. Not always are these issues negative, however. They can act as an adhesive to help join groups together in the pursuit of a positive goal. The sixth and final part of the conflict theorist's assumptions is that to understand society we have to realize who holds the power and also the ability to use it. The conflict theorist will state that the main characters will cause some very defined conflicts. These would be the following; those who have authority vs. those who don't, young vs. old, producers of goods vs. consumers of goods, and racial and ethnic groups. These conflicts are based on the organization of similar interests and concerns.
Functionalism's view on the social stratification of our society is centered on their basic viewpoints. These viewpoints lend themselves to promote the functionalist's standpoints. These state that the function is a consequence, which adds to the stability of the system. A dysfunction is a consequence, which takes away stability from the system of social stratification. There are certain institutions, among them include the family, the political system, religion, economy, sports, the military, etc., which aid the structure of society. These institutions, working in order, with harmony, will not only increase the stability of the social stratification, but will add to it. The functionalist will then point out that these institutions, while independent of each other, have a shared system of values which guides them and helps hold the society together. To find out what function each institution performs in the whole social stratification system, one must ask themselves the question of what are the consequences of each institutions contributions to the social stratification of the society as a whole. This will help to understand their viewpoints.
The conflict theorists viewpoints on social stratification can be found out by asking the simple question of "Who benefits?" from the social arrangements of the day. One must look at those who hold the power of the day to find out who benefits. Today's power elite includes primarily people of a WASP background (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants). This power elite controls the wealth, and imposes their will on those who don't control the wealth. This class system of social stratification hearkens back to the days of Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller where the owners of big business controlled the lives of their workers. Whoever the power elite want to be in power will be in power. The wages of the workers will be set at what the leaders of big business want them to be set at, no exceptions. This structure of social stratification will lead to conflicts that have been pre-determined to happen. These conflicts include all social institutions. The conflicts include those of labor unions vs. owners, and racial conflicts that occur between minorities and whites. There is no way to control these. They are destined to happen.
The base arguments of both of these theoretical perspectives are inherently flawed. Functionalism is much too conservative, and does not have a way to explain major changes in society. The conflict theory does not explain some of the more orderly and stable parts of society. They both make good points, and both have good arguments. I however, cannot endorse one over the other for the simple reason that they are both essentially wrong and right at the same time. A conflict theorist is correct in saying that money and power do give you special considerations, and conflicts are at the base of most social change, however, they are wrong in assuming that all social institutions are unstable. A functionalist is correct in saying that the society is made up of interdependent and interacting parts, but wrong in their conservative assumptions. A blend of the two would probably provide the greatest base for an argument and would probably be the most real.