Could you please explain the difference(s) between the Functionalist view of change in society and the Conflict view of change in society?  For example, the functionalist perspective contends...

Could you please explain the difference(s) between the Functionalist view of change in society and the Conflict view of change in society? 

  • For example, the functionalist perspective contends that society and change are shaped by necessities of survival, whereas the conflict perspective assumes that societal changes are shaped by conflict among groups and classes within society over control of valued and scarce resources.  

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Let’s begin with what an adherent to the ideals of functionalism, a “functionalist” believes. Functionalists believe that one’s mental states, i.e., desires like lust, beliefs like religion, and even the experience of pain are the directly related to other mental states and sensory information that results in behaviors, whether those behaviors are outwardly observable or inwardly experienced.  Functionalism is solely concerned with how the brain functions and how it is organized. Functionalists believe that the brain organizes and operates much like a computer’s internal operating system (IOS).

To give a fairly reductive example, the outward behavior of theft is perpetuated by perceived need. Desire is inward;  fulfillment of that desire can only occur outwardly. 

A conflict theorist emphasizes not the individual’s brain processing and behavior, but instead concentrates on the way society impacts the individual. Class conflict, conflict theorists argue, drives behavior.  The “father” of conflict theory was Karl Mark, co-author of The Communist Manifesto.  

Again, to put it simply, enough food isn't available so the individual steals. The majority of the food and goods are controlled by the few and distributed, unevenly, to the many. 

Functionalism operates on the premise that society is systematically organized (like our brains are). It also assumes that people within a given society embrace the same basic values and that the majority of society supports those values and ideals.

Conflict theory has a  very different approach. Rather than assuming organization and a benevolent populace, conflict theory adherents argue that society is overwhelmingly controlled by powerful groups.  This control is given to those with money; money grants political and economic power.

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