In sociology, the functionalist perspective and the conflict perspective are two different viewpoints on how society works. Both theories are interested in social structures on the macro level, but there are many differences between them. While the functionalist perspective sees all aspects of society as necessary and valuable in some way, conflict theory holds that a struggle of opposing forces is unavoidable.
The functionalist perspective is most closely associated with the French sociologist Emile Durkheim. According to the school of functionalism, every aspect of society serves an important purpose in order for society to function normally. Different societal institutions—such as law enforcement, education, the world of commerce, the court system, and so on—all work together with customs and norms to create a stable society. Functionalism also holds that negative phenomena, such as crime, are necessary for society to function. Remember it this way: for a functionalist, everything has its function.
In contrast, the conflict perspective is rooted in the dialectical materialist theories of German philosopher Karl Marx. This point of view believes that society is the result of a continuous tension between various conflicting forces. For example, class conflict between the rich and the poor can drive social change and stabilize society in its own way. Other tensions identified in many conflict theories include the power differences that exist among gender and racial groups. Remember it this way: from a conflict perspective, everything is in conflict.