Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

How do functionalism and conflict theory view the relationship between individuals and society?

According to functionalism, the relationship between individuals and society is determined by the societal structures (schools, workplaces, churches, etc.) that they are part of. To a conflict theorist, this relationship is determined by whether or not the individual in question is wealthy.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to functionalism, society is held together by the various institutions that it is made up of. This includes families, schools, businesses, political parties, churches, and any other societal structures that you can think of. A functionalist will tell you that it is thanks to all these institutions and the...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

According to functionalism, society is held together by the various institutions that it is made up of. This includes families, schools, businesses, political parties, churches, and any other societal structures that you can think of. A functionalist will tell you that it is thanks to all these institutions and the ways in which they are connected with each other that holds the fabric of society together. The relationship between individuals and society, therefore, is made up of the institutions to which he or she belongs. In other words, a high school student is connected to society by her family and her school.

According to Karl Marx's conflict theory, members of society are in perpetual conflict with one another due to the finite nature of resources that are available. He maintains that society and social order are sustained by power and wealth, and that the wealthy (or "bourgeois") minority, who are the ruling class, suppress the poor (also called the proletarian working class) to ensure that they remain poor. The relationship between individuals and society therefore relies also on money and power. In a nutshell, those who have money and power control those who do not.

The relationship between individuals and society is therefore very different depending on whether you are analyzing them according to functionalism or according to conflict theory. While a functionalist will tell you that an individual is tethered to society by means of the societal structures that they are part of, a conflict theorist will tell that that money is power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team