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What is the difference between structural functional theory and conflict theory? 

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Thomas Mccord eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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In sociology, structural functionalism is a school of thought which tries to understand the organization of society. To do this, it focuses on the various parts of a society, like the family and education system (which it calls "social institutions"), and tries to understand how these different institutions influence each other and function, more generally. (Hence the name, functionalism). It is also interested in how these institutions impact the individual.

In contrast, conflict theory takes a completely different view of society. As the name suggests, conflict theorists, like Karl Marx, argue that there is a conflict between different social groups because of an unequal distribution of power, wealth, and resources. In Marx's  classic understanding, for instance, he suggests that society is divided into the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The latter are the victims of exploitation because it is the bourgeoisie who own and control the means of production (the factories, workshops,...

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meegcartier | Student

In the field of sociology, there are three main theories that attempt to explain why society operates the way it does. These theories focus on the relationships between various institutions. 

Structural Functional Theory views society as a collection of many different but equally important parts that collaborate to promote a strong and stable condition. More specifically, subsections of society, such as government organizations, businesses, and families, work together in a systematic way that is generally good for the whole. This produces a healthy and balanced environment and ensures everything runs smoothly. 

Social Conflict Theory views society as a place of inequality that generates both conflict and change. The main motivation for viewing society in this way is to eliminate social inequality and understand it on a deeper level. Struggle is highlighted through limited resources, power, and prestige, all of which are permanent aspects of society and equally important when producing social change. 

Analyzing a society with these theoretical approaches produces different but equally valuable results and ultimately accomplishes more for its people.