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According to Schaefer and Lamm (1998), "Conflict perspective is a sociological meaning which believes that social behavior is best recognized in terms of conflict or tension between different groups." Based upon the work of Karl Marx and others, they see society as being in a constant state of conflict among institutions and classes. It is also viewed as a struggle of power and income as a continuous process, which causes most categories of people to be as opponents - classes, races, nationalities and sexes, which leads to inequality among groups. However, on the other hand functionalist studies society on a large scale and individuals are viewed as people that are socially grounded, and not forced to perform societal duties. They also sees the world as stable, and social changes as being predictable and positive to society, subsequently, everything and everyone in society no matter how ambiguous it seems, serves a purpose. In a nutshell conflict perspective sees crime as a negative impact on society whilst functionalist sees crime as a positive impact on society because of the many employment it creates.
According to theories of Karl Marx conflict perspective examines the relations in society as a whole and recognises the power interest of different groups and how these affect inter-group relations. It is also more effective at explaining conflict and change in society and society is comprised of different sub-groups and each shares different norm, values and beliefs. Groups in society are in fierce competition for limited resources whereas the functionalist believes that all parts of society and its members work together to perpetuate existing social relations and to keep it running smoothly. Individual are linked to society through norm and values and society is presented as an external force regulating social behaviour. It explains how institutions work in relation to each other and the part they play in the context of a wider social system and how society can gradually change and adapt over time, in the form of a moving equilibrium through value consensus. The perspective also allows for many applications to our daily lives for example in sociology of religion, the family, education and system of inequality.
Based on Durkheim Functionalists fails to satisfactorily explain the important issues of conflict and change and the focus of functionalist is on harmony, stability and social order. Disharmony and conflict are seen as disturbances or malfunction to be set right. It is too complex a theory attempting to explain everything regards individual as largely passive in their social life. They are manipulated by the system and structures in their path and their action can be predicted. It emphasizes social integration and ignores divisions based on power, conflict, social class, race, ethnicity or gender. It does not account for how diversity can generate conflict whilst conflict perspectives highlights power struggles as the dominant trait of societies, giving little attention to social unity based on functional interdependence and shared values. It views society in terms of broad abstractions, removing the will of individual in determining social relations, and individual and small group interaction play little part in explanation provided by conflict theorists.
In conclusion Conflict Perspective and functionalist are similar in that they see the way society is structured as an important part in determining the way people have relationships and behave between themselves. This is known as structural perspective, both functionalist and Marxists believe that people are portrayed as creature within the social system. Both Durkheim and Marx were concerned with the characteristics of groups and structures rather than with individuals. Emile Durkheim is known as functionalist states that everything serves a function in society and his main concern to discover what that function was. On the other hand Karl Marx, a conflict theorist, stresses that society is a complex system characterized by inequality and conflict that generate social change. Functionalist perspective states that everyone having their place or purpose in society examples: the church has a function; the family has a function, and so on. They believe that society depends on these functions to serve its people. The functionalist and conflict perspective are both a macroscopic view of sociology.
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Denise Gaspard-Richards, Vashti Dochan, Bennie Burkly. Introduction to Sociology SOCI1002[SY14G]. Bridgetown, Barbados, 2005. Karl Marx and Durkheim