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Functionalism vs. Conflict Theory — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on November 27, 2023
Functionalism views society as a system of interrelated parts working together harmoniously, while Conflict Theory sees society as groups competing for resources and power. Both are sociological perspectives.
Functionalism vs. Conflict Theory — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Functionalism and Conflict Theory

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Key Differences

Functionalism, grounded in the works of thinkers like Émile Durkheim, posits that society functions like a living organism. Each part, whether it's institutions or social practices, plays a significant role in maintaining societal equilibrium. For Functionalism, stability, order, and equilibrium are paramount, with every element of society contributing to its overall health and sustenance. For instance, the education system is viewed as a means to socialize individuals and impart societal values.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 27, 2023
On the opposite spectrum, Conflict Theory, rooted in the works of Karl Marx, perceives society as a battleground of class struggles. It emphasizes the inherent conflicts between different groups, often due to resources, power, or status. Conflict Theory argues that societal structures and institutions benefit the powerful at the expense of the marginalized, leading to persistent inequalities. For instance, the wealthy class might control resources, shaping societal norms to their advantage.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 27, 2023
While Functionalism focuses on the cooperative nature of society, Conflict Theory hones in on the divisions and tensions. The former would view a stable society as one where all parts are effectively working in sync, while the latter would challenge that stability, arguing it's a result of power imbalances and suppression.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 27, 2023
Although both theories offer contrasting views of society, they provide valuable insights into understanding its complexities. While Functionalism gives importance to societal harmony and integration, Conflict Theory underscores the importance of addressing disparities and tensions.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 27, 2023

Comparison Chart

Main Focus

Stability and harmony in society
Inequalities and power struggles in society
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Nov 27, 2023
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Rooted in the Works of

Émile Durkheim
Karl Marx
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Nov 27, 2023

View on Society

A system of interrelated parts working harmoniously
Groups in perpetual conflict due to resources and power
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Response to Change

Sees change as a gradual adaptation
Views change as a result of conflicts and eventual revolutions
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Perception of Institutions

Institutions serve societal needs
Institutions maintain power dynamics and inequalities
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Nov 27, 2023

Compare with Definitions

Functionalism

Focus on the cohesion and integration of societal elements.
Functionalism praises religious institutions for promoting societal unity and shared values.
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Oct 14, 2023

Conflict Theory

A theory highlighting the power struggles and inequalities in society.
Conflict Theory would argue that wage disparities result from the powerful exploiting the workers.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 14, 2023

Functionalism

Emphasis on societal equilibrium and harmony.
Functionalism would see schools as essential in maintaining societal balance by educating future generations.
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Oct 14, 2023

Conflict Theory

Emphasis on societal change driven by conflict.
Conflict Theory perceives worker strikes as responses to exploitation and power imbalances.
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 14, 2023

Functionalism

Belief that each societal part contributes to its overall function.
Functionalism suggests that even deviance plays a role in clarifying societal norms and boundaries.
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Oct 14, 2023

Conflict Theory

Focus on competition over limited resources.
Through the lens of Conflict Theory, housing shortages can be seen as battles between renters and property owners.
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Oct 14, 2023

Functionalism

Posits disruptions as temporary disturbances to the societal balance.
In Functionalism, economic downturns are viewed as short-term challenges that societies adapt to and overcome.
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Oct 14, 2023

Conflict Theory

Views institutions as tools for maintaining power dynamics.
In Conflict Theory, laws might be seen as mechanisms controlled by the elite to protect their interests.
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Oct 14, 2023

Functionalism

The doctrine that the function of an object should determine its design and materials.
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Oct 11, 2023

Conflict Theory

Underlines the need for societal transformation to achieve equality.
Conflict Theory champions movements that challenge and disrupt established power structures.
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Oct 14, 2023

Functionalism

A doctrine stressing purpose, practicality, and utility.
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Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

(Philosophy) The doctrine in the philosophy of mind according to which mental states are defined by their causes and effects.
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Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

(architecture) A doctrine, in several fields, that the function of something should be reflected in its design and the materials used in its construction.
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Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

(philosophy) The definition of mental states in terms of their causes and effects.
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Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

(social science) The idea that social and cultural cohesion are a function of the interdependence and interactions of the institutions of a society.
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Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

(psychology) A general school of thought that considers psychological phenomena in terms of their role in adaptation to the person's environment.
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Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

(linguistics) functional linguistics
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Functionalism

A psychology based on the assumption that all mental process are useful to an organism in adapting to the environment.
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Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

Any doctrine that stresses utility or purpose.
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Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

A psychology based on the assumption that all mental process are useful to an organism in adapting to the environment
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

Any doctrine that stresses utility or purpose
Tayyaba Rehman
Oct 11, 2023

Functionalism

A theory viewing society as interdependent parts maintaining stability.
From a Functionalism perspective, the family unit supports societal order by nurturing the young.
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Oct 14, 2023

Common Curiosities

How does Conflict Theory view society?

Conflict Theory sees society as riddled with power struggles and inequalities between groups.
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Nov 27, 2023

What's the primary focus of Functionalism?

Functionalism emphasizes societal harmony, seeing each part as contributing to overall stability.
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Nov 27, 2023

Which theory might study class struggles?

Conflict Theory delves deeply into class struggles and power imbalances.
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Nov 27, 2023

How does Conflict Theory explain societal evolution?

It views societal changes as outcomes of conflicts, often leading to transformative revolutions.
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Nov 27, 2023

How might Functionalism view a stable economy?

Functionalism would see it as each sector contributing effectively to societal well-being.
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Nov 27, 2023

Does Conflict Theory see any societal harmony?

It acknowledges harmony but emphasizes that it often arises from underlying power dynamics.
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Nov 27, 2023

Which theory emphasizes societal cooperation?

Functionalism highlights cooperation and interdependence of societal parts.
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How might Functionalism perceive global cultural events?

Functionalism might see them as mechanisms fostering global societal harmony and shared values.
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Is change perceived positively in Functionalism?

Functionalism sees change as a gradual adaptation maintaining societal equilibrium.
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Nov 27, 2023

Can both theories coexist in sociological studies?

Yes, many sociologists use both perspectives to gain a comprehensive understanding of society.
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Nov 27, 2023

How would Conflict Theory interpret corporate monopolies?

It would view them as manifestations of power imbalances, where the elite control resources.
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Nov 27, 2023

How might Functionalism view crime?

Functionalism may see crime as playing a role in clarifying societal norms and potentially leading to positive change.
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Nov 27, 2023

Are there modern evolutions of Functionalism?

Yes, neo-functionalism and other iterations have emerged, adapting to contemporary societal contexts.
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Nov 27, 2023

Is Conflict Theory solely about economic disparities?

No, it also studies power imbalances related to gender, race, religion, and more.
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Nov 27, 2023

In Conflict Theory, are conflicts always negative?

Not necessarily; conflicts can be catalysts for positive societal transformations and justice.
Tayyaba Rehman
Nov 27, 2023

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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