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Outline and assess the differences and similarities between the Functionalist and Marxist views on how society works.

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Outline and assess the differences and similarities between the Functionalist and Marxist views on how society works. Sociology has been classified as the last in a long line of emerging scientific disciplines, which people have developed and explored in order to make sense of their world. Indeed Comte, who actually invented the term 'sociology', had originally called the subject 'social physics'. Sociology can also be seen as the most complex of all these disciplines, because it attempts to deal with such a broad and flexible subject - what Giddens summarizes as 'human social life, groups and societies.' Early theories such as the positivist approach of Comte, the Functionalist views of Emile Durkheim and the conflict perspectives of Karl Marx have each, in turn, attempted to offer a view of why human beings behave as they do, and how they fit together within societies. Each theoretical approach has to some extent been shaped or influenced by the approach of others and many sociological perspectives display marked similarities, or a range of differences that can be traced to a reaction against previously held ideas. It is inevitable, and also desirable that such a broad subject as sociology should give rise to a variety of approaches: it would be impossible and also fruitless to categorise the vast amount of social change that has occurred over centuries by attempting to apply a single theoretical approach. ...read more.


Functionalism views education, which becomes linked with the family, as maintaining social cohesion through what has been called 'secondary socialization' of children into the desirable set of values, norms and customs - i.e. a state of value consensus. Durkheim himself wrote extensively about education, calling the school environment a 'society in miniature' which introduces children to and prepares them for the adult world. On the other hand a Marxist perspective would take the view that this discounts the vast amount of conflict inherent within society, and that it is not a value consensus which is being reached, but a state of oppression and once again the perpetuation of the dominant ideology, where children learn their obedience to capitalism. Whereas Functionalism (structural consensus) is based on consensus, Marxism (structural conflict) is based on the notion of conflict. Marx defined conflict as 'the motor of history' and is quoted as saying 'All human history thus far is the history of class struggles.' Marx believed that what ultimately shaped society and in turn controlled the individual, was economic power, and that all other social institutions were influenced by it. Although Marx was discussing history in general (as we can see from his theory of the 'four stages') he referred particularly to modern times and the rise of industrial capitalism. The Industrial Revolution had generated massive and radical social change, and also the capacity for a great new economic power. ...read more.


Browne's comments that 'sociological perspectives centre on how much freedom...the individual has to control society' then the similarities emerge. Both the Functionalist and the Marxist perspectives place emphasis on society as something which influences an individual, as opposed to the interpretivist or social action perspective put forward by Max Weber (who himself was influenced by many of Marx's ideas even though he disagreed with them). It is a different view yet again from the symbolic interpretivist one, or from the post-modernist perspective which argues that society is fragmented and unstructured. The most important factor to bear in mind when examining similarities and differences between Functionalism and Marxism - or for that matter any set of social perspectives, is that similarities and differences will always naturally occur. Sociological perspectives can 'borrow' from each other or react against each other - for example, much of feminist sociology can be linked to marxism. Difference in opinion is inextricably linked to the human capacity for social change, and the need to explore and explain. What was applicable to the society which Marx was discussing might not necessarily be applicable to another type of society. Each different society should be examined objectively and from a basis of 'value freedom'. As Giddens writes, 'Societies can no longer be understood through the application of general theories.' A subject as diverse as sociology demands to be viewed from a whole range of perspectives, and should not be limited to the relatively narrow margins of the structuralist approach. ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 ...read more.

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