Early sociological commentators can be characterised as either conflict or consensus theorists'. Discuss.

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‘Early sociological commentators can be characterised as either conflict or consensus theorists’. Discuss.

‘Early sociological commentators can be characterised as either conflict or consensus theorists’. Discuss.

In order to be able to discuss and understand why sociological theories could be classified into ‘consensus’ and ‘conflict’ perspectives, each term must be defined. ‘Consensus is a concept of society in which the absence of conflict is seen as the equilibrium state of society based on general or widespread agreement among all members of a particular society’ [Encarta 2007]. Conflict can be either covert or overt and refers to a disagreement or clash between opposing ideas, principles, or people. Conflict theory, therefore, is a theory or collection of theories which places emphasis on conflict in human society [Jary & Jary, 2000:105]. Sociological theorists are frequently categorised into being either conflict or consensus theorists dependant on their view of society. Therefore, in order to discuss whether and how early sociological commentators are characterised as either conflict or consensus theorists, their sociological perspective must first be understood.

Early commentators of sociology have been seen to have very individual and separate ways of interpreting the functions of society. Whether these theories can indeed be characterised as either conflict or consensus is debateable.

There are several fore fathers of sociology that are of great importance in the sociological world. Karl Marx, (1819-1883), Emile Durkheim (1958-1917) and Max Weber (1864-1920). Each of these early commentators made a significant change within in sociological thought and assessed how society worked in different ways to one another, whereby each took a different stance and developed sociological perspectives that are still used today- Marx was the founder of Marxism, (along with Engels), Durkheim is commonly associated with being one of the founders of functionalism and Weber built upon the work of Marx in developing Weberian sociology. One significant difference in the views of these sociologists that should be noted is the fact that Weber rejected the shared idea of Marx and Durkheim which suggests the “structures existed external to or independent of the individual” [Giddens 2006:18]. It is apparent that these theorists have conflicting views on the functions of society but whether or not they can be categorised into conflict and consensus theorists independent of one another is a question that needs to be carefully considered. In order to do this an examination of what is actually meant by conflict and consensus theory must be addressed. In order to do this, this essay looks at the categorisation of more modern sociological thinkers, such as that of Talcott Parsons and Dahrendorf.

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The theory of consensus has strong roots within the functionalist perspective. Functionalism is a macro approach which sees society as a system of interdependent parts, with a tendency towards equilibrium. A state of perfect equilibrium would be apparent in a society where there is no conflict, where every individual knows what is expected of them and where these expectations are constantly being met. There are functional requirements that must be met in a society for its survival, such as the need for the reproduction of the population. For Talcott Parsons, the set of needs or functional imperatives are met ...

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