Functionalism and Marxism. A Critical Evaluation
During the 18th and 19th centuries, political and industrial revolutions coupled with a philosophical movement which promoted a new scientific way of thinking (`The Enlightenment'), heralded the advent of several new scientific disciplines. These social sciences attempted to explain the rapid and fundamental changes which were shattering traditional ways of life in Britain and Europe. Sociology emerged as one of these innovative areas and sought to analyse the nature of society and the complexities within it using collective theories and perspectives. The construction of a sociological perspective can best be illustrated by the application of several fundamental questions, the responses and explanations of which, produce an insight into why there are differences of opinion.
Functionalism and Marxism are two of the most influential perspectives within Sociology, and emerged in response to modernity. They are both structuralist theories, the individual is viewed with less importance than the social structure or organisation of society itself. They both advocate the idea that society can be improved through the application of human knowledge. However there are major contradictions in their explanations of society.
The first major functionalist thinker was Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), although subsequently there have been numerous other significant contributors in the establishment of functionalist rationale, the most notable being Talcott Parsons (1902-1979). Functionalism theorises that society is made up of various social institutions, a social institution is a group of people organised for a specific purpose or purposes. The family is viewed as the cornerstone of society and is inherently involved with socialisation, a key process through which culture is learned and acceptable behaviour defined. Functionalists seem to suggest that societies have rules of behaviour prior to the existence of its members, therefore leaving the enigma of who decides the functional characteristics of a society if it's not the members themselves. This is a problem called reification. Functionalists treat society as a thing by endowing it with the ability to think and act intentionally. The analogous comparison by which the operation of society and the functions of the social institutions is likened to a biological organism, illustrates the idea that all parts of society have their function and are interdependent on each other for the good of society as a whole. Sickness in the living organism would be likened to a loss of social equilibrium, an abnormal state for a society that is normally in balance. Functionalists believe that the balance is achieved through a consensus- the majority of people in society having the same moral values. Marxism however has contradictory views and rejects the idea that society is based on value consensus for the benefit of all. Instead society is acknowledged as being...