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Sociological Perspectives-Comparison


Sociology uses theories that explain and predict the social world. There are several of these since noneanyone can fill all the answers that arise within society. The theories relate to how people behave at an individual level and a group in the society. Although there are many social theories, three of these are major since they describe and predict the behavior either at a micro or macro level. The three theories include structural functionalism, social conflict, and symbolic interactionism theory. The current paper examines the theories and makes a comparison of the same. Further, it will look at the views of main theorists including Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber.

Three main sociological theories

Functionalist theory-The functionalism theory proposes that the society operates in an interconnected way where each part plays an important role in the whole setting. Further, each of the system is dependent on the others for its successful operation. In the functional theory, there are two main functions-manifest and latent (Goldschmidt, 2023). The manifest bears the expected and open consequences, while the latent has hidden and unintended ones.

Conflict theory- The conflict theory proposes that a society exists in two major classes- the haves and the have-nots. Each is in a struggle against the other. While those who are placed high in society struggle to maintain their class and retain the ones without in their place, a conflict arises (Calhoun et al., 2022). Conversely, those without are in a continued struggle to upgrade their status and change their class to a higher one. In a society, the ones who control the resources needed to rise in class will use different means to ensure that the ones without remain in their place (Calhoun et al., 2022).

Symbolic interactionism- It is a micro theory in that it analyzes social situations at an individual level. The theory states that people have responses that are based on the symbolic meaning they attach to people and objects. In many of the cases, such beliefs are subject but will be held as true. In turn, what is held as true becomes true in the manifestation of the consequences (Miyamoto, 2023). According to this theory, the subjective meaning of the symbols is passed among people in a society through interactions.

Comparison of the theories

In the functionalist theory, there is the existence of different systems which form the whole society. Each of these systems must work in harmony for the society to function. In the conflict theory, there are also systems. However, the conflict theory has two main systems which are mainly based on a struggle (Calhoun et al., 2022). Thus, while the functional approach identifies the harmony that exists in a society through harmonious working of each system, the conflict points at the exploitative nature of each of the systems (Goldschmidt, 2023). Another collision of these two macro theories is on the stability of the society. According to the functionalist approach, each element in a social system has a role and should stick to it for the society to remain stable. Such an element that retains stability in a social setting is known as functional by this theory. Conversely, that which may disrupt the stability is known as dysfunctional. However, the conflict theory identifies the need for the struggle to ensure an equal and just society. Thus, the theory proposes what looks like dysfunctional for the progression of a society. Unlike the two micro theories, the symbolic interactionism is subjective. Additionally, it views the society from an individual level. It examines the influence of an individual which may be a person or an object from a personal level. It also explores how different societies have grown through such interactions. The theory explains the growth of languages and cultures among societies. The two micro theories address the interaction between systems or elements in a society and the influence they have on it. However, the symbolic interactionism looks at the society as an element that is influenced by an individual (Miyamoto, 2023). Thus, it contradicts the other two on the source of influence in a societal setting.

Ideas of main theorists

Emile Durkheim

The sociologist is mainly associated with the functionalism theory. His main contribution to this theory is social solidarity. In line with the functionalism theory, a society has many elements that form and facilitate its effective functioning. Durkheim argued that the society was not subject to individuals. On the contrary, it had means of controlling and restricting individuals on how they behave and interact with others (Malik & Malik, 2022). Durkheim also put an emphasis on the need of restricting the freedoms of individuals. As the proponent of social solidarity, he argued that it is necessary to have an order which guides people on how to behave and act as an integrated system. In the absence of proper integration of an individual within the society, the member is likely to pursue selfish interests which results in what he called anomie.

Durkheim in his book- Division of Labor- distinguished between high and low specialization. He posited that there is mechanical solidarity where there is low specialization. On the other hand, he described as organic solidarity where there is high specialization (Malik & Malik, 2022). Whether the society has organic or mechanic solidarity, the society demands particular contributions of members to others.

Durkheim contends that social solidarity has its foundations in the legal systems of different societies. He acknowledged that there were shifts in the division of labor where most societies were undergoing changes from mechanical to organic solidarity. Due to these changes, he predicted that it would be necessary to have new legal systems that would ensure that social solidarity remains intact (Malik & Malik, 2022).

Karl Marx

He was a proponent of the conflict theory. In the communist manifesto, one of the ideas is the class struggle, which lays the foundation of the said theory. It states that there are two classes in any society where one controls the main resources while the other has labor (Petrucciani, 2020). He states that the owners of capital force those with labor to sell it to them through different means, thus creating a struggle. Further, he adds that the two classes struggle where those in power seek to ensure that the proletariat remains there while the latter strives to rise (Petrucciani, 2020).

Although it was not his original idea, he adopted and popularized the dictatorship of the proletariat. The idea predicts a time when the owners of labor gain control of political power and have the means of production shift from private hands to the community (Petrucciani, 2020). The idea laid the foundation of communism. Marx also had the idea of internationalism, where workers of the world would unite against the ruling class on an international level. In this idea, he foresaw a time where there would be no political borders. The idea of using religion as a control tool is also associated with this sociologist. He states that religion is preached to the masses and makes them promises of things that are to come in heaven. In place of this, they have to stop their pursuit for worldly things as they await their awards in heaven (Petrucciani, 2020).

Max Weber

Weber argued that religion and capitalism were related and inseparable. The growth and development of capitalism was tied to the teachings of the protestant movement. The teachings were that the followers had to work hard, be careful in their expenditure and have self-discipline. Through such virtues, it became possible for those who practiced them to save enough money which went to investments (Weber, 2023). It is due to this that Weber points out that the success of capitalism would not have been that fast in the absence of religion to guide the members towards this direction (Weber, 2023).

He also proposed the idea of bureaucracy and modern society, in what is applied in modern day business world, he observed that it is necessary to have a system where there is hierarchy. Additionally, he observed that there is need for a set of rules that will govern such a system in which those high in hierarchy have more authority (Weber, 2023). He stated that such a way would create order and allow the smooth running of large organizations.


Calhoun, C., Gerteis, J., Moody, J., Pfaff, S., & Virk, I. (Eds.). (2022). Classical sociological theory. John Wiley & Sons.

Goldschmidt, W. (2023). Comparative functionalism: An essay in anthropological theory. Univ of California Press.

Malik, H. A., & Malik, F. A. (2022). Emile Durkheim Contributions to Sociology. Sociology6(2), 7-10.

Miyamoto, S. F. (2023). Self, motivation, and symbolic interactionist theory. In Human nature and collective behavior (pp. 271-285). Routledge.

Petrucciani, S. (2020). The Ideas of Karl Marx. Springer International Publishing.

Weber, M. (2023). Structures of power. In Imperialism (pp. 325-336). Routledge.


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