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    Compare and Contrast: Structural Functionalism and Conflict Theory

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    To compare and contrast the two sociological theories, structural functionalism and conflict theory developed separately by two of the greatest minds to have worked in sociology, Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx. I will start by looking at the men themselves and how their theories applied to social life, I will look at how their theories compare and contrast from each other and lastly how each would view education in the USA today.

    Karl Marx was born in Germany in 1818 and died in 1883 (Wikipedia Contributors, ‘Wikipedia: Karl Marx’, 2019), Emile Durkheim was born in France in 1858 and died in 1917. (Wikipedia Contributors, ‘Emile Durkheim’, 2019) These two men lived during the industrial revolution, they witnessed change on a scale and pace that we have not witnessed ourselves. During their life things like the first internal combustion engine in 1859, the telephone in 1876 and the Edison light bulb in 1879 were all invented. Many changes took place during this time, new inventions, means of production and social changes caused these two men to formulate their theories.

    Marx and his Conflict Theory looks at society as competing for limited resources. Conflict theory would look at social life as a competition between the haves “the bourgeoisie” and the have nots “the Proletariats”, something that was brought on by modern capitalism. The Bourgeoisie were rich, wealthy people who controlled the production. The farmers, workers, and laborers were the Proletariats. There are people at the top of the economic food chain that own the factories, and business that make all the profits while the workers don’t make enough to survive. He believed that work is what made us human, it is what made us. At the time Marx was alive the workers were being abused by the factory owners just to make what little means they could. Marx believed the workers suffered from Alienation due to how the modern factory lines were setup. He believed that this Alienation that was caused by the setup of factories and specialization that developed under modern capitalism. Marx believed the workers should unite to change this, to break free. (BBC Radio 4, ‘Karl Marx on Alienation’, 2015) “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” (Wikipedia Contributors, ‘Wikipedia: Workers of the world, unite!’, 2019)

    Emile Durkheim and his Structural functional theory came to be as he lived through the industrial revolution in France. He saw how as the country rose in wealth the people were staring to lose their minds. You would think as the country got more wealth and so did some of the people, everyone would be happy. Durkheim’s Structural Functional theory looks at how society functions and what the relationship is between the different institutions. It looks at “The way each part of society functions together to contribute to the whole.” (OpenStax, ‘Introduction to Sociology, 2nd ed.’, 2017) Structural Functionalism is looking at things from a very high level, it is not focused on the small interactions that happen on a regular basis. Durkheim believed that “society is a complex system of interrelated and interdepended parts that work together to maintain stability.” (OpenStax, 2017) Structural Functionalism views things as always being in stability or equilibrium. The things that it views are called “social facts” “the social facts are things like laws and religion… they are the cultural rules that govern social life.” (OpenStax, 2017) He believed you had to look at what function each of his “social facts” served to make up society.

    I think one thing that both men share is that they both recognized as the world got wealthier and more industrialized, as production increased, goods increased, etc., it did not benefit everyone. Both men saw this new modern way of life as having some negative drawbacks. One of the biggest things that Durkheim’s Social conflict theory fails to explain is the how social change happens. We know that social change takes place but with everything in equilibrium all the time no major changes would take place. In one sense where each of the theories fall short the other is aligned with it. Social conflict can explain abrupt change but fails to recognize stability or gradual change while structural functionalism fails to explain abrupt change. (OpenStax, 2017)

    A great thing to think about is how would the theory developed by each of these men explain or view Education in US society today. Emile Durkheim and Social Conflict theory looked at social facts, these facts were the cogs in the machine that kept society running. Some of the social facts in the US today are how we value education. Education is extremely valued; people are encouraged to get educated to get the best knowledge in their specialized field. I believe that Durkheim would also view the way education in the US today as part of what brings us together and helps to give the sense of community. A lot of small towns are built around the education system, and this can help build a sense of community while things like religion can also but may not reach as many people as the education system in the US can. I believe Marx would look at the education system in the US today as a battle between the “haves” the people who can afford to go to college and the “have nots” the people who cannot afford to go to college. College in the US today is not required for you to get a job, but if you would like a job that could get you a bigger part of the shard resources then most jobs that will offer you that require some level of a college education. Typically, in the US today the higher level of education you have the higher you can get paid, but you need to have the time and money up front to invest in this education and not everyone has that. With no education today you will not have an easy time competing for the very limited resources that exist. I think both men would see education as a valuable thing, valuable to the induvial and valuable to society in general with several benefits.

    Today even though we seem so “connected” to everyone, I believe that we may be further apart. The way Marx described us becoming more and more alienated I believe is happening today. I think both men their theories did a great job and were each a little different in how they explained the social life, and how they may view education today. Both men were important to lay the groundwork for future scholars to study sociology. The work of both men is still being studied today, over 100 years after their deaths.


    1. Wikipedia contributors. (2019, October 8). Karl Marx. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:01, October 11, 2019, from
    2. Wikipedia contributors. (2019, October 8). Émile Durkheim. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:02, October 11, 2019, from
    3. Wikipedia contributors. (2019, October 5). Workers of the world, unite! In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:03, October 11, 2019, from,_unite!&oldid=919754713
    4. OpenStax (2017). Introduction to Sociology. 2nd ed. [eBook] Available at:[email protected]:TrIRM88K@5/Introduction-to-Sociology [Accessed 28 Sep. 2019].
    5. BBC Radio 4. (2015, January 15). Retrieved October 11, 2019, from

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