Comparison and Contrast of Sociological Theories

This essay will discuss the key concepts between two sociological theories as why society is structured the way it is and it will compare and contrast both views. The two theories it will consider are based a Marxist perspective (conflict theory) which aims to create a more fair and equal society and a Functionalist perspective (consensus theory) which describes existing conditions within today’s society.

Karl Marx (1813-83) developed a conflict theory based on economics and the two groups within society with conflicting views i.e. the employer and the work force. This theory developed in during a time when those with great wealth in means of money and land was given highest status within society and very much controlled the lower classes. It is in his view that society is structured due to the way in which humans require certain things for survival. These things are dependent on an infrastructure this being the economic base that is made up of the capitalist system that benefits the ruling class and is made up of social institutions such as family, education, religion and the political system within society. This relationship has grown to create a superstructure based on the relationship between individuals within society due to the activity within the infrastructure. Any changes within the infrastructure will automatically have an effect on the superstructure. The Marxist ideology puts forward the idea that those in power will always put themselves over as being right and in their opinion this should be accepted as the way that things are creating a form of false consciousness. This is due to the ruling classes portraying the picture of how, according to them, the way that society is meant to be.

In a capitalist society there is a hierarchy system with an elite, ruling class or bourgeoisie at the top who aim to make as much profit as possible and the proletariat or the working class at the bottom. The bourgeoisie, those who manage the workplace, factories etc. and own ‘the means of production’. It is these ruling classes that control the economy, dictating working conditions i.e. hours and wages or the money that is earned through lower classes selling their labour to earn a living. This means that both classes are concerned with their own gains even though the workers are being used as a way of making a profit, this is necessary for them to survive. This theory emphasises the conflict and different interests between different groups within society. Marx sees the worker being exploited by the employer because there is always a profit being made regardless of the level of pay received being received by the labour force. It is through this relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat that allows goods to be produced. There will always be the more being produced than what is required for basic human survival and the work force will not receive the true cost of their labour with all profits will go to the ruling classes. The lower the wages, the more profit will be made by the factory owners and industrialists. The over production of goods means that only the most powerful bourgeoisie will survive to become a leading ruler with great power.

This was based on an idealistic point of view and the idea of a utopian society. It was in the opinion of Marx that everything should be owned by the people and fairly distributed according to the needs of the individual. Marx was a supporter of revolution and believed that when society was awakened from the state of false consciousness, those in power would be overthrown by the masses that would then take control of the means of production (communism/socialism).

There are other factors that are not directly related to the economics within society, however, play a huge role in reinforcing this class system that exists within society i.e. the child of a slave will also be a slave. Therefore the values and beliefs that individuals are taught will depend on their family’s status within society which in turn reflects the socialisation that they will receive. They will then know what is expected of them from the rest of society. This power of the ruling classes does not only include the owners of production, but