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Sociology Question about functionalism/conflict theory

  1. Jul 20, 2009 #1
    I'm having trouble grasping my hands right around the ideas of functionalists view the politics of America?

    Politics I like, sociology I'm not convinced of yet.

    Also, how do their views differ, at all, from conflict theorists? I don't understand what their basis of thought is...
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2009 #2
    Actually, functionalism is pretty dead in sociology. The idea pushed by Parsons and his colleagues was that societies had needs and so people's behavior occurred to accommodate those needs. So the system needs a way to cure people, so the medical profession exists. But notice the difficulties with functionalism. The world's needs are always satisfied by those institutions; else, why would those institutions exist?

    To my knowledge, the only social scientists to persist with functionalist thinking are economists. Economists say that technologies exist to make things more efficient. So if you look around you, the world is efficient; otherwise, those technologies would not exist. It's another form of functionalist thinking. The world is always efficient because new technologies come about, those that are not efficient are weeded out, and those that survive are the most efficient. They ignore that the "best technology" may not win out because of personal preferences, fads, social networks (not the network effects economists talk about but the ones that create gatekeepers who determine who adopts a technology because they are in the network and who doesn't because they are disconnected from the people in the know).

    Conflict theory persists in sociology today. The idea is that the world is made up of elites and non elites, haves and non haves, whether these are people and groups. They compete for resources, and those who form the strongest coalitions win; the others either lose a battle but not the war, or are completely vanquished. A lot of effort goes into defining why some people identify with some groups and not others (in-group vs. out-group phenomenon). Humans seem to form groups around the most trivial things. Even children who are labeled into the red team versus the blue team end up in conflict.

    But there are other theories in sociology such as institutionalism, culturalism, etc. Why the focus on conflict vs. functionalism?

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