Sociology theories and perspectives. A perspective is the

Sociology is a scientific discipline that sociologist used to study society and explain how human behave. They try to understand these through theories and perspectives. A perspective is the way we view or try to find the meaning of the world around us. Sociological perspective therefore is how generally society is connected and the perspective of  how humans behave. (Haralambos & Holborn, 2000 pg.2-3)  The intention of this essay is to use two sociological perspectives, Functionalism and Marxism to access whether these perspective can equally be used to understand contemporary Britain.Functionalist perspective emerged in the 19th century by a one of the famous and founding fathers of sociology called Emile Durkheim. This was due to the influences of the world he lived in during the early 19th century europe. For example, the crisis in social order due to the introduction of industrialisation and the loss of communities. (cited in Haralambos & Holborn, 2000 pg.9) Durkheim was interested in maintaining social order and how society can maintain stability. Therefore functionalism put their focus on the macro level of social structure instead of micro level of daily life. This was expanded later by an American sociologist Talcott Parson  (cited in Haralambos & Holborn, 2000 pg.9). Notable theorist like Herbert Spencer and Robert K. Merton also offer great contributions to functionalism.Functionalism try to explore and explain the various parts of society to find out how they contribute to maintaining stability in society and also observing that behaviour in society is structured. Emile Durkheim perceived society as an organism, and within an organism, each component play a very important part, and none of them can function alone. If one fails, the other parts will also fail therefore the other parts have to find a way to adopt and fill the void. The functionalist theory suggest that, the different parts of society is composed of social institution like family, government, economy, media, education, and religion and these institutions are dependent on each other. They produce different needs, of which each has repercussion for the shape and form of society. (Haralambos & Holborn, 2000 pg.9) According to the functionalist perspective, social institutions are in existence because of the important role they perform in the functioning of society. An institution will die if they do not perform its specific function. New institutions are created when new needs evolved. In trying to identify the function of social structure, the functionalist are guided by some ideas. Since society has some basic needs and these needs are to be met in order to survive. These requirements are known as functional prerequisite. (Haralambos & Holborn, 2013 pg. 10) For example, the means of production of food and shelter is seen as a functional prerequisite because individual member of society can survive without food and shelter. In contemporary Britain and most societies, the function of government, or the state is to provide education which in turn the family contribute by paying taxes on which the state uses to run itself. The family depends on the school in the growth of their children to grow up and have good jobs. Through these process, children are socialised into paying taxes and law-abiding and therefore supporting the state. From the functionalist perspective, all these part produce order, productivity and stability if all goes well,  however, society must find a way to adopt if all does not go well.The functionalist perspective focuses on the consensus, stability and order in society and therefore referred to as the consensus approach. Individuals share common beliefs, values and norms and this is referred to by functionalist as collective conscience. In the functionalist perspective, deviant behaviour causes change because the social components needs to adjust for stability to be achieved. The one part of the social institution is dysfunctional, it affects all the other part, thereby creating social problems which  leads to social change. Robert Merton, an American sociologist and a functionalist divided human functions into two, Manifest and Latent function. ( Robert Merton, 1968) He explained that manifest function are the intentional and the more obvious human function, an example is a religious person attending sunday church for worship as part of a religious body. The latent functions on the other hand are unintentional and not obvious. So with this example its latent function is to socialise individual to do good and learn institutional values. Latent function demand a sociological approach before it can be revealed whereas manifest function can be discern through common sense because they become easily apparent.The marxist perspective is a macro theory which originated from the ideas of Karl Marx. He began his  argument from the premises that society is composed of classes and these classes are in race, struggling for power and resources due to conflicting interests. The marxist perspective is therefore also referred to as the conflict perspective. One of the classes monopolises power and therefore take advantage over the other. Karl Marx suggested that in order for human to meet their survival needs, they need go into food production. In their quest for survival they form relations with other people and as the population grows, there is a shift of an agricultural to an industrial society. Therefore the initial motive of survival changes and individual start to fulfil their selfish needs of making profit thus the emergency of capitalism.According to Marx this lead to two class of people, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisies are also the ruling class, they are the owner of the farms, factories and big business. The proletariat on the other hand are the working class who work for longer hours in the factories and are exploited. The bourgeoisies according Marx maintain power and control through the ruling class ideology where the working class are socialised into a false consciousness into believing that where they are and what they have in life is normal and acceptable to be able to maintain the social system. (Haralambos & Holborn, 2000) Marx suggested that the bourgeoisies controls the superstructure, namely Education, government, politics, law and also control the base which consist of the raw materials and the means of production.Having exploited and described the main features of the functionalist and marxist perspective, it very difficult that one can apply these theories to contemporary Britain. During the era of the finalists like Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parson and Robert Merton, things were very diverse and the world was in a different place. It had people with similar ethnic orientations. Britain today is very different, society has turn very multicultural and people from different background have come to live in Britain therefore it can be very difficult to agree on common values. Taken into consideration differing opinions and views on what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ because of the diversity in religious bodies. In fact in many cases, these different opinions and views have lead to a lot of social conflict, therefore the functionalist idea of collective conscience of people and institution working together do not stand but it perhaps gives us a better understanding of how these social institutions are interconnected and work together. There have been numerous number of demonstrations due to the rejection by the public on government’s decision to cut state spending benefits and other public services which has been criticized by different individuals and groups, including more than 25 tory MP’s who are part of the British parliament. (Laura Hughes, Telegraph 2017). Another typical example is the 2011 london riot, where there was excessive looting and building set alight after a demonstration over the death of man who was shot by the police causing widespread of violence. (BBC website, 2011) This serves as an indication that, Durkheim’s idea of creating social harmony is very questionable and not always possible. There has also been historical conflicts between catholics and protestants in Northern Ireland, one can then say that religion do not contribute to shared (religious) values but rather cause mayhem. Accor to the guardian newspaper, religious extremism  since 2001 has overtaken national separatism to become a driving force for terrorism in the Uk and world. ( George Arnett, theguardian 2014). Durkheim’s view of societal institutions who share common consensus can be questioned. Religious diversity has actually cause different groups into conflict with each other. The functionalist perspective have many strengths, it helps in the illustrations of how social institution can function at two different levels, with the aim of fulfilling both individual and societal needs however its to overly optimistic. Everything is always smooth, happy and too good which is never so. The idea of meritocracy, where individual hard work is rewarded or the harder you work the further you get is just a little portion of the big apple and very rare. Functionalism tend to avoid the existence of conflict which the marxist theory emphasizes. However its emphasis on the relevance of the family as the pillar of society is very credible because the family serves as the primary agent of socialisation, passing on the shared beliefs, values and norms, the root of  every universal society. Marxist theory on the other hand is much evident in Britain today with regards to the ruling class exploiting its workers. Branded  and multinational companies like google, apple, Zara, Primark, H&M deliberately build factory abroad like China, where they will be able to exploit vulnerable workers and pay them low salaries. According to the independent news website, apple who are the tech giant chose the channel islands as a way to avoid paying billions on taxes. ( Rob Merrick, independent website 2017) Poverty has been one major stern due to the exploiting of the ruling class which has been carried on from generation to generation. It is perhaps right to say that inequality is never going to be an ending story. According to Karl Marx, inequality, and the uneven distribution of wealth has been the striking cause of poverty. The poverty statistics in Britain shows the over 14 million people are living in poverty, over 1 in 5 of the whole population. 8 million are working age adults, 4 million are children, 1.9 million pensioners and 2.1 million are people that live in families where at least one person is in employment. (Helen Barnard, JRF website 2017) The guardian on their website in December last year, warned the Uk government over the sharp rise of child and pensioner poverty. ( Richard Partington, 2017) Sociologist who accepts the relative explanation of poverty, believe that for poverty to be eradicated, it is then essential to first get rid of inequality in income. Marxist perspective helps us to understand some aspect of contemporary Britain, however it fails to acknowledge the existence of the middle class. Today the class structure is much more complicated than Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. There are the middle class who owns shares that are invested in corporations but Marxist would classify it as the ‘capitalist class. In Britain today, almost 70% are owners of their own home and see these private property as ‘economic assets’ so most of us are unaware, precisely a petit capitalists. ( George Arnett, the guardian 2016) One can say that, the middle class is indubitably exploited and it differ from his view of capitalism. Today capitalism is less exploitative. A Typical example will be when the famous car manufacturer Henry Ford realised, to paying his employees high wages would creates demand for the care he manufactured. The government now provides, education, pensions, social security and universal health care and also a guaranteed minimum wage to ensure the amelioration of excesses of capitalist exploitation.Marxism has been the foundation of the class system in the Britain today. The system that Karl Marx saw and postulated theories is and has been the same for the past centuries. (Giddens, A 2006 pg.15-16). Marx during the era of his work was despise governments for his ideas and beliefs. Marx touched of on some socialist values which are currently a foundation for the Labour party in Britain today and realistically the unions and working class can relate to. This was very coherent in their manifesto, sadly socialism has dwindled because of the rise in capitalism and power in Britain today. Some of these ideas can be seen in the writing of the perspective for the 21st century: communist revolution or the destruction of humanity. ( World revolution 2004)The similarities of functionalist and marxist theories are only superficial resemblances and have no connection in both their ideas. They are both macro theories which look at the society as a whole to understand and explain social structure. The functionalist uses the human body to explain how society work together in order to survive, the marxist use the building analogy of the base and superstructure to understand all aspects of society. Furthermore, both are sociological theories developed by European scholars .in Europe. Functionalism originated from France by Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist and Marxism by a German philosopher Karl Marx. Both sociological theories often contradict each otherThe main ideologies of functionalism is the structural consensus and marxism is the structural conflict theory where both are parallel to each other but do not agree. Emile Durkheim believed in collective conscience, shared norms and values in a society. In contrast, Marxism stress on the conflict of interest within the society itself. The bourgeoisies wants to monopolize power and riches which will results to exploitation of the proletariats. The two perspective have opposing view on social change. Functionalist believed that social change is a gradual and slow process and therefore it happens spontaneously. It changes in a peaceful and consensus way but Marxist see change ro be revolutional and force by conflict. Karl Marx through his explanation of dialectical materialism where change in the economy cause social changes. He stated “Bloodshed is sometimes a necessity for social change. To the functionalist social stratification  contribute to sanction theory and reward. To them social class is there to create social equilibrium and this division give individuals the opportunity to perform their social roles. Yet the marxist view social stratification as a way the ruling class maintain their status by labelling people as working class. They do this so well through false consciousness within the working class. Afterfall to marxism social stratification is the base of societal conflict. The conflict is between the working class struggle for raise in wages and the ruling class’s explointing and depriving them of their rightsIn conclusion, after explaining the main features of functionalist and marxist perspectives, their strength and weakness, similarities and difference and how they can be applied to understand contemporary Britain. One can conclude that both perspective give us a general outlook on how some aspects of society function and operate, however in reality they can not be applied. It is then right to say that the functionalist and marxist perspectives are not equally useful in understanding contemporary Britain. Anthony Giddens once said, “Societies can no longer be understood through application of general theories”. (Giddens and Sutton, 2001)


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