• Mai Duc Nguyen

IELTS Reading Practice - Differences Between Functionalism and Marxism

Compare and Contrast Functionalism and Marxism as Models for the Way Society Operates

Sociologists approach the study of society in different ways. Two concepts of society are Functionalism and Marxism. Functionalists believe that different parts of society work together to keep the society running whereas Marxists believe societies are unequal and unfair. Both concepts differ in their views of how society operates for instance a Marxist would claim that there are only 2 classes and it is very hard to progress up a class whereas a functionalist would disagree and claim the harder you work, the more you achieve and the better your social position.

Functionalists believe society works like a human body for instance every part of society works to keep it going just like organs in a body and that the human body grows and develops as does society. They also believe that society is more important than the individual and that social institutions exist in order to keep the social order. For example the education system socialises us into the culture of society and this provides us with our values which support the society. A Marxist would disagree with this view, they see social institutions being used by the ruling class to control the working class and that education give people their values which support the bourgeoisie exploitation. For example in a child’s learning life they are taught to strictly obey rules which follows them into working life.

Functionalists also believe in meritocracy which is if you work harder, you get further. For example someone born into a poverty stricken household can grow up to become a billionaire if they work hard enough and have the talent to succeed. A Marxist strongly disagrees with this view and sees society as having only two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marxism states that the bourgeoisie control the jobs and in this society someone who has talent to be successful could end up a failure because of their social situation.

Functionalism states that society is a group of people who share values, this value consensus is what makes the system work. Values exist as part of society rather than individuals and society needs us to be socialised into the values in order to work. On the other hand the Marxists believe the dominant values are those of the bourgeoisie, their values include ‘work hard’ and ‘accept your place in society’ and that rich people have worked hard in order to earn their money. These values are transmitted to the proletariat through religion, education and the media etc… For example religion is seen as a trick because it promised a better life after death so the proletariat would put up with their poverty in hope for a better life in heaven, the bourgeoisie benefit from this by paying them less and making them work harder. However functionalists believe religion plays an important role in socialising the values to society.

Both Marxism and Functionalism have things in common, for instance both believe there is a social structure which shapes society but functionalists think its based on a hierarchy of social order whereas Marxists see it based on the two classes. The also both see society as telling us how to behave and we follow it not questioning.

According to the organism analogy policy of functionalism society will evolve and change like a human body evolves to fit their surroundings. For example society’s institutions adapt to changing circumstances e.g education last longer these days because generally you need to be more skilled in working life these days. Marxists believe change in society is caused by revolution and conflict, where the lower class rise up against the higher class and change society in some way. Whereas functionalists believe all societies are based around values, Marxists feel societies are based around conflict.

To conclude, Marxism and functionalism view society in very different ways, both have been criticised for ignoring a individual’s perspective and choices. Both concepts think that society shapes the individual rather than the individual shapes societies. Society has changed and become more complicated so that Marxism and functionalism do not apply as much today as before. Both perspectives provide useful views on society but are not always truthful to real life.

Source: Marked By Teachers

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