How do the Functionalist and Conflict theories explain trends and change in our [Australian] society? What does each view emphasise in considering the importance and the roles of the family?

Essay by glycerinHigh School, 11th grade March 2003

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Sociology is the study of society and the behaviour patterns of a particular group or culture. In contemporary Australian society, a good understanding of this is needed in order to make better social changes to meet social needs. When it comes to trying to explain and understand society, there are two main points of view that a person can take. These are the functionalist view, which is largely based on works by Talcott Parsons, and the conflict view, sometimes referred to as Marxism, as Karl Marx made a significant contribution towards this theory. Although in most ways these views directly oppose each other, ultimately, they are both trying to do the same thing, that is, explain why society is like it is today.

Functionalists see society in a relatively optimistic way. They see groups as interdependent, working together for the good of the whole society. They claim that organisations and groups are largely benevolent, and that they are there for useful purposes.

A person who takes the functionalist perspective sees society as generally operating smoothly, and perceives that very little change is needed, as groups being interrelated means that change in one area will have an effect on the whole society. The functionalist view, while useful in explaining structures and functions of various groups in society, tends to gloss over the negative aspects of society, over-explaining them so that happenings which could have a large negative impact on society seem trivial and unimportant. Where consensus is not happening, it is the conflict view that has the better explanation.

The conflict theory perceives society as stratified, that is, having significant divisions. It puts forward a more challenging, questioning view on society. People who support this view claim that in every institution there are some people with more power, opportunities and...