Theoretical perspectives in sociology: functionalism

Functionalism and Marxism

Functionalism is one of the main theoretical strands in sociology. Functionalism focuses on achieving social order in order to maintain the stability of society. This theory focuses on the macro level of the social structure of the society, where each component is necessary for the stability of the entire system (Crossman 2017, 1).

Marxism is additionally another theoretical stance in sociology. Marxism is a method of sociological practice that is based on the writings of Karl Marx and draws analytical and methodological insights from the politics of economic class, relations between capital and labor, relations between economy, social life, and culture, exploitation, and finally inequality (Crossman 2017, 1). The Marxist way of sociological practice connects to power and wealth between the social change of the society and the critical consciousness of the people living in that society. These two sociological perspectives evaluate the view that differences in life chances between the social groups are as a result of a variety of social factors. This essay, therefore, seeks to discuss the impact of these two sociological perspectives on the individuals and the implications it has for the society.

Functionalism and Social Factors

Within the functionalist theory, the society’s different parts are composed of the social institutions that fulfill different needs of the society. According to Durkheim, “social factors exists because it serves a vital role in the functioning of the society.” (Holmwood 2010, 2) These social factors include social class, ethnicity, gender, values, behavior, and norms. When new needs in the society emerge or evolve, in turn, new institutions will develop to meet them. From this perspective, these social factors adapt to produce new forms of productivity, stability, and order. For instance, disorganization in the society’s function that may include a deviant behavior often may lead to changes. This is because the components of the society must often readjust to ensure that stability is achieved. That means that when part of the system is dysfunctional, in this case, deviant behavior becomes rampant in the society, it affects all other parts and this, in turn, creates social problems that often lead to social changes in the society.

Additionally, the norms and values that people grow up within the western countries are either unconsciously or consciously measured against every other societal norm, for instance, the Asian society. This means that favoring certain values and norms somehow indicates a quiet longing for the norms and the values in view of other society’s social values and norms. Different societies as a result of their ethnic groups appreciate certain values and norms which in turn creates differences in life chances between the social groups of that particular society. This has been critiqued for its neglect of the often negative implications to the social order on the individuals on the society. Antonio Gramsci states that “status quo exists as a result of functionalism in the society” (Bates 1975, 371). Functionalism that is induced by social changes in the society does not encourage people to actually participate in active roles to change their social environment. The status quo due to the social factors such as ethnicity makes certain people feel important than the others and therefore do not necessarily take part in changing their social environment even though in doing so, it benefits all regardless of the status. As a result, functionalism entails agitating for the social changes that are undesirable for the various parts of the society, therefore, compensating for any problems due to social factors that may arise, in a natural way.

Marxism and Social Factors

Marxism, on the other hand, as proposed by Karl Marx, has the same sociological perspective to social factors. Social groups determined by different social classes are those sharing common interests and therefore they engage in collective action that is only intended to advance those interests that are aimed at benefiting them only. Within Marxian class theory, “this structure of the production process forms the basis of class construction.” (Resnick & Wolff 2010, 170). An ethnic group, for instance, Asian minorities in a Western culture might have intrinsic interests that differ from the majority of the Western people within the society. This often values and norms that are accepted in the Asian society that become common in a Western-dominated community.

From a Marxist theoretical perception, how our social norms and values often shape the way we understand our relationship with each other and how we often embrace each other in a society develops a critical consciousness. Within the social structure, implications of such relationships may result in unjust systems of oppression and power that is rooted in the societal factors themselves. This is because the self-awareness of the social classes that results in form Marxism has the capacity to impose rational interests that to an extent measure the social changes in individuals of their class.


In conclusion, as a result of the basis of a fundamental antagonism that often leads to differences in life chances between social groups, Marxism and functionalism have implications for individuals in society. The social factors are a result of these sociological perspectives and result in differences in life chances of the social groups in society. What needs to be a further consideration is how these life changes can be eradicated using the same sociological perspectives to bring about equality in society.


Bates, T., 1975. Gramsci and the Theory of Hegemony. Journal of the History of Ideas, 36(2), pp. 351-366.

Crossman, A., 2017. Thought Co. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 10 December 2017].

Crossman, A., 2017. ThoughtCo. [Online] Available at:[Accessed 10 December 2017].

Holmwood, J., 2010. Historical Developments and Theoretical Approaches in Sociology. Functionalism and Its Critics, 1(2).

Resnick, S. & Wolff, R., 2010. The Economic Crisis: A Marxian Interpretation. A Journal of Economics, Culture, and Society, 22(2), pp. 170-186.

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