Sociology is based on two frameworks, namely structure-agency and conflict-consensus. These frameworks center around three founders of sociology, Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber. This essay will attempt to demonstrate which author explains sociology within which framework. The structure used for this essay will be a point-by-point structure. This essay will start off with structure, move on to agency and then to conflict and lastly conclude with consensus.
Structure is the social patterns, which influence and may restrict the choices and opportunities of the individual. Durkheim is a structuralist and explains structure through social facts. Social facts are the structures, values and norms, which surpass the individual and may lead to social constraint. Durkheim believes that structure together with hierarchy is the most important aspect of maintaining a civilized society. Similarly, Marx is also a structuralist. However, he explains structure through dialectical materialism. Through this, he believes that history is not driven by ideas but rather by economic and class interests.
Thus, structure is based on what the interests of the most influential class (in an economic context) are. In contrast, Weber is not a structuralist and focuses on agency more than structure (this will be explained further later on). However he does explain structure through bureaucracy and a rational-legal model. He defines bureaucracy as routine tasks that become jurisdictional areas and are ordered by rules and regulations. Thus, structure can only optimally function if bureaucracy follows the strict rules and regulations put in place without any corruption.
On the other hand, agency is the ability of individuals to make their own decisions and act independently through free will. Durkheim does not believe that society is based on the individual but more on the social structures around the individual. He maintains that individuals will come and go from social institutions, but institutions have a life over and above the individual and therefore structure plays a more influential role than agency. Likewise, Marx also believes that structure is more important than agency but also emphasizes the fact that structure leads to the detriment of the majority of individuals. This means that the majority of individuals’ interests are not taken into consideration and are over powered by the role of structure.
On the contrary, Weber starts his argument with agency and explains agency through “verstehen” and the theory of social action. Weber maintains that it is important to understand why the individual does a certain action (“verstehen”) and that there are three different types of social action that make up a civilized society: Traditional action (actions carried out due to tradition and because that’s they way things have always been done), affective action (actions carried out due to emotion to express personal feelings) and rational action (actions carried out using reason to achieve a certain goal). Weber also believes that legitimate authority is based on agency and the free choice of individuals.
The conflict theory maintains that social, material and economic inequality are the forces of social change within a society. Durkheim is of the belief that conflict will not achieve social change, but rather consensus (will be explained further later on). He stresses the fact that conflict will only cause disorder and chaos within a society and a society will not be able to move forward if there is too much conflict. However, Marx emphasizes conflict over consensus and that inequality and class conflict furthers one side of society (the bourgeoisie) and not the other (the proletariat) due to the economic interest of the upper class. Weber is in the middle of Durkheim and Marx on both conflict and consensus. Weber is of the opinion that conflict is due to inequality within a society and the fact that there are certain people in power by force (are not chosen to be in power), which contributes even more to conflict.
In contrast to conflict, consensus maintains that social and economic systems are fair and sustain social order in society. Durkheim believes that for there to be a normative basis for order within a society, there has to be moral and normative consensus. This means that everyone within a society needs to have the same values, and when everyone has the same values they become norms for a society to live and act by. Marx on the other hand, does not believe in consensus but rather in conflict.
He focuses on the fact that a society can only progress if there is conflict, not shared values and norms. If there is no economic interest within a society or class, a society will remain stagnant and not move forward. As stated before, Weber stands in the middle of Durkheim and Marx on consensus and states that for there to be consensus within a society, legitimate authority needs to be achieved through the consent of the people in a society. This means that all people should decide together on who should be given authority to do what. However he also believes that for a society to progress forward, conflict and consensus need to occur simultaneously.
In conclusion, the three different authors all have very different but equally important viewpoints on society. Durkheim emphasizes structure over agency and consensus over conflict. Marx also focuses on structure over agency but rather conflict over consensus. And Weber stresses agency over structure and that conflict and consensus are equally important. Therefore Durkheim, Marx and Weber have many differences and similarities within the structure-agency and conflict-consensus frameworks.