Compare and Contrast Two Sociological Theories We Have Looked

In this essay I am going to be looking at two of the main sociological theories; Marxism and Functionalism. In the main body of the essay I will be looking into the history of these theories, when did they become popular and why were they so? I will then make a comparison of the two to see if they contrast, if they do, how so. I will begin by looking at Marxism and secondly Functionalism. I will then be comparing and contrasting the two.

Marxism – Karl Marx was born in Germany in 1818 to reasonably affluent parents: Hirschel (a lawyer) and Henrietta Marx. Although originally Jewish, to avoid anti-Semitism, Hirschel changed to Protestantism and also adopted the more socially acceptable first name of Heinrich when Karl was a child. Marx attended Bonn University but spent most of his time socialising and, under instruction from his father moved to Berlin University. It was here that Marx met Bruno Bauer and was introduced to the writings of Hegel who impressed Marx with his theories that “a thing or thought could not be separated from its opposite.

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For example, the slave could not exist without the master, and vice versa” ( 29-10-12) Marx moved to Cologne and it was when he was here he met Moses Hess who called himself a socialist. He attended socialist meetings where the members told him how deprived the German working class were. After hearing these stories he decided to write an article but when warned he may be arrested he decided to move to France.

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It was while in France that Marx started mixing with the working class for the first time. He hadn’t seen or experienced the kind of poverty in the working class as he had been used to moving in a different, more affluent social circle. Marxism is a structural theory which considers society to be divided into two main social classes; The Rulers and the Workers.

The rulers own the industries and the workers keep them running. Marx argued that the workers were exploited by the rulers as they earned a lot less money but did the bulk of the hard work. Marx believed that although the rulers owned the businesses or land required to produce society’s goods, it was the working class who kept the businesses afloat and without them, they would surely fail. This led to his believing that they were entitled to a far larger share of the profits which all ended up in the pockets of the ruling class. In Marx’ view this class difference was a cause of great conflict between the ruling class and the working class. Marxists were also of the belief that the working class were encouraged to simply accept this as their way of life; Religion, for example led them to believe that they would be justly rewarded for their hard work in this life when they got to heaven, as long as they got on with the work and didn’t make a fuss. Karl Marx called this lack of awareness False Consciousness.

Marx’s view on education was that capitalism mostly shapes it, if there was no education system then society as a whole would collapse. Although his main belief system was that education will only allow a person to remain in their existing social class; For example, If someone was to fail their education, it would be totally their fault due to either lack of effort or ability. This attitude was meant to make the lower class, accept whichever position they found themselves in after schooling was over, even though it was often due to coming from a disadvantaged background that led to failure and not as assumed, a lack of effort. The bourgeoisie and proletariat are maintained by the education system, without them there would be no goods so the bourgeoisie would not benefit. Marx was hopeful, however that one day the working class would become aware of the situation and that they could eventually overthrow the ruling class. This would lead to a new, Communist society which would be free from class conflict and exploitation.

Functionalism is a structural theory, and one of the big sociological theories. It is a top down theory that sees society as a whole, more important than the individuals within it. Society is a system, like the human body needs all its organs to keep it alive society needs all its functions to keep society going. Functionalists insist that all society’s have a basic set of need’s that need to be met in order for it to survive. The family and the education system are social institutions deemed to be in existence in order to meet these needs. In the functionalists approach to society, class and a defined structure are of great importance to maintaining a harmonious society. A functionalist perspective on the ‘functions of the family’ in society are: Sexual- making sure sexuality is of a socially approved nature, as opposed to incest or adultery for example. Reproduction- providing stability for reproducing and raising children.

Socialisation- The family is responsible for the primary socialisation of their children, making sure they teach them to behave in a socially acceptable way. Economic- the family should provide food and shelter for family members. They are of the opinion that any society can live happily if these guidelines are met within each nuclear family. The education system is seen with a very similar perspective, stating that it helps maintain societal harmony if structured properly. ** A Functionalist will put emphasis on positive aspects of education and school, like how children learn to socialise and learn the values of achievement, competition and also equal opportunities. They believe it also teaches the skills needed for economy: literacy and numeracy which are important in all occupations. Emile Durkheim was an important functionalist writer along with Talcott Parsons.

Durkheim’s ideas on education looked at the schooling system as a mini community where individuals were given varying opportunities in social situations to develop and share beliefs and values leading to a unified understanding or rules and interpretation, as well as chances to gain new skills. Parsons view on education differs slightly from that of Durkheim’s. Parsons ideas look at the time spent in education as a pathway to later life. Individuals will apply focus to aspects of education where rewards are received, outlining strengths in such individuals. This development of skills will continue into life after school. Therefore parsons believes the years of education will directly affect roles of individuals in society Together Durkheim and Parsons identified four basic functions of education: 1- Passing on society’s culture - Reaching the key functional job of passing on ‘core’ values and culture to new generations.

2- Providing a bridge between the particularistic values and ascribed status of the family and the universalistic values and achieved status of industrial society – Bridging the gap between how a child may be treated in the home, as part of a family and how they will eventually be treated as an adult in the working world. How a child is treated at home is – particularistic and outside the home will be universalistic. 3- Providing a trained and qualified labour force – The education system is believed to make sure the best and most qualified people end up doing the jobs that require the greatest skills. This is to do with division of labour, certain people are suitable for certain jobs. 4- Selecting and allocating people to roles in a meritocratic society, and legitimizing social inequality – It is a functionalist’s view that the education system is all about grading people into their appropriate societal role using tests and exams. In a meritocratic society it is down to how much effort and talent is used during school years in order to obtain the best qualifications, therefore getting the best jobs.

In summary, it is clear that there are many major differences between Marxism and Functionalism. I have concentrated a lot on the family and education in my evaluation as I believe that this aspect demonstrates quite clearly how opposing these two theories are. They vary from believing that there are two basic social classes that you are born into and cannot get out of, to the belief that with the right amount of hard work and adequate need, anyone is capable of working their way up the social strata. So is education a means for lower class to pass on their knowledge to the next generation of lower class while the ruling class excel due to so many more opportunities. Or do we have an education system where anybody can excel regardless of social or monetary status?

Updated: Aug 11, 2021
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Compare and Contrast Two Sociological Theories We Have Looked. (2017, Jan 05). Retrieved from

Compare and Contrast Two Sociological Theories We Have Looked essay
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