Functionalism was founded by Emile Durkheim. Functionalism is a theory of society, it is a structural theory and it is a consensus theory. The functionalist perspective was one of the first to develop a theoretical explanation of how societies work. It has produced a structural approach to the study of society where consensus is seen as essential, as without it society would collapse into chaos. It looks at how social order is created. It believes that value consensus results in social solidarity and this value consensus is created through socialization.
Functionalism also looks at society as a whole and works on the idea that society determines the individual. Functionalists believe that in modern society individuals are integrated into groups. The individual is born into a family where they have their basic needs met, some individuals will be born into a religious family and will therefore become apart of a group who have shared interests, this integration continues throughout an individuals life. It is believed that groups in society regulate the behaviour of the individual through formal and informal sanctions.
In the workplace if a person is not performing to a satisfactory level they may be warned or fired but if they are doing a really good job they may get a promotion or be praised verbally. These are examples of both formal and informal sanctions. The functionalist perception of religion is that it gives its’ followers a basic set of shared beliefs, traditions, values and norms, this is otherwise known as a collective consciousness which make social life possible as without it a society cannot continue.
Durkheim went on to explain that collective ritual and worship reinforce the collective consciousness and unifies a group of individuals. Durkheim had linked the worshipping of sacred things binding a group together resulting in the promotion of social solidarity this link was the main importance to the social functions of religion. After looking at what religion did for society Durkheim continued his explanation and recognized the importance of religion to the individual. He documented that religious belief and practice can give the individual a sense or confidence, tranquility, renewed strength and passion.
The belief and practice of any chosen religion could provide the individual the support and motivation to deal with whatever is thrown at them in life and with the social support from the feeling of belonging. Hence he noticed that all religions could fulfill particular functions for both society as a whole and the individual. Marxism is a structural theory and it is a conflict theory. Marxism is a theory of society and of political ideology. Marxists such as Karl Marx believe that the system we live in divides people into two classes: the bosses and the workers.
The bosses are referred to as being the ruling class because they control the society we live in. Society is structured on exploitation and unbalanced relationships between the opposite classes. The bosses are the dominant class as they own the means of production and provide the working class with jobs. The working classes only possess the means to work and therefore they trade this ability with the ruling class for a regular wage. This is how the ruling class manages to remain in the position they are in, the workers rely on the wage in order to provide for their families.
This relationship is unbalanced and often deemed unfair as the ruling class will aim to get the maximum amount of work from the workers whilst paying them as little as possible. One problem that the workers face is that they cannot see the way they are being treated as lasting and tell themselves that one day things will get better; this is known as false consciousness. Marx predicted that as class polarization increased the workers would cause a revolution and would replace capitalism with communism.
The Marxist view on religion is not as in depth as the functionalist view on this area. Karl Marx believed that peoples practicing and beliefs of religion reflects’ their alienation. He believed that religion lead people in a false direction and the hopes and solutions were deceptive the Marxist also see religion as a form of social control i. e. Heaven and Hell, if people do as they are expected to by that religion they will go to Heaven, if they do not to as they are told they may go to Hell.
Religion for Marx is an ideology, a belief system that distorts the true nature of real life in ways that benefit the ruling class for example most religions believe that the harder a person works in this life the greater the benefit will be in the next, Marx called this belief false consciousness. Religion has many functions that can be seen to benefit the ruling class, if a person is being exploited by the ruling class religion is there to support the individual.
In Christianity there is a promise that the poor would have less difficulty gaining access to heaven than the rich, meaning that the workers are happy earning little amounts for a lot of hard work as it will pay off in the next life this could be another example of false consciousness and an explanation on how religion benefits the ruling class. Interactionism is an action theory. It is a theory that’s looks at how individuals interact in order to structure society as opposed to society structuring the individual it is a concept developed by an interactionist named Max Weber.
Interactionists’ are concerned with how people identify themselves and each other and how they identify with themselves. Interactionist Howard Becker founded a theory which he named the labeling theory. Labels can be very powerful and can cause a person to doubt who they really are. This theory started on the concept of an individual only being able to learn who they are through interaction so if a young lady grew up being told she was a good girl she would believe that this was true and would most likely take on the label as a good girl and act as a good girl this is otherwise known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Everybody is labeled at some point of their lives people are labeled by teachers, parents, friends, social workers and so on. If a persons’ self concept is strong than they can reject the label that is given to them and decide they are not the person that others are telling them they are. If a person becomes a major long term victim their self-concept can be damaged and these individuals are more likely to accept labels. A group with a shared experience of negative labeling may form a culture of resistance i. e. a group of ‘naughty boys’ in school may form an anti-school subculture.
The Interactionist view of religion is that it is a major source of identity. Religion is very powerful with labeling and labels everybody, for example – sinner, saint, repentant sinner etc. Many religions have similar ethics, hard work is a very common interest within’ each religion and the belief that with sacrifice and hard work comes great reward. The religious working class would work really hard and be exploited through low wages meaning that the capitalists benefited from the workers having these beliefs, they were able to save on costs and invest thus creating a rise in capitalism.
The key similarities between Functionalism, Marxism and Interactionism is that they all wish to view the mechanics of how a society works, one of the key differences is the way they view society. Functionalism and Marxism have been deemed as being very deterministic whereas Interactionism is recognized as be anti-deterministic. Each of the theories mentioned in this essay contribute greatly to our understanding of how society works and in most cases why people act the way they do.