Structural-functional and Conflict Approach to Sociology

Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim are significant sociology proponents whose theories have made tremendous contributions to the understanding of society and social interactions. Karl Marx is recognised as the founding father of conflict theory while Emile Durkheim is the founding father of structural functionalism approach. The two propositions both view society as a system made up of social structures. Structural functionalism and conflict approach also both arose from concern about the social shift to modernity and the impact of ninetieth-century industrialisation on quality of life (Gavrov and Klyukanov 2015)

However, Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim differ greatly in their judgment on the roles of these structures. The Functionalism approach contends that the existing structures work collectively to the benefit of the society. Emile Durkheim stresses the role of social structure fulfilling their different roles resulting in equilibrium (Sinha 2017). In contrast, Karl Marx views the social formation as resulting in conflict because the social structures differ in their advantages depending on the wealth and power they hold. The conflict approach argues that the existing structure is in the constant struggle because of the struggle over goals, roles and desires. Karl Marx postulates that the battle for resources and the persistent inequalities makes consensus impossible within society (Alatas 2017).

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Both Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim approach to society are sociological as they both attempt to explain interaction and social outcomes in society. Karl Marx explains the reason for inequality and alienation in society while Emile Durkheim reveals the means to achieving a balance in the community, integration and solidarity. A sociological study is crucial as it seeks to explore and explain interactions behaviours and activities in modern society. Despite their differences, both approaches have helped developed an understanding of human agency (O’Byrne 2013).



Alatas, Syed Farid. 2017. “Karl Marx (1818-1883).” In Sociological Theory Beyond the Canon, , 47–78.

Gavrov, Sergei, and Igor Klyukanov. 2015. “Modernization, Sociological Theories of.” In International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, , 707–13.

O’Byrne, Darren. 2013. Introducing Sociological Theory Introducing Sociological Theory.

Sinha, Vineeta. 2017. “Emile Durkheim (1858-1917).” In Sociological Theory Beyond the Canon, , 171–203.