This paper will be describing whether society can best be understood through consensus or conflict. It will explain different sociological theories that allow us to understand whether society is better described through conflict or consensus. Functionalists argue the society is better described through consensus by having shared values and norms, whereas Marxist’s and feminists would argue that society is better described society as conflict.
Emile Durkheim, who was a French sociologist, had a view of society and it was made up of organic parts that all work together like a biological machine, and that they function together in harmony for the benefit of society and for the members within in it. “An example of a function which helps maintain society is that of the family, its function is to ensure the continuity of society by reproducing and socialising new members” (Trueman, 2018). This is just one of the many examples of a function within society that functionalists say help to bring about stability and help maintain a functional society. By having these various functions maintain and work together, along with societies shared values, norms and religious beliefs, brought about what Durkheim called a collective consciousness which led to a shared consensus. If society was with without this shared consensus/collective consciousness it would lead to social disorder, for example riots, crime or protest. “Crime and deviance are socially constructed – they are not natural, obvious, or theologically inspired categories. They are concepts that were brought into the world solely by humankind.” (Trueman, 2018). Although there are various points to the functionalist view that make perfect sense, I believe the functionalist theory fails to mention any understanding of wealth, class or social hierarchy within society that may lead to social deviance or disorder.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) explains society as a struggle between class, wealth, social status and hierarchy. He argued that the “Bourgeoisie” (wealth/capital holders) where exploiting the “Proletariat” (wealth creators/working class). At the time of Marx, he was able to see first-hand the impoverished and cramped conditions the working class were living in (it was also a time of massive urbanisation and industrialisation). Marx argued that the shared values and norms of society were only there to serve the benefit of the ruling class, and that they kept the working class ignorant of what was going on. When the working class did however realise this, Marx theorised it would end it revolution and overthrow of capitalism. “When people have become aware of their loss, of their alienation, as a universal nonhuman situation, it will be possible for them to proceed to a radical transformation of their situation by a revolution” (McLellan ; Chambre, 2018). After this revolution, which would rid of the ruling and working classes, Marx believed it would pave a way for a new classless society where property, food, resources and education would all be shared. Although some countries did eventually become communist, it never caught on in western societies and we now see today some of the failures of communism through the U.S.S.R. However, we still see some of the struggle’s Marx was pointing out. In the present era we have relatively low wages, inflation rises faster than the wage, high rent and housing shortages leading to homelessness. We do now have Unions that help to fight against exploitation and bring about employment laws that make the workplace a safer and more equal place. These changes don’t come about easy though, rather than revolution people protest or strike and unions lobby for change in law, usually after a long fight and a hard process is fought the changes in law are made (although this isn’t always the case).
But what about society from a Women’s point of view? If society was best described through shared consensus, values and norms or even through Marxists ruling/working class theory then why do women statistically have less opportunities then men? Is society a male dominated place? If so how can any society claim to be equal? The Feminist theory of society is that is unequal and unfair for a Women. In the workplace women earn less than men, make up less CEO’s and have less MP’s. “In the UK, the gender pay gap stands at 15%, with women on average earning £5,000 less a year than their male colleagues. The disparity is even greater in part time jobs, going up to 35 per cent” (F Morse, 2014). If we lived in an equal society shared by a collective conscience held together by the norms and values that bind us than why is the pay gap so prevalent? From a women’s point of view society is “patriarchal”, male dominated! Not only do they get paid less but they make up less of the higher positions that help make up the decisions of society and its future. We even have women struggle in work to overcome the misogynistic behaviour of the men in charge which sometimes leads to sexual harassment, assault, bullying and in some horrific cases rape, you only need to look at the #Metoo movement going around globally on social media to get a sense of how often and prolific it can become. “A year after the #MeToo movement took off in the wake of the Weinstein allegations, its shockwaves have been felt way beyond Hollywood, from Capitol Hill to the courts, through the tech. and media and service industries, as well as academia and even children’s literature. More than 200 celebrities, politicians and CEOs have been accused” (L Graves, 2018). This reference to an online news article shows how wide this problem has been.
So, if society is to be understood through consensus or conflict which side do we take? There are many relevant pieces of information to back both sides of the argument. Yes, I believe the functionalists are right, society does have shared values, norms and a culture that binds them, but it also has huge inequalities, that if left unchanged will cause social disorder. Society will become deviant! It will riot and protest for the rights it deserves and when those rights are taken away or are not given they’ll fight harder. You only must look at the Unions, protests and the progression of equality from 100 years ago to see society is changing for the better and look at the #metoo movement and women’s rights to see where we are going, Therefore I believe society is best described through conflict. If we shared values and norms that bind us, we shouldn’t be living in a patriarchal society or a society where too much power is held by a few and that the only means necessary of change are through social deviance, for example riots, protest, unions.
L Graves 2018, There’s no escape’: Weinstein accusers on hope and despair in the #MeToo era, The Guardian, Views 15 October 2018,
(L Graves, 2018)
F Morse 2014, International Women’s Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important, Independent, Viewed 15 October 2018,
(F Morse, 2014)
D T McLellan and H Chambre 2018, Marxism, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Viewed 15 October 2018,
(McLellan & Chambre, 2018)
C N Trueman 2018, Concepts of Functionalism, The history Learning Site, Viewed 12 October 2018, .