Conflict and Consensus

Here are two approaches to sociology that look at society from above. Society is more than just the sum of individuals in one place. It has its own characteristics. The interest for sociology comes in identifying characteristics. Some think society exists in a condition of conflict, while others say it exists in a condition of harmony.
Sociology asks questions about social life, groups and societies and seeks explanations for how being social shapes our individual lives. Sometimes this seems to coincide with common sense, but other times sociology challenges common sense by thinking through.
Sociology sees a difference between social level explanation (where it has its focus) and individual level explanation. C. Wright Mills called this the Sociological ImaginationAS material on C. Wright Mills with overview of The Sociological Imagination, where a private trouble can be seen as a public issue.
When we come to the social level explanation of causes and effects, sociology is interested in how that operates in its own right.
For some sociologists, society is always unstable. It needs agents of power to keep it together. Without those agents of power, society will change. This is because groups, especially classes are in competition for power and control.
Conflict sociology is about unstable society where power is in the hands of one class over another. As technology has increased, industrial methods grew, and as those methods expanded, a class of owners of the capital arose and they wanted to keep control. This meant that they produced ideas that supported their capitalist system (including religious ideas). They also paid low wages and kept people in low levels of education fit for being a worker only so that these people would not be able to rise higher than the class in power.
This is called conflict sociology, and is primarily understood as Marxism. Karl MarxIn depth look at Marxism from its founder was a modern secular prophet who analysed society and made predictions. From his nineteenth century viewpoint, he saw that whereas once there were feudal lords and serfs in an agricultural economy, now there were capitalist owners and workers in an industrial economy. He predicted that wages would fall and oppression would rise. Later Lenin in Russia wanted to "give history a push" and staged a revolution that intended to give the ownership of capital to the workers and remove the capitalist class. Marx thought this would happen scientifically, over time, that history is a science of unfolding events. The workers oppressed with intellectual help would take over the means of production.
Marx prophecied that as technology advanced and resources became plentiful, the workers would end their oppression and, once having the means of production resources would be distrubted according to need and there would no longer be any oppression. So Marx wanted a conflict free society - but, for society as it was, conflict and tension was inevitable.
Marx did not predict that wages would rise, and that revolution would happen in a largely agricultural country like Russia where history was given its push. Marx did not think that culture of ideas could come from several sources, rather than just be from one source of the owners of capital. Today society is far more complicated. Conflict sociologists now have become more complicated in how they understand society, but they still agree that one class rules in a sophisticated fashion, and one or more classes are being ruled. There are still conflicts in society and a central conflict in society of power, and that some people (especially those with money, wealth and power) have more freedom than others.
Find and discuss an area in contemporary society where there is inequality in wealth, ownership and power and describe how this might lead to one class of people exhibiting rule over another class of people in something of political, economic and social life.
For some sociologists, however, society cannot exist in a state of permanent conflict, held together only by the exercise of power. Such a society cannot "work", especially in the long run. These sociologists have a completely different perspective on analysing society. They look for where it is in harmony.
They see society as an organism divided into parts. Each part contributes to the whole. If society is to "function" then each part has to positively relate to the whole.
For example, the education system is a part of society. It has to produce people with the values and skills that will allow them to contribute to another part of society, the world of work. If the education system did not support society, and was seen as usseless twoards society, then it would be "dysfunctional". Dysfunctional societies cannot operate.
Functional societies do not just jigsaw in various parts to the whole in practical ways. They also do this by generating shared ideas. People develop a sufficiently general cultural consensus about where society is going; there is a general happiness with the political system; people understand the needs of economy and society and play their part within it. People manage change (such as technology, but also changing norms of behaviour, and absorb it as life progresses.
Functionalism is a positive relationship of parts to the whole so that the whole functions better. A society or a part is functional when society works; a society or part is dysfunctional when society is not working.
An example is the "American Dream", the ideological belief that anyone, no matter how high or low in society, can make their fortune. In as much as people believe this, it is bound to be a functional idea because it facilitates capitalism, people high and low investing to make money.
Emile DurkheimIn depth look at Durkheim's intelelctual ideas is the key figure associated with the idea of functionalism. He argued that religion formed a function of bringing society together. In as much as people shared the same rituals and were bound together into a single community, Durkheim declared that in effect the people were worshipping society when they worshipped thier God.
Durkheim could see that simple societies came together most easily. He wondered whether compex modern societies would be so complicated and varied that there was enough glue to keep them united.
The theory of the European Union is that, beginning with the early Steel and Coal Community, and through to the single market and Euro, that European countries would become so interdependent upon each other that never again would one European country go to war against another European country. Institutions were set up to bind these countries together politically. The European Union intends to be functional. Some question now whether, as it spreads east, it can keep a sense of functional interdependence and unity.
Many people say that Britain lacks sufficient shared values. For some people, multiculturalism is a shared value because it relates to tolerance and accepting difference. For other people, having a series of mini-cultures has no binding ability.
Discuss and identify national events and values that might contribute to either Europe/ Britain/ England/ Scotland/ Wales/ Northern Ireland/ Ireland (choose one) identifying itself as one society.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful