Functionalist theory, as laid down by Herbet Spencer and carried forward later by other sociologists, proposes that the society functions like a human body. Just as parts of the human body need to function in harmony, in order to achieve certain results; the parts of the society also need to function in harmony to ensure proper structure in the society. The parts of the society refer to the institutions within the society which include Health Care, Law, etc.
Functionalists also believe that in order to properly understand the workings of society, it is important to understand the guiding laws, morals, traditions, values, beliefs etc; also known as social facts. Prominent functionalist sociologists include Emile Durkheim, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown and Robert Merton. This theory, however, was later criticized because it failed to account for the changes in society that occurred after the two world wars (Kendall, 338).
The conflict theory, most commonly associated with Karl Marx, was developed as a reaction to the functionalist theory. Since the functionalist theory was able to properly explain the occurrence of conflict in the society, this theory was proposed to explain such a phenomenon. This theory proposes that the society exists in a state of conflict. The primary driving force behind such conflict is limited resources. The society constantly competes with each other to gain more money, power, security, time etc. The presence of conflict ensures that certain individuals have more resources than others and this allows them more power over the rest of the society. These individuals use their power to prevent the masses from rising above to their position (Kendall, 546).
Prominent conflict sociologists include Max Weber, Georg Simmel and Ludwig Gumplowicz. This theory, unlike the functionalist theory, did not take into account the stability that was part of certain societies.
Symbolic Interactionist Theory