Sample Papers

Structural Functionalism, Symbolic Interactionism and Conflict Theory


Structural Functionalism, Symbolic Interactionism and Conflict Theory


  1. Based on your readings, in-class lectures, notes and discussions, in one to two paragraphs for each, describe and explain the analytical tenets of a) Structural Functionalism; b) Symbolic Interactionism; and c) Conflict Theory

According to Colomy’s “Three Sociological Perspectives,” these three theories have contributed significant research and comprehension on human behavior and group life. Symbolic interactionism is described as a micro theory of society, focusing on face-to-face interaction amongst one another. Structural functionalism and conflict theory, in contrast, is presented as macro theories. Rather than examining human behavior directly, it looks at how social structure operates to determine people’s behavior. Each of these perspectives is structured under five core ideas.

  1. a) Symbolic Interactionism

Interactionism is defined to be influenced by their environment, heavily according to the situation. This ties with the behaviorist approach characterizing guidance on response to objective stimuli. This is known as the stimulus-response chain. Second, social involvement interchanges with one’s interpretation of a situation, constantly readjusting to fit the perspective of the situation. Third, interactionists assume objects’ meanings are socially structured. Fourth, different groups assign contrary meanings to the same object—lastly, the ability to transform meaning without question as it’s found as natural.

These tenets of symbolic interactionism suggest that humans interact with the environment according to what that specific stimulus is ascribed. The ascribed meaning of particular behavior, object, and environment influence how people interact with others and society as a whole. These interactions also influence how people interpret different situations and stimuli. For instance, if one enjoys reading books, there is a high possibility that someone had prior knowledge that the specific book was excellent and worth reading.

Lastly, to understand the aforementioned basic tenet of symbolic interactionism, Sociologist often studies the pattern of interaction among members of a particular group. These scientists usually take time to interact one-on-one with a specific group they are interested in. In most cases, they check at their behaviors while in specific stimuli and as well the symbol they use to pass a message or interact. Their social involvement is crucial to understanding their interaction pattern. In most cases, people behave or perceive some object based on what they believe about those objects. The environment they live in also dictates their interaction pattern.


  1. b) Structural Functionalism

Functionalism is found to be societies that can be likened to analytical entities. Second, human societies have developed multiple fulfilling ways to meet basic needs. Third, particular practices and institutions that arise in response to one problem have crucial repercussions. Fourth, for scores of multiple different groups or institutions, social integration is a manageable problem. Fifth, a contradiction within an institution results in deviance and conflict arises.

These basic tenets of structural functionalism enable the society to function interrelatedly and as a whole. People in the society pool together diverse talents to execute some tasks and as well meet their needs. The social class of an individual is often determined based on what they do. People in society judge one based on the role they play in society and the age.

Based on the structural foundations of functionalism, society is a complex system consisting of interrelated and interdependent sectors that functions unitedly to sustain stability. When one fails, the others fail too. More so, society is bound by shared norms, culture, and symbols. To have comprehensive knowledge about a specific society, sociologists often look beyond laws, values, and religion that govern the society.


(c) Conflict Theory

Conflict theory is found to reject any relation that societies can be portrayed as problem-solving entities.  Second, conflicts among classes, status groups, and between exercising authority are the sole power for constructing and maintaining practices and institutions.

Third, Fourth, ideology is to protect and promote distinctive interests.  Fifth, conflict holds significance in the efforts of groups mobilizing for collective interests at the expense of other group interests.

Notably, some members of society gain more power than others. Members of a society who perceive themselves as superior or of higher class exploit all avenues to maintain their status quo. Conflict of theory argues that the powerful elite of the society makes more rewards and power than other members of the society. The powerful elites make more money and guard their resources at the expense of the other members of society.

In most cases, conflict theorists hold that these types of social class differences breed wars, competition, revolution, and inequality. The unequal distribution of resources or conflict of available services may trigger war among members of society. More so, as the rich fight to protect their distinctive interests, internal conflict may arise. Also, the oppression by the powerful may awaken consciousness among the poor hence may be forced to organize revolutions. These actions always threatened peace in society.

2) For all three approaches, there were assigned readings we read and discussed that were examples of the approach. For each of the three approaches, choose the assigned reading that best exemplifies the perspective. In two paragraphs for each perspective, explain in what way the article you have chosen exemplifies the given approach. (Please note, this means you should select a distinct or different article for each approach, totaling three articles).

Symbolic Interactionism

The overall study of the two delinquent gangs, “The Saints and The Roughnecks,” is considerably convincing. Many studies have shown the difference in treatment and how society treats and perceives based on social class, race, and gender. Chambliss’ study exemplifies how inequality for one’s growth at a younger age could affect their future outlook. The idea of “The Saints” getting away with their delinquencies more often than the Roughnecks due to the difference in financial class, the public image being leaders, and overall, just the community perceiving the Saints as the good kids and the Roughnecks as troublemakers sets the tone of how they’re perceived. Even with Chambliss’ knowledge of the Saints doing similar delinquent acts and getting away with criminal acts, the Roughnecks already had an ingrained tainted image that correlated with their self-image being lower. This ultimately leads to the difference in treatment and shows the apparent inequality for each background with similar acts, but one can get away with more. I believe this article best exemplifies symbolic interactionism based on the difference of class growing up and how it affected each group’s futures.

The symbolic interactionist perspective on social stratification concerns the micro-interactions of a specific class of people in a society. It considers the question of how people are perceived in a society based on unequal behavior and power dynamics. For instance, in a conversation involving a child and an adult, the adult always tries to showcase knowledge and command, which the child cannot. More so, interactionists perceive social stratification based on an individual’s position and roles in society. In most cases, these positions and roles are often determined based on the type of work one does, age, and sometimes gender.

Structural Functionalism

Social stratification is often studied in three social perspectives, functionalism, Symbolic Interactionism, and Conflict theory. The Structural Functionalist approach argues that systems exist in a society for a practical reason. “Some Principles of Stratification,” by Davis and Moore (1945), the authors say that the level of skills needed in a particular job determines its importance. They use a cashier and a firefighter as an example. Following this, the firefighting job is more important than being just a cashier in a grocery store. The firefighting career demands higher training and skills than a cashier job. Concisely, Davis and Moore believe that a higher reward in more tedious work like firefighting will encourage more people to work towards that profession. This argument is therefore based on a functionality approach.

According to structural functionalism, perceiving society as a structure with people working interrelatedly is arguably true. Some people are trained to work in a certain area while others are talented in executing some tasks. There is a similarity between members of a society and the body organs; the body parts work together to function well. Likewise, members of society perform different roles to keep the society functioning. Professionals found in a society work in different fields to ensure everything is readily available. Without this, societal needs and people’s biological needs will not be fully satisfied.

Conflict Theory

The conflict theory states that social stratification promotes inequality, for instance, between the rich and the poor and employees and employers. Karl Marx’s work reveals some of the cases where social stratification promoted conflict among people. During Marx’s time, Bourgeois capitalists owned productive lands and factories while Proletariats worked in these factories and lands with skimpy wages that could not satisfy their needs. With such differences, the two groups were divided by wealth and power. Proletariats were being oppressed by the bourgeois, thirsty for money and cheap labor (Marx,1848).

The inequality associated with social stratification mostly benefits the rich more than it does the poor. The rich will always propagate cultures, ideologies ad philosophies that boost their dominance in society. As a result, conflict theory states that capitalists are the main custodian who encourages values that heightened social stratification. The disparity often encourages a society consisting of winners (rich) and losers (poor). In some instances, the poor masses might retaliate, and revolutionary actions will emerge. As suggested by the conflict theories, these inequalities also bring about wars, internal conflicts, political conflicts, and extreme poverty.




  1. Causes and consequences of economic inequality

The conflict theory seems to perpetuate economic inequality between the three approaches more than factionalism and symbolic interactionism. The conflict theorists believe that societal stratification gives rise to inequalities in a society that threatens peaceful co-existence. Inequality creates a system of winners and losers where the winners are the rich, and the losers are the poor masses. In most cases, social stratification, according to Mills (1956), is dysfunctional and destructive.  In addition to economic inequality, conflicts theory also breeds wars, discrimination, political conflicts, and poverty. Various sociologists who study conflict theory reiterate that economic inequality comes about from how societal elites control and manipulate the poor. As aforementioned, the basic tenets of conflict theory are social inequality, inequality in resource allocation, and the conflicts that arise from a class difference. Marx (1848) put forward that societal conflicts drive a prosperous and developed society.

To explain economic equality, Marx’s interpretation of conflict theory was based on two different social classes, the Proletariats, and bourgeoisie. Each of these classes was bound by an individual with a shared interest and a specific level of property ownership: the bourgeoisie, a group of elites in a society who own more land, factories. The proletariat was a group of people working but struggling to survive.  With the increasing level of capitalism, Marx believed that the bourgeoisie was the minority but used the excess wealth to manipulate and direct the proletariat, considered poor. These working and poor masses were the majority, and the rich were the minority. This philosophical view tends to explain how wealth was distributed in a society. To explicitly explain this, theorists used a pyramid arrangement where the top of the pyramid represented a minority group of elites, and the bottom represented the majority who were poor. These elites often dictated the term and conditions among the proletariats group since they had wealth and energy to control a society’s resources and power, triggering economic inequality (Marx, 1848).


The emergence of diverse classes often causes uneven distribution of resources and economic activities. In most cases, the elite group who can direct how resources are distributed will set up laws, norms, and various social structures that boost their dominance. These actions will prevent the proletariat from joining the higher ranks enjoyed by the bourgeoisie. Marx argued that these actions would worsen the conflicts between the poor and the rich. More so, a corporate consciousness would evoke a robust awareness touching on equality, which will likely lead to revolt. This, therefore, will prompt actions that will counter rebellions and satisfy the proletariat. However, the bourgeoise will fight back to regain their economic dominance, and the circle will reoccur. As suggested by the conflict theory, economic inequality will persist (Davis and Moore, 1945).

Furthermore, economic inequality often arises from differing methods producing goods. As a conflict theorist, Marx (1945) believes that individuals with different means of production trigger social stratification. In this case, some society members can own a means or a tool of production while others can labor for these property owners to earn a living in the long run. Referring to Marxist work, the capitalist mode of production can either be substructure or superstructure. In a society made up of capitalists, the bourgeoisie has machines and tools that simplify the work of producing valuable products. On the other hand, the proletariats are the labor force; hence they spend their energy working for the capitalist. These capitalists pay them to work for them. Marx refers this working relationship between the bourgeoisie and proletariats as a substructure. From this substructure, a superstructure will be formed. The superstructures cover ideologies, societal norms, and the philosophical view of society. The capitalist who are considered power elite in society promote these ideologies and societal values to remain dominant. Their success is when the society follows and ideas to these philosophy, culture, and ideas that favor their agenda. In other words, this conflict of interest explained in the conflict theory promotes a persistent economic inequality in a society.

Additionally, conflict theorists are more concerned about social stratification, often triggered by economic inequality. For example, they suggest that it is not correct to pay a basketball player a colossal sum of money compared to a teacher. According to Davis and Moore (1945), social stratification only benefits a few individuals, perpetuating economic inequality. For instance, the five kids referred by Chambliss (1973) as the five saints used to consume a much cheaper food compared to the Roughneck boys who were walking class. More so, the roughneck boys spend their money on luxurious items to show high economic status.  Therefore, the conflict theory tries to unravel the economic inequalities rooted in societies. For instance, a few wealthy people are present in society, and the larger group of poor people dominates society.

Conflict theorist argues that economic inequality resulting from the social stratification often benefit the wealthy and powerfully at the expense of the poor masses. The rich and the powerful will maintain this status quo since it benefits them. The poor are powerless; hence they are not able to compete with those at the top. Their economic status will compel them to be stuck at the bottom. In most cases, the capitalist creates a system that encourages economic inequality in a society. Capitalism, according to the conflict theorist often established on free-market competition. Such a market system adopts a trickle-down economic model that particularly benefits the rich at the expense of the handwork among the majority of society, the poor masses. Capitalists believe that the only method to spread well in a society is to address the needs of the rich, who will then pass down their benefits to the poor. In most cases, governments that promote capitalism often allocate funds to big businesses and companies. They offer incentives, tax holidays, and direct subsidies to these businesses belonging to the rich at the essence that the market will propel these benefits to the wealthy then make their way to the poor masses by encouraging competition. Therefore, it is questionable whether these resources will trickle down to economically disadvantaged people.



However, capitalist dominance in a society can be reduced or dealt with to reduce economic equality. The various social control mechanism can be utilized by the state as a technique to reduce economic equality. Nonetheless, Marx’s theory suggests that the capitalist will end majorly through internal conflict. The internal conflicts will breed a revolutionary consciousness in society and the emergence of a communist society. The emergence of a communist society will enable the state to take charge of production machines and equipment. The government will then distribute these resources to the citizen to reduce economic inequality. The production method will be shared equally with the members, and thus social stratification will be eliminated.

Marx perceived the inequalities being experienced as part of the extension of the old economic systems. He argued that capitalism, the source of economic inequalities, was associated with commodities sold to consumers. For instance, he stated that labor was another form of intangible commodity. In most cases, the laborers do not control or have the least power over the economic system that their employers embrace: factory or material owners. Following their powerless nature, the employees can be fired at any time; hence, their worth is minimal in the employer’s hand. When people are deprived of their source of income, it creates an economic imbalance in society. This economic disparity often triggers conflicts between the employer and the employees, and in most cases, society faces the consequence when the workers strike. Nevertheless, these work boycotts are a form of an economic revolution that can abolish the economic system embraced by the capitalist. The outcome will be a society with equitable distribution of resources.

According to conflict theory, the consequence of economic inequality is a competition of scarce resources and straining of the available resources. People will start competing for services such as leisure facilities, social status, and dominance in society. The rich will want to own more property, money, and commodities from the poor masses. In return, the majority, who are the poor, will retaliate back as a means to survive. The consequence of this competition may sometimes cause war. Conflict theorist considers these wars as a societal unifier. According to them, the war may unify the society in a way that it can yield equitable distribution of resources.

In conclusion, conflict theory best illustrates the causes and the consequence of economic inequality. It unravels how wars, political, and struggle for finite resources causes economic disparities. The result of these economic inequalities is the conflict between the rich and the poor.   Such conflicts also breed a strained working relationship between the employers and employees. Notably, economic inequality often leads to recession due to the money-thirsty capitalist who extends their dominance and satisfies their needs at the expense of poor masses. Lastly, societal elites try to support their economic dominance by suppressing the poor and the powerless groups.









Chambliss, W. J. (1973). The saints and the roughnecks. Society11(1), 24-31.

Davis, K., & Moore, W. E. (1945). Some principles of stratification. American sociological

review10(2), 242-249.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1848). TH E COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. Selected Works bu Karl

Marx and Frederick Engels. New York: International Publishers1363.

Mills, C. Wright. “The power elite [1956].” New York (1981).






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