Early Sociological Commentators Can Be Characterized as Either Conflict or Consensus Theorists Term Paper

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¶ … Sociological Theorists

We are basically social beings in that most of our activities are interactions with other people (Jones 2003). What happens in those interactions is, therefore, of utmost importance to all who are interested in human life. Sociologists have endeavored to explain social facts according to theoretical frameworks, each with a particular way of viewing the world and the different aspects of society (Lambert 1998). These views explore the ways of society and provide a more universal grasp of social life. Sociologists have proposed to categorize these perspectives broadly into conflict, rational/utilitarian, and micro-interactionist thoughts (Lambert). Most of the early sociological commentators maintained a view, characterized by consensus. This view held that people co-existed by reaffirming common bonds and values, such as by condemning and punishing criminal action (Knapp 2003). But other sociological thinkers introduced and upheld the conflict theories in the 60s. The most notable among them were Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.

Karl Marx was the founder of the conflict theory (Knapp 2003). It proposed that competition among persons and groups for wealth and power is the basic process of a social structure. He believed that this conflict would produce progressive development of greater equality, democracy, autonomy and individuality as different forms of privilege were abolished. He saw that progress as occurring only with the overthrow of the rule of privileged groups, such as slaveholders and autocrats. Relationships of personal subordination would be replaced by relationships in the market. According to him, this could not occur in a capitalist society. In a capitalist society, the owners could accumulate huge resources and control the livelihood of workers, whom he called the Proletariat. He believed that the abolition of monarchy and aristocracy abolished another kind of privilege but would produce "wage slavery." Wage slavery could, in turn, cease only through the abolition of private ownership of the means of production (Knapp). Capitalism and its inclination to profit would link it with the advancement of science and the application of technology to create new products and in the production process (Elwell 2005). Capitalism would link up and depend on automation and technology to increase production and reduce the costs of production by replacing workers and simplifying tasks. Marx saw capitalism as carrying the seeds of its own destruction. It possessed contradictions, which would grow worse with its continued development. Capitalism was characterized by competition and competition was composed of winners and losers. This meant conflict. Competition would induce the development of monopoly capitalism, in turn, seeking to control market costs and quality. The lack of centralized planning under capitalism would result in the overproduction of some goods and the underproduction of others. The probable consequences could be inflation and depression. The wealthy would control the state, which would pass laws to favor their interests and which, in turn, antagonize the workers. The persisting desire for profit by corporations would lead them to adopt even more sophisticated technology, reorganize labor into more detailed divisions of labor to make it more efficient, and reduce wages to the lowest possible levels. Marx emphasized that capitalism would incite vast differences in wealth and power and create many social problems. His works, mainly "Communist Manifesto," published in 1848, and "Capital," in 1864, underscored his tenets. He co-authored "the Communist Manifesto" with Friedrich Engels. Marx maintained that the majority of people in a society belonged to the Proletariat and that, therefore, the wealthy wound tend to become richer but fewer in number. With continuing capitalism, the working class or Proletariat, would develop antagonism towards the owners of capital. This condition would result in a few wealthy capitalists and a huge mass of workers. The capitalist, Marx wrote, would constantly look for ways to expand his capital by exploring new markets, adopt more sophisticated technology and hire even more detailed division of labor. In his desire to maximize profits, the capitalist would automate his factories, outsource jobs, break down jobs into simple and unskilled ones, which would require little training or skills. Workers, in turn, would be compelled to accept lower wages or become even structurally unemployed. They would ultimately become paupers in the capitalist system, which interprets labor simply as costs, which should be controlled. Capital goods in the hands of private interests would prevent or prohibit the further development of productive technology. Essential social goods and services would not be produced, as they would not bring in profits to the capitalist. The end-result would be the impoverishment of the masses and the further increase of the wealth of a few. In this state of affairs, the Proletariat would become all the more progress, the middle class would disappear through the growth of monopolies, and the state would be hampered from providing real structural change. The dominance of capitalists and their organizations would hinder it. Marx saw that these contradictions within capitalism would lead to a revolutionary crisis (Knapp).

Marxists considered capitalism as breeding social irresponsibility (O'Connor 2006). In their view, conflict, rather than consensus, would persist indefinitely as capitalism created an environment and motivation for crime. Rather than social interests, offenders would be motivated by self-interests. Almost all criminologists today accept Marx's view of prisons as appropriate. They see crime as an understandable response to the political and economic structure of institutions today. Traditional non-economic goals are now linked to chances for material survival. The enforcement of upper-world crime, for example, comes from the protection of power and profits, Increased street crimes now derive from the desire to protect oneself from greater risk of arrest and imprisonment. Almost all modern criminologists can see the Marxist proposition behind upper-world crime (O'Connor).

Emile Durkheim developed the functionalist theory and established sociology as a quantitative, academic social science (Knapp 2003). His analysis of suicide was his model for analyzing and interpreting social rates. His model focused more on causal than on psychological factors, which are judged morally. Marx considered the division of labor as a competition among individuals and groups. But Durkheim saw it as a cooperative, functional specialization, regulated by a normative system (Knapp). He delineated this in his work, "Division of Labor," published 1893. It discusses a functional system as composed of different people, performing different tasks and rewarded according to the functional importance of their contribution. Drukheim contended that social development would come through the increased differentiation of functions or division of labor. He also said that moral transformation was necessary to integrate a heterogeneous and differentiated society. He analyzed suicide, religion, crime, education and the professions as phenomena, which established his functionalist sociological theory. He did not, however, become popular in the first half of the 20th century, for his belief that social structure and social dynamic should be understood aside from individual actions and motives (Knapp). It was not until the importance of norms, values, function systems and solidarity groups was established that he became recognized as an important figure in the field (Knapp).

Max Weber contended that what was good for the bureaucracy was not always good for the society as a whole (Elwell 2005). Oftentimes, it was not good for the bureaucracy, either. He illustrated his thinking with the case of the extermination camps of Nazi Germany. The objective was to kill as many people as possible and in the most efficient way possible. The ultimate result was the murder of millions of men, women and children, who were mostly ordinary, not evil, persons. Like others, these victims also attended church and loved animals and life. In his works, Weber presented individuals as both actors and agents of society. They work for a variety of ends but not always rationally. The most important of these ends was the power to influence the decisions of the authority. Social norms and values were internalized so that authorities became endowed with legitimacy. Legitimacy could be obtained through personal charisma, appeal to past tradition, or rational-legal authority. In his view, bureaucracy was the best example of this rational-legal authority. Like German philosopher Immanuel Kant, Weber used a priori categories to explain the multiplicity of matter. He devised concepts to provide regulative unity to phenomena, called ideal-types. He believed that ideal types should be used as basis for interpreting facts drawn from research. He focused on anomalies and why one form of social organization would develop in one place and not in another. He stringently tried to develop these ideal-types from different contexts to arrive at the essential elements of a concept. He was interested in finding the historical or situational aspects or elements of the origins of conflict, power and success (Elwell).

He deemed that societies developed in episodic ways and conditioned by historically determined circumstances (Elwell 2005). The most important of these circumstances was inward or outward worldly orientation. Weber held structuralist ideas about political and economic classifications. He distinguished between class, party and status. He strongly related status to a concept of life-chances. His view was that conflict was not limited to these structural features, as human beings struggle… [END OF PREVIEW]

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