Conflict functionalism is a way of looking at society. It is a perspective. It is the opposite of structural functionalism. Where structural functionalism stresses the existence of groups cooperating with each other and working together, conflict functionalism stresses how groups exist and compete with each other. There are many different types of critical functionalism but one of the main views was developed around the idea Marxism.
Marxism was idea developed by a man named Karl Marx during the Russian Revolution. Marx regarded people as both the product and producers of society. They make society what it is through their own actions. Therefore he believed that history was product of human self-creation. Yet humans are also the product of society. Society shapes us into what we are and how we behave. Karl Marx believed that harmony could never last forever and that conflict would occur. He also recognised that it was economic factors that largely shaped society. He also said that history of human society is a process of change tension and conflict. Social change is a not a smooth orderly progression that gradually unfolds reaching harmony at the other end.
Society includes many contradictions that form the tension and provide the means for open conflict and radical change. It starts with the idea that in order for humans to survive they must trade, trading their produce gives and economy. This economy is the basis for conflict. The economy also provides and infrastructure for society, the infrastructure of society goes on to produce the superstructure of society. The economy controls many other institutions within the superstructure including education, politics and the legal institution. This means that changes in the infrastructure produce change in the superstructure.
Historical societies all contain contradictions. They cannot survive forever in one existing form. It involves exploitation. Exploitation is when somebody runs a company and makes a lot of money with the company he runs. He doesn’t pay his workers very much and keeps the profit. He is exploiting his workers as they are making the product for him. This is generally said to be one social group exploiting another. In feudal society this means the lords and nobles exploiting the peasants and the workers. Today upper class exploit the lower class. This creates conflict as one group is gaining expense from the other.
Marx taught us that only labour produces wealth. Yet the workers are well below the value of wealth. So this is a contradiction. Thus causing a conflict.
Marx’s view of history is dialectic. This is the struggle of opposites reaching contradiction and conflict. This in turn provides the dynamic principle for change. Any process of change means there was tension between incompatible forces. The result being a change with other forces moving higher up the level of development. This is dialectic. This process then begins again.
The major contradictions that make change happen are very important in the economic infrastructure of society. When humans lived primitively as hunter-gatherers (hunting for food for their own survival) these contradictions did not exist. However when these primitive people started to trade with each other this is when the contradictions began to occur. Private ownership and private property make these contradictions happen. This is because usually one group obtains expense from the other. This is between the minority, those who own the production, and the majority, those who labour to create the production. The tension and conflict created generates a major dynamic change.
People are unaware of these contradictions throughout their daily life. This is because of their consciousness or their view on reality. Society lives under a false consciousness. This is where people believe that things are happening fairly and do realise that they are being exploited. This is largely shaped by the relationships involved in production. It is the social relationship that creates the being. Religion, law, concepts, terms and ideas shape social relationships. These are all considered normal; this is why people do not realise their consciousness on social relationships.
This is why when law makes it legal to own private property and religion justifies economic arrangements people believe it. They are then living under a false consciousness. This is because the majority of the society do not realise the contradictions they contain. This distorts reality as it fails to realise the basic principle conflicts that exist in the human world we have created.