Karl Marx Versus Emile Durkheim


Karl Marx Theory

The writing of sociologist known as Karl Marx came into existence as a way of criticizing the structuralism functionalist theories. The famous sociologist was born in Germany when Western Europe was undergoing the transition from federalism to capitalism. During this period, there was the industrial revolution which was attractive to Karl Marx as he observed the growing inequality in a capitalistic society. Marx focused on the consequences and causes of conflict between classes of the bourgeoisie who owned capital and the means of production and proletariat who are the poor and working class. He focused on the political, economic and social implication of capitalism in Europe. According to Karl Marx, to fully understand the society; one should critically examine conflict and competition in the community. Besides, the processes in the society make people be winner and losses due to friction. The conflict in the society is a significant contribution to social change witnessed. Conflict theory has been praised since it provides the sociological root of an in-depth analysis of the various conflicts that exist in the contemporary world (Irmak & Güçlü, 2012).

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The economies of capitalism led to the birth of social classes which were in a constant competition of limited resources in the society. He witnessed wealthy worker being paid peanut as they worked for long hours in unfavorable condition and unhealthy places. Marx saw the society undergoing struggles between classes of the have-not and the haves. Out of the classes, there was change, and social conflict since those having resources challenge the people who had the resources. The Karl Marx theory is also referred to as Marxism. In sociology, the conflict perspective takes into account the fundamental element of social life such as struggles and disagreements. These struggles and controversy exist when people who compete for resources which are valuable but in fact scarce. The resources include property, prestige, and power in life. According to Marx, the society comprises of two major classes mainly the minority which rule and the subject class which forms the majority. From his view, one could ask the reasons which cause society to divide. From the Marx perspective, only the egalitarian patterns of distribution of resources could resolve the conflict of classes. This is because with impartial pattern members of the society have equal status and also equal access to resources. These are societies that don’t have presidents, queen, king and who controls it. From the conflict theory, the significant essential element of social order is some groups dominating another. With the dominance, there is always potential or actual conflict in the society.

As noted by Irmak & Güçlü (2012) from the conflict theory perspective, society is compressed of individuals who in most case compete for political, social and material resources. The material resource they fight for being money, political power, housing, leisure time and entertainment. Organization and social structures which include government, religious group and cooperation are a clear picture of the inherent existence of inequalities. Organization and some individuals could access and keep more resources than the other groups and become winners. Thus the winners utilize their influence and power to maintain and keep their position of power in the society. With the status and power in their hands, they could suppress some people and groups from advancing in the society. The Marx theory deals with economic conflicts that exist between various social classes in the society.

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According to Irmak, & Güçlü (2012), some of the basic Principe of Marxism is opposing economic systems based on inequality when the majority are exploited and alienated. This is mainly seen in systems of wage labor. In these economic systems of wages and labor, their principal aim is to make profits from some individuals instead of fulfilling their needs. It is a good description of capitalism since it is one of the systems which exploit the majority to obtain much gain. For the society to be transformed, the theory suggests that there is the need for revolutionary processes. These processes will lead the social change based on the provision of services and free distribution of goods. Additionally, the society’s cooperation is also necessary. The task of the workers is emancipation which implies that democracy is the only foundation of a new society. This form of civilization has been constructed by its members freely and liberated from many types of dominion. Another principal is analysis and knowledge of history.  The other principle is internationalism which recognizes the worker common interest in the entire world. The workers from all over the world have to struggle to abolish the nation as they transition to the human world community. Additionally, the social class which exists divides women and men in the separate segment. The injustices and profound inequalities separate the levels in the society. So long as there is a division of society into classes, there will always be the conflict of class. The other principle is the free exercise which emphasizes on doubting everything. The theory aimed at helping the society perceives reality to understand it better and hence undergo the transformation.

Assumptions behind Karl Marx Theory

The assumptions that are derived from the conflict theory is the competition for scarce resources. Competition is the core of all social relationships among human being, and thus human beings show competition instead of consensus. The other assumption is structural inequality since where there is inequality in people rewards develop in all social structures. People and groups who have benefitted from a particular structure will try to see that the structures are maintained. Another assumption is the social change which could be due to the competition of interests instead of adaptation. From the max perspective, capitalism results to oppression and inequality in the society and is unavoidable when the community wants to progress to equality via socialism. Capitalism bores two groups which are proletariat and bourgeoisie. Since there is a need to accumulate capital the Bourgeoisie remains competitive through the exploitation of workers. As the workers undergo exploitation, they become a product or commodity for exchange. Then, as the workers are viewed as commodities, they are exploited and hence disconnected and isolated from the process and products of labor, humanity and other workers (Irmak,  & Güçlü, 2012).

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Marx has been influential in the modern sociology due to the spirit of conflict theory. His theory help in the understanding of the social world conflicts such as gender, race, nationality, religion, and others which form a critical part of the social structure in the society. From the conflict theory, many sociologists are studying various social problems such as the gender pay gap which exists between women and men and its consequences. The difficulty experienced by women and girls in many parts of the world. The global capitalism and how it has created global system of inequality and power.

Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim was a renowned sociologist who had outstanding views regarding the societal structure. His work focuses on how modern and traditional structures functioned and evolved. Durkheim’s theory is founded on the concept, of social norms termed as value, rules, and structures of the society. His perspective usually differed with other sociologists during his time. This is because his theory is grounded on things that are external as opposed to the internal thing which includes individual desires and motivation. According to Durkheim, rules, value and collective consciousness are vital to any given functional society. He puts a lot of emphasis on societal equilibrium. He says that when something happens which is likely to disrupt the flow and order of the system in the society, then the society should adjust itself and get into the stable state.

Raphael (2014) says that according to Emile Durkheim, one should analyze the social and describe its functions. He argues that society comprises of interrelated parts where the function of each element depends on the other. These elements composed the society and thus if there is a change in one part the whole society will feel the impact. For instance, the government provides public education to children. On the other hand, the children’s families pay taxes which are used by the government to fund the education. These children who study in public schools afterward get employed and become working and law-abiding citizen. The state provides this education as the citizens support the government. When there is a disruption of this equilibrium and the education becomes poor, the children drop from schools and become criminals. The social system has to adjust to improve education and also attempt to rehabilitate the dropout. These attempts are aimed at making these dropouts to be law-abiding citizens. He emphasizes the order and consensus which exist in the society (Raphael, 2014). Further, he focuses on shared public value and social stability. Looking at his perspective, any form of disorganization in the system like deviant behavior causes a change, and thus society components should adjust to reach balance. When there is one part of the societal system that is not working there is dysfunctional. The dysfunctional affects other parts are leading to a social problem and social change. Durkheim regarded the delinquent and crimes behavior as a necessity and regular occurrence in the social system. According to him the circumstances cause the society to react to them. The shared relation in the society goes on to create universal consensus on what people feel were ethical and ordinary norms which they should abide. The shared values and standards held by the society led to the creation of rules and boundaries.

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According to the functionalist, the various parts that exist in the society are mainly comprised of social institutions which are created to fill the specific need. Each of the organizations has a particular consequence for the shape and form of society. These parts are interdependent. Raphael (2014) says that these institutions as defined by sociologists like Durkheim are religion, media, government, family, economy, and education. According to him the existence of an institution is to serve its role in a functioning society. If the institution doesn’t serve its function, it will automatically die. Additionally, when there is the evolution of new needs, there will be emergences of a new institution to serve the needs. He adds that if all is well all parts of the society ought to produce productivity, order, and stability. If all is not well the parts of the society will have to adapt to create new stability order and productivity.

As noted by Raphael (2014) the various concepts utilized include social cohesion which describes a bond that makes people live together in the society. For a group to live with coherence in a social context, positive behavior and attitude of the members should be maintained and produced. Social cohesion could be at individual or group level. At the individual level, the intentions and desires of the individual should be positive. At the personal level, the attributes could include beliefs and attitude, how to strengthen the groups, membership’s participation in the group and many more. The cohesion at the group level is affected directly by an individual member of the group. The other concept is social inequality which is used to describe a situation where people in the society don’t have equal social status. The major areas of inequality are in freedom of assembly and speech, property right voting right, access to healthcare, education, social good and quality housing. Since there is the existence of inequality in the society, people will be motivated by a rewards system. Interdependence is another concept which is the core of Durkheim theory. This refers to parts of the society which share common sets of principles. Individuals, institutions, and organization depend on each other. Equilibrium is another concept which is achieved in the society. When there is a temporary disturbance, it could upset the balance, but on the other hand, social structures in the society would eventually return the condition to an equilibrium state.

Assumptions behind Emile Durkheim theory

According to Emile Durkheim, the society is a system comprised of integrated parts where each part depends on the other. The system in the society does experience stability since they have inbuilt mechanisms of control. Even when dysfunction exists, the system tends to resolve their problems. According to him, change in the society is gradual. Moreover, social integration is produced when there is an agreement between most members of society regarding a specific set of rules.  Durkheim as a functionalist do address questions regarding how social organization is maintained. In answering these questions, they come up with the assumption. One of them is stability saying that it is the primary avenue which evaluates criterion for social patterns as to how they contribute to maintaining the society.

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The other assumption is harmonies which say that part of the society should work together harmoniously for the benefit of the whole society. Evolution is an assumption which illustrates the process through which change occurs. Evolution is the most peaceful method as the social structures adapt to new demand and needs while eliminating unnecessary structures (Raphael, 2014).This theory could illustrate a deeper understanding of the social world in many ways. For instance, during September 11, 2001, the culture of Americans was disoriented due to that attack. The attack affected the American travel custom and necessitated for change in the society, before the invasion even though security in airport existed, and it changed due to the attack. Some of the changes included more scrutiny of travelers, which entailed removal of belts, shoes as well as random and detailed screening. Thus, change in airport security corresponded with a change in traveling protocol.

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  1. Irmak, F., & Güçlü, İ. (2012). Revisiting Marx and Dahrendorf on social exclusion and inclusion. Journal of Human Sciences, 9(2), 1499-1509.
  2. Raphael, M. W. (2014). Should Sociology Care About Theories of Human Nature?: Some Durkheimian Considerations on the ‘Social’Individual.
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