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Impact of Functionalism, Conflict, and Interactionism on a social institution Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 7th, 2019


A theory is normally referred to as a means of understanding a society and not a plan of action. This discussion will focus on the family as an institution in relation to the sociological theories of functionalism, Conflict, and Interactionism.

Functionalism is the mental processes related to the mind and the environment. The functionalism theory is based on science, government or religion. If the institution works well within its boundaries, it then fulfills its functional contribution to stability and growth of the society. The institutions have norms whereby those who follow the rules are rewarded and the violators are severely punished (Sergio, 2009).

Interactionism occupies a unique part and position in the family as a basic unit of the society. The study of interactionism was first done in the early 1920s and 1930s where family studies was about to establish itself as a science. Symbolic interactionism propelled because of factors such that a family has a strong conceptual heritage from the beginning and theorists also played with the ideas in order to bring out the interactions of a family.

Secondly the family occupies an honored place because of its strong research tradition. According to their monumental work Thomas, Znaniecki and Zaretsky (1996), symbolic interactions have played a genuine effort to ground their insights on the empirical world. Symbolic interactionism therefore becomes relevant because as they have recognized, though science may begin with ideas, it is the research that forms the strongest basis for knowing facts.

Symbolic interactions are basically a frame of reference for explaining how human interacts with one another, creating symbolic worlds and how their symbolic worlds shape human behavior and interactions.

In symbolic interactionism, there are unique traits to the family study. For instance, it emphasizes the fact that families are social groups and that individuals develop a concept of both the self and their identities through their social interactions which enable them to become independent while still attaching values to their family activities (Schaefer, 2009).

Social theories and the family

The socializing aspect of families and interactions between the groups and their identities attracts the attention of a symbolic interactionist to be interested in things like; what is the common process by which family members arrive at a more shared aspect of life such as goals, values and beliefs?

How does geography, ethnicity, race, class, gender, time, and age relate to family groups?

How do African families, for instance, differ from European families? What are the ways that family members communicate intimately? And what significance do they attach to their family interactions?

Conflict theory states that society is usually on a constant internal conflict as different groups try to impose their will on others the focus then shift to Social governments and state institutions in controlling these conflicts (Larry and Welsh, 2008).

The theory states that those with power and money usually succeed in using the law to meet their needs as well as maintain their interests in the society. This group manipulates the system to make huge gains and profits to appear very legal while the small crimes such as theft and shopliftings are heavily punished.

The laws ought to protect the property of those who are in power at the same time control the behavior of those who do not conform to the needs of the elite of the society. Those who violate the law are known as criminals, offenders and delinquents, who must be punished accordingly. The powerful elite use the law to maintain their status quo, thereby keeping others submissive to them, for instance men use their economic power to entice women (Larry and Welsh, 2008).

Additionally, conflict theory rotates on the view that a society is whereby the powerful elite use the law as a way of meting their threats and also keeping their status quo. They are a group of people who keep their self interest on the fore front and their main aim is self gratification.

Individual views of social theories

Conflict theorists view the law and justice systems as ways and means of controlling the have-nots of the society while the ruling elite are supported by the law to impose standards on the society. The law according to Groenman and Buckenham (1992), normally protects the wealth and property as well as provides security of the haves from being destroyed and attacked by the have-nots, hence controlling the behavior of those who threaten the status of the power élite.

The poor in the society are often arrested more than the rich since they are considered as prone to commit crime whether or not they actually commit the offence. That is why even if the federal government plans to reduce on its spending, prisons and jails still continue to receive more money for the facility to lock up offenders.

The conflicts such as police brutality are reported as high in the minority estates especially those living below average means. This kind of brutality can never be tolerated among the high-end class of people. Therefore there is normally a deep rooted hatred and hostility among the members of the minority towards the upper class which they may not share or shape.

According to conflict theorist, delinquency is defined as those acts of crime committed by kids from poor neighborhoods such as rape, murder, theft or mugging. Conflict theory bases its arguments at the inequalities of the society, the advantages and disadvantages of a group, and the relationships of domination and subordination (Groenman and Buckenham, 1992, p. 247).

Karl Max in the Marxist theory as one under the conflict perspective argued that the society is categorized into different classes depending on the means of production or the capital owned. The owners of the capital are usually a small group of powerful individuals also known as ‘the bourgeoisie.” The other group is the large mass of people who do not own any capital resources but only contribute to the society by providing labor.

Large numbers of workers who control the labor are assumed to have significant force over the labor. Unfortunately it is insignificant for the work force to withhold labor since they must eat and survive on a daily basis. In the modern day the people are classified in terms of social status such as of upper, middle and lower or working classes.

Hence in a case of family situation people are likely to socialize according to their social status, that is, those from a middle income class will relate with their fellow middle class families while the upper class such as the kings and princes will interact and even marry within the same social order (Thomas, Znaniecki and Zaretsky, 1996).

Social theories changes

The Marxist and conflict theories should be noted as synonymous, though Marxist theory serves as one perspective of approaching the conflict theory. In their view, to Groenman and Buckenham (1992) conflicts are often negatively perceived but the supporters of the theory appreciate it in a positive manner since a conflict serves as a means to change.

Conflict is taken as desirable and powerful, but the difference in power is the cause of the conflict. For instance, in a family setup, if the husband and his wife do not share responsibilities equally, one side might cause conflict. For example the wife might not cook food or wash clothes expecting the other party will do that job, hence source of tension and development of a conflict.

Normally responsibilities should be designated to each and every member of the household so that one knows which task to perform and thereby harmonize the family relations via norms and values. Therefore, the conflict theory is more about change than stability. The theory does not perform well as a subject of the social order and therefore becomes undesirable. The society is seen as not being in a state of social order and that majority of the people in the society are actually oppressed and suppressed by the social conditions.

It is definite that the society is in a conflict and it should change to overcome the oppressions. It is for this reason that the upper class families cannot associate with the lower classes families since their social orders are categorically different. In the conflict situation the concept of alienation is used in the production process. Workers who are alienated to the powerful dominate over the other oppressed workers and end up being overworked.

These workers are not given chances to join in deliberations over which situations should be improved; hence the satisfaction of their work lacks enormously. A worker in a factory cannot proudly say that he/she made a car since the little role he played is mostly ignored therefore the workers leave work with little or no motivation (Sergio, 2009).

In a family situation it is important for the father to consult with the rest of the household for example when buying clothes and toys so that every member gets the desirable items. In this example, lack of consultation in the process leads to misuse of funds and the effort is not appreciated either way.

As a result of people alienation from the kind of tasks they are tasked to do, they eventually become alienated from themselves as argued by the conflict theory. Hence the thought of mere dissatisfaction, deteriorates to a further level than the self esteem. As a result the diminished feeling comes along with other disadvantages such as real material disadvantages.

Universally it has been accepted that wealth cannot be equally distributed equally hence the rise of the social classes’. Therefore, people who do not feel that they are disadvantaged might actually be disadvantaged because they do have limited finance, poor accommodation, limited clothing and food.

For a family to thrive the man must have a job so as to provide for the family as expected in the society. He must be able to provide the basics needs such as food, shelter, clothing and other necessities for him to be respected by the household; in turn raise his self esteem towards the society. Families with limited funds for the basic necessities are often in quarrels and in conflicts since the members of the family do not seem to respect the bread winner because he cannot sustain the family (Larry and Welsh, 2008).

According to Schaefer (2009), functionalism, interactionism and conflict theories all base their findings on human interaction, toward one another and with the environmental situation.

The three theories concur that for human relations to occur the environment must be conducive to human interaction otherwise the social aspect will not take effect. Similarly, human beings are social animals who must interact in social places such as work place, home, church, club or school. Human needs each other so that they identify with a certain behaviors or traits.

However the differences exist across the theories. Interactionism basis its facts on family and symbols of interactions where as the interaction occurring in the family are no basis of values, norms and beliefs. Conflict theory on the other hand emphasizes on the inequality of people in a social class such as the have and the have-nots. The haves are the elite of the society who are the ruling class and mostly use the law to protect their wealth and interests while imposing their behaviors on the have-nots, expecting to replicate their trends.

The have-nots are mostly viewed as criminals by the rich and are often suspected to commit criminal acts. The elite prescribe that all petty offenders who come from poor backgrounds must be jailed while themselves are often given lesser punishments for crimes they commit such as racism, sexism or prejudice. On the contrary, functionalism is analyzed in terms of government, religion and science. In the society functionalism can either be from the level of institution, religion or government (Thomas, Znaniecki and Zaretsky, 1996).

Family interaction with the theories

The three theories assist an individual in the family situation to understand that the family is a basic unit of the society and that each interaction is important. The conflict theory brings in the aspect of constant conflict which must be resolved for the family to progress toward good relationships.

The interactionism theory stresses the importance of an individuals being within a family so that they can identify themselves within a group and get an identity. Conversely, functionalism emphasizes on individuals conforming to the demands of an institution or face the wrath of the society for violation. Functionalism theory recognizes marriages through the government and through religion.

Family values are taught in church to Christians and the government always enacts policies that are family friendly such as safe motherhood and family planning for the sustenance of the family unit. Interactionism theory also recognizes the family as a basic unit of interaction and hence embraces the use of symbols to make the interactions within the family long lasting based on values, norms and beliefs.

The conflict theory on the hand looks at a conflict as a means to change. Therefore a conflict which arises in the family eventually leads to a solution and hence stability of the unit (Sergio, 2009).


In conclusion, the family is directly affected by the three theories. For instance the theory of functionalism prescribes that an individual adheres to the norms of an institution such as the church, government or science.

In the modern world those who are well behaved and disciplined are rewarded with election or nomination to powerful positions within the society. The conflict theory on the other hand emphasis on the inequality of the society where the powerful elite are worshipped by the have-nots and whatever they say or do is taken as rule of law.

This is not good for the family institution since most families are built by weakness and strength of each other. if the social statuses are emphasized some families will just be cocooned and not interact with the rest since they lack in the necessities of life. The interactionism theory on the other hand brings out the family out strongly and the society tends to respect a family which stays together because they have harmonized on their beliefs and values.


Groenman, N. H., & Buckenham, M. (1992). Social and behavioural sciences for nurses: psychology, sociology, and communication for Project 2000. New Zealand: Nelson Thornes.

Larry, J. S., & Welsh, B. C. (2008). Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law (10th ed.). Auckland, New Zealand: Cengage Learning.

Schaefer, R. T. (2009). Sociology: A brief introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sergio, S. (2009). An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Thomas, W. I., Znaniecki, F., & Zaretsky, E. (1996). The Polish peasant in Europe and America: a classic work in immigration history. Illinois, Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

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