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Emile Durkheim Vs Karl Marx

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The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were full of evolving social and economic ideas. These views of the social structure of urban society came about through the development of ideas taken from the past revolutions. As the Industrial Revolution progressed through out the world, so did the gap between the class structures. The development of a capitalist society was a very favorable goal for the upper class. By using advanced methods of production introduced by the Industrial Revolution, they were able to earn a substantial surplus by ruling the middle class. Thus, maintaining their present class of life, while the middle class was exploited and degraded. At this time in history, social theorists like Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx challenged the aspect of social structure in their works. Emile Durkheim is known as a functionalist states that everything serves a function in society and his main concern to discover what that function was. On the other hand Karl Marx, a conflict theorist, stresses that society is a complex system characterized by inequality and conflict that generate social change. Both Durkheim and Marx were concerned with the characteristics of groups and structures rather than with individuals.

The functionalist perspective in society is a view of society that focuses on the way various parts of society have functions, or possible effects that maintain the stability of the whole. Durkheim developed the idea of society as an integrated system of interrelated parts. He wanted to establish how the various parts of society contribute to the maintenance of the whole. He also focused on how various elements of social structure function to maintain social order and equilibrium. Durkheim stressed that culture is the product of a community and not of single individuals. He argued that the ultimate reality of human life is sociological and not psychological. The sociological reality, which Durkheim called the collective conscience, exists beyond the individual and individual actions. Durkheim characterizes collective conscience as "a totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society forms a determinate system which has its own life" (Ritzer, 82). In Durkheim's opinion a whole is not identical to the sum of its parts, thus society is not just a mere sum of individuals.

A good example of functionalist perspective is Emile Durkheim's theory about religion. According to Durkheim, religion in not about supernatural beings but rather about beliefs and practices, which are the collective representations of society and groups. Because Durkheim's main interest was the ways in which society is bound together, he investigated the role and the origin of religion in various communities. He believed that a simpler society has a simpler religion. Durkheim claims that, "a religion as closely connected to a social system surpassing all others in simplicity may well be regarded as the most elementary religion we can possibly know" (Ritzer, 91). For instance Durkheim argues that totemism a religious system in which animal figures are regarded as sacred is among the simplest religious forms in the world. The totemic animal, Durkheim believed, was the original focus of religious activity because it was the emblem for a social group, "the clan" (Ritzer, 91). He thought the model for the relationships between people and the supernatural was similar to the relationship between individuals and the community. For him the function of religion was to make people willing to put the interests of society ahead of their desires. He also believed religion is an important part of society and that the functions of religion are to maintain the equilibrium in the society.

Moreover, Durkheim compares religion to society. He says that society is the cause of the unique sensations of the religious experiences, so called "sui generis" (Ritzer, 84). This concept corresponds to the way in which society considers the things of its own experience. By the mere fact that society exists, there is a whole system of representations by means of which men understand each other. In a way collective representation guarantees objectivity because it is collective. Collective representation has been able to maintain itself because there is sufficient amount of men who accept it. Durkheim says that religious beliefs contain a truth, which must be discovered. This comes in contrast with Marx's notion that religion is nothing more than an illusion.

In contrast to the functionalist perspective stated above, the conflict perspective



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