Functionalist and Conflict’s Perspectives of Theories of Deviance

Around the globe, criminal activities seem to increase daily. The US has one of the world’s biggest populations of prisoners. In America, many individuals are behind bars because of petty issues that are peaceful and not criminal. Sociologists have tried to explain why the numbers of convicts keep on rising from time to time. In their studies, researchers assert that the growth of crime is closely associated with deviant behavior. The term deviant behavior refers to any behavior that contradicts the norms of society. Each society customizes its people to conduct themselves in a certain manner (Tischler, 2011). In this regard, one can easily identify deviant behavior in the community since the person acting in such a way will be the odd one out. Thus, scholars have developed many theories that maintain how one’s behavior can be defined as deviant. Therefore, sociologists try to use their theories to explain the causes of deviant behavior in society, in particular functionalism and conflict theories, thereby providing some valid sociological explanations to support their arguments.

Functionalism Theory

Functionalism theory is a sociological theory developed by Spencer and Durkheim to enhance understanding of deviance in society. The theory aims at interpreting all strata of society depending on their contributions and roles. It argues that each population group is important in ensuring that society achieves stability. Durkheim described society as an organism and claimed that its members have to work in collaboration since each part plays an essential function and cannot exist in isolation (“The Functionalist Perspective,” 2014). He further states that in an organism, if one part fails, the others move to fill the void; hence, the organism does not stop performing its role. To functionalists, society has many different constituents, namely social institutions. The parts are designed in such a way that they fill the very different needs of society. All elements contribute to shaping society as a whole. However, each part tends to be dependent on the other to accomplish its task. The theory provides some important social institutions that sociologists use to explain their findings better. These institutions include family, government, economy, media, education, and religion. Thus, such institutions exist because they have a crucial role in society, and they normally collapse if they do not perform any function. If new needs of the public arise in society, new institutions will also be established to satisfy the needs. Besides, functionalists focus on attaining social stability in the community. In their turn, sociologists supporting the theory argue that any disorganization that leads to social instability is the result of deviant behaviors. The latter sprout up even when one institution does not play its role sufficiently thus being dysfunctional.

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Conflict Theory

Conflict theory developed by Karl Marx is a sociological theory, which postulates that society is an endless competition due to limited resources. Marx described society to consist of individuals belonging to different social classes (Crossman, 2018). Hence, people must compete for social, material, and political resources found in society. The social institutions in the modern world such as government, education, and religion reflect the competition in society thereby leading to the creation of inequalities. Social inequality aims at maintaining a society of unequal social structures. According to Karl Marx, in society, some individuals and institutions tend to have more resources and greater influence when compared to others ( Tunstall, Thompson, & Castles, 1973). In such a society, the winner has to exercise their power over the weak people in the community hence controlling them in the end. Conflict theorists believe that it is wealthy and the powerful in the society who influence the masses to adopt certain qualities such as competition and individualism. The argument concerning this major role of the well-off and the influential in society is substantiated by the fact that they benefit from such systems hence keeping their dominance over the community. The dominant class usually establishes a system that appears to be fair to the masses; thus, this practice prevents incidences of the public rebelling against their supremacy. Sociologists argue that the unjust society created by the economic and social factors causes a considerable increase in crimes and deviant behavior. Nevertheless, inequality makes people want to defy the social systems to have a say.

Comparison of Functionalism and Conflict Theories

The two theories have opposing views regarding stability in society. Under functionalism, all parts of society have an important role to play in ensuring that the latter achieves stability. Therefore, even the acts of deviance and crimes are necessary for bringing stability. Besides, deviant behaviors and offenses contribute to the development of a feeling of having connections in society (“Sociological Theory/Structural Functionalism,” 2018). In this regard, the people who act as per the community’s expectations see the others who act with deviance and feel having something in common with them. Nonetheless, conflict theory proponents argue that not all societal aspects facilitate harmony. Moreover, they claim that every aspect of society undergoes conflicts. Hence, the members of the society often do not work in collaboration to achieve stability. The public is likely to think that all groups in society are in constant competition to attain dominance. Sociologists supporting the theory assert that even what society perceives as good is determined by a dominant force. An example is a family where men dominate. However, the two theories use different means in bringing sanity and stability to society.

Both theories have different opinions on the arguments concerning social change. Functionalism supporters state that social change is evolution. They try to explain that for a society to implement efficient social change, it should be slow and gradual. They tend to believe that social change comes only through consensus and peaceful means. Therefore, functionalists reckon that it will take much time for society to attain change and reduce deviant behaviors. However, conflict theory explains that social change should be adopted through revolutions. Thus, supporters of conflict theory assert that to achieve change in social conflicts should be applied to enforce change. In this respect, a change in the economic mode leads to an effective social change in society. Conflict theorists claim that for the rich or the dominant class to react, the poor should resort to acts of deviance that will force the former to act to normalize the situation. The underprivileged normally exhibit their deviant behavior through conflicts hence calling for a revolution in social change.

Case Study

In recent times, America has been facing an increasing number of crimes in society. The cases of wrongdoing may have both minor and major consequences, while the perpetrators are people of all ages. Shooting has been one of the offenses that have substantially affected the public. Besides, shooting incidences are likely to happen in schools, and malls, among other places. Thus, shooting incidences have shown a trend that several sociological factors in American society have contributed to individuals indulging themselves in deviant acts.

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Since 1982, the US has experienced over 90 cases of shootings (Smith, 2012). The recent incidences include the Virginia Tech University shooting where over 33 people died, the shooting at the NASA facility where two citizens died, and the Kansas City mall shooting that took the life of several people as well. Such data have revealed that in recent years, deviant behaviors in the US have increased. Nowadays, people are organizing shootings and killing of others in society more than ever.


The American society offers a good example in explaining how social differences can have negative impacts. The growing rate of social instabilities has led to the emergence of deviant behaviors in the US. The differences between social classes have divided the nation into the rich and the poor. As a result of poverty, the penurious are likely to engage in deviant behaviors. The explanations provided by sociological theories have tried to show why the US is experiencing an increasing number of criminal activities. Sociologists claim that social factors are the main reasons why Americans exhibit deviant behaviors in society.


Sociologists have made numerous attempts to provide sociological explanations to define how the theories of deviance contribute to deviant behaviors in society. The two theories, namely functionalism and conflict theory, offer different perspectives to determine the causes of why human beings demonstrate acts of deviance in society. The US is one of the countries with a rising number of criminal activities in the world currently. Sociologists have used the two theories to explain why America is experiencing such a problem and how this acute issue can be overcome.

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