According to National academy of sciences (1999) a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. In this light one gets to discuss the Structural functionalist theory and the Conflict Theory which are both theoretical perspectives found in the Media and Society. (a)(i) First and foremost, the Structural functionalist theory is amongst the theories found on the aspect of organization of society. This theory can also be referred to as Structural Functionalism, and it has the following assumptions.
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To begin with, the Structural Functionalist theory postulates or suggests that society is a complex system whose various parts (structures) work together to produce stability and solidarity. These structures are a part of society because of their functionality in ensuring stability and solidarity. In other words, without their functionality in ensuring these two aspects mentioned prior, these structures would not be part of society. To add on, Durkheim and Comte suggest that these parts of the society work together like the parts of a body for the benefit of society. In other words, one can say that these parts are inter-dependent, that is, they rely on each other to fully serve their purpose. It is important for one to also note that this theory has two functionalities, and these are Manifest Functions and Latent Functions. In this aspect, Manifest functions in this case are those objective consequences contributing to the adjustment or adaptation of the system which are intended and recognized by participants in the system. Examples include education, moral guidance, law and order maintenance. On the other hand, Latent functions are those functions that are neither intended nor recognized. In other words, they are somewhat less important as compared to Manifest Functions.
Furthermore, organization of society theoretical perspectives also include the Conflict Theory. It has the following assumptions:
The Conflict Theory suggests that society is made up of groups that are competing for scarce resources. In other words, this theory states that society is divided or disintegrated into various groups that scramble, if not fight for, these resources in order to survive be it socially, economically or politically.
To add on, the conflict theory also suggests that power and inequality are the main characteristics of society and social groups are involved in power struggle (Karl Max). One can simply say that this means that the system called Society is patterned with power dynamics, and in those power dynamics are power struggles.
Furthermore, this theory also states that this power struggle mentioned above, is a struggle for dominance amongst classes, genders, races, religions to mention but just a few. This simply means that in the entirety of society, there is the aspect of “survival of the fittest” in which the dominant ones survive and rule over the defeated or over the weak.
In addition, the conflict theory also assumes that there is social domination of subordinate groups through the power coercion of dominant groups. Furthermore, this theory also assumes that the dominant groups create rules for success and opportunity in society and they monopolize control, power, privilege and authority.
In addition to the above mentioned, the conflict theory also assumes that the primary cause of social problems is the exploitation and oppression of subordinate groups by the dominant. A typical example is the conflict within the Ndebele State. It has 3 states, namely the Enhla, Ezansi and the Hole. The original Ndebele people were found in the upper class and they exploited some classes like the Hole for example and this led to a lot of conflict within the Ndebele society. Hence, it is typical for exploitation and oppression of subordinates to be the primary cause of social problems.
One can say that these theories are valid in explaining the existence of, and the relationships between individuals and groups in society to a larger extent. To begin with, the assumptions of the structural functionalist theory are valid to a larger extent. The assumption that society is a complex system whose various parts (structures) work together to produce stability and solidarity is valid because it shows us that society has relationships, and that in their relationships, they have a goal which is to produce solidarity and stability. For example, the Zimbabwean society, the government in particular, always stresses on the need for the Zimbabwean society to be stable in terms its economy, and that it should maintain and promote solidarity. These two aspects are usually mentioned by the President of Zimbabwe R. G. Mugabe.
To add on, one can say that the assumptions of the structural functionalistic theory are valid in explaining the existence of, and the relationships between individuals and groups in society. For example the one that states that society is made up of parts which work together like the parts of the body is a very practical assumption about society’s relationships. One can argue that in society there are groups of people, for example workers, students, civil servants, aristocrats and so forth. One can give an illustration by referring to the Great Zimbabwe State that once existed in Zimbabwe. Miners could not survive alone because they depended on blacksmiths to make them tools for digging and excavating. Thus this simply shows that indeed society’s groups which are seen as parts in this theory, are inter-dependent on each other hence this theory is valid if not actually practical.
Furthermore, these two theories are valid because they show us the existence of conflict within the society. The conflict theory states that society is made up of groups that compete for resources and this is very true and practical. A situation like this happened in Zimbabwe during the colonial era whereby whites were exploiting the resources available in Zimbabwe which eventually led to the Chimurenga war. The relationship between these two races was very hostile and sour because of the competition for these scarce resources. This war took place because there was intense competition for resources in the country and as such, this war was to settle the fight. Thus in essence, these theories are quite valid in explaining the existence of relationships in society.
Society is made of classes that compete for scarce resources and this is best illustrated in the conflict theory. It states that in society, dominant classes oppress and exploit the lower classes which eventually leads to conflict. An example is the Apartheid Era in South Africa. The Boers were oppressing and exploiting the blacks and their resources. The blacks advocated for equality, through their icon Nelson Mandela. This sour between the blacks and the whites led to a serious conflict which was catalyzed by the competition for resources. Hence one can argue that these theories explain the existence of, and the relationships between individuals and groups in society to a larger extent.
In addition, these theories are valid in explaining the relationships that exist in society to a larger extent. They enable one to fully understand the fact that conflict is part and parcel of society and that it is sometimes needed in order for development to occur. To add on, these theories also enhance one’s understanding of how society is divided and structured. It shows that society has groups and individuals who live together in relationships, and that in these relationships, they serve to achieve certain goals and objectives like solidarity for example.
In a nutshell, the conflict and the social functionalist theory are theories that are very much socialistic and they help one to get the concept of how society is organized, how the members of society relate to each other in achieving their goals and also that conflict exists in society. These theories are somewhat a blue print of how society is organized and how its members are inter-dependent on each other to survive.