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Functionalism vs. Marxism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 20, 2023
Functionalism means that society is a complex system with interdependent parts working for harmony and stability. Marxism means that society is a struggle between classes, where the proletariat is oppressed by the bourgeoisie.

Key Differences

Functionalism views society as a system of interconnected parts where each part has a specific function contributing to the overall stability and functionality of the society. Marxism, in contrast, focuses on the conflicts and struggles between different classes, primarily the bourgeoisie (owners) and the proletariat (workers), highlighting the inequalities and power imbalances inherent in capitalist systems.
In functionalism, social institutions (like family, education, religion) are analyzed in terms of the functions they perform for society's stability and continuity. Marxism, however, interprets these institutions as instruments of class domination and control, serving the interests of the ruling class at the expense of the working class.
Functionalism emphasizes the consensus that arises out of social norms and values, viewing society as a collective that works together to maintain social order. Marxism, by contrast, sees society primarily through the lens of conflict and change, driven by class struggles and the quest for economic and political power.
The functionalist approach often leads to a view that societal changes are evolutionary and gradual, with each part adapting for the greater good. Marxism advocates for revolutionary change, arguing that societal progress comes from the overthrow of capitalist structures and the establishment of a classless society.
In functionalism, each part of society is significant and necessary, with even seemingly minor aspects contributing to the overall functioning and health of the society. Marxism, on the other hand, criticizes these aspects as being products of a capitalist society that perpetuates inequality and should be dismantled for a more equitable social structure.

Comparison Chart

View on Society

A complex system with interdependent parts.
A struggle between classes (bourgeoisie and proletariat).

Social Institutions

Serve to maintain stability and functionality.
Tools of class domination and control.

Societal Change

Evolutionary and gradual for the greater good.
Revolutionary, aiming to overthrow capitalist structures.


Stability, consensus, and social order.
Conflict, change, and class struggle.

Role of Parts

Every part is necessary for societal health.
Parts are products of a capitalist society that perpetuates inequality.

Functionalism and Marxism Definitions


Functionalism views society as an organism, where each part is interdependent and contributes to society's overall functioning.
In functionalism, family units are vital for socializing children and providing emotional support.


Marxism is a social, political, and economic theory originating from Karl Marx, which focuses on the struggle between capitalists and the working class.
Marxism advocates for the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.


Functionalism posits that societal institutions and structures exist to serve some function to promote societal stability and equilibrium.
In functionalism, law enforcement is crucial for maintaining social order.


Marxism is a critique of capitalism, highlighting how it exploits and alienates the working class for the benefit of the owning class.
Marxism sees the factory worker's labor as exploited by factory owners for profit.


Functionalism is the theory that all aspects of a society serve a purpose and are necessary for the survival of that society.
The educational system in functionalism is essential for preparing individuals for their roles in society.


Marxism analyzes the ways in which material interests and economic factors shape social structures and ideologies.
Marxism interprets religion as an instrument used by the ruling class to control the masses.


Functionalism emphasizes the consensual nature of society, where the majority agrees with and abides by societal norms and values.
Functionalism sees religious institutions as key in instilling shared values.


Marxism proposes that societal change can only arise through class struggle and revolution.
Marxism calls for the proletariat to overthrow the bourgeoisie to achieve a classless society.


Functionalism is the perspective that social institutions and processes exist to serve some important function to keep society running smoothly.
Healthcare in functionalism is integral for ensuring a healthy workforce.


Marxism views history as a series of class struggles and revolutions leading to the eventual establishment of a communist society.
Marxism predicts the inevitable fall of capitalist societies due to internal contradictions.


The doctrine that the function of an object should determine its design and materials.


The political and economic philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in which the concept of class struggle plays a central role in understanding society's allegedly inevitable development from bourgeois oppression under capitalism to a socialist and ultimately classless society.


Alternative case form of Marxism


A system of economic and political thought, originated by Karl Marx, and elaborated by others. It holds that the state has been the a device for suppression of the masses, allowing exploitation by a dominant (capitalistic) class; that historical change occurs through class struggle; and that the capitalist system will inevitably wither away to be superseded by a classless society.


The economic and political theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that hold that human actions and institutions are economically determined and that class struggle is needed to create historical change and that capitalism will untimately be superseded by communism


What is functionalism?

Functionalism is a sociological perspective that sees society as a complex system with interrelated parts, each serving a specific function for societal stability.

What is Marxism?

Marxism is a social, political, and economic theory that sees history as a class struggle between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, leading towards a classless society.

How does Marxism view social change?

Marxism views social change as revolutionary, achieved through the conflict and overthrow of capitalist systems by the proletariat.

What is the functionalist perspective on social institutions?

Functionalism sees social institutions as essential components that serve particular functions to maintain social order and stability.

How does functionalism view social change?

Functionalism views social change as gradual and evolutionary, necessary for maintaining social stability and equilibrium.

Can functionalism and Marxism be reconciled?

While they offer contrasting views on society and its structures, some argue that elements of both theories can be combined for a more comprehensive understanding.

How does Marxism view the family?

Marxism sees the family as a reflection of and a contributor to the capitalist system, perpetuating property relations and class inequality.

How does Marxism address social inequality?

Marxism aims to abolish social inequality by overthrowing capitalist systems and establishing a classless society.

What is the Marxist approach to education?

Marxism sees education as a way to reinforce class divisions and serve the needs of the capitalist system.

How does Marxism interpret social institutions?

Marxism interprets social institutions as tools used by the bourgeoisie to control and exploit the proletariat.

What role does the family play in functionalist theory?

In functionalism, the family is crucial for socialization, providing emotional support, and maintaining societal norms.

How does functionalism address social inequality?

Functionalism often views social inequality as a necessary part of a well-functioning society, with different roles requiring different rewards.

How does functionalism interpret the role of government?

Functionalism sees the government as a means to enforce laws and norms, ensuring societal stability and order.

What is the functionalist approach to education?

Functionalism views education as a means to prepare individuals for societal roles and to maintain social cohesion.

What is the functionalist view on religion?

Functionalism sees religion as a means to reinforce social norms and values, contributing to societal cohesion.

What is a key criticism of functionalism?

A key criticism is that functionalism overlooks the power struggles and inequalities inherent in society.

Can functionalism explain social revolutions?

Functionalism struggles to explain social revolutions, as it primarily focuses on societal stability and gradual change.

How does Marxism view religion?

Marxism views religion as an "opiate of the masses," used by the ruling class to control and pacify the proletariat.

What is a key criticism of Marxism?

A key criticism of Marxism is its economic determinism and underestimation of the role of ideology and individual agency.

How does Marxism interpret the role of government?

Marxism views the government as a tool of the bourgeoisie to maintain their power and control over the proletariat.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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