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Conflict vs Consensus Theory

As the two theories aimed at understanding the human behaviour, knowing the difference
between conflict and consensus theory can only be more helpful to you. These two
theories are very much used in social sciences. These two theories are usually spoken
of as in opposition based on their arguments. The consensus theory emphasizes that the
social order is through the shared norms, and belief systems of people. These theorists
believe that the society and its equilibrium are based on the consensus or agreement of
people. However, conflict theorists view the society in a different manner. They believe
that the society and social order are based on the powerful and the dominant groups of
society. They emphasize the existence of a clash in interests among different groups in
society. This article attempts to highlight the differences between these two theories
through the provision of a better understanding of the two theories.

What is Consensus Theory?

The consensus theory focuses on the social order being sustained by the shared
norms, values and beliefs of the people. According to this perspective, the society
upholds the necessity to maintain the status quo and if an individual goes against what is
accepted and shared by the majority that person is considered as deviant. Consensus
theory gives prominence to culture as a way of maintaining the consensus of society. This
theory highlights the integration of the values of a group of people. The consensus theory
pays little importance to social change as they focus more on retaining the society as it is
through consensus. However, they did not reject the possibility of social change. On the
contrary, they believed social change to occur within the boundaries of consensus.

What is Conflict Theory?

It was Karl Marx who initiated this approach of viewing the society through the inequalities
in society that gives rise to class conflicts. According to him, there are two classes in all
so cieties, the haves and the have-nots. The status quo is maintained and fuelled
according to the wants of the dominant group or else the haves in the society. Conflict
theorists also pay attention to how the dominant groups in society maintain their power
through the usage of social institutions such as religion, economy, etc. They believe that
those who are in power use both repressive mechanisms as well as ideological state
apparatus to maintain social order.

In this sense, this theory highlights the conflict of interests among people. The conflict
theory also pays attention to the various forms of inequality that take place in society that
can be economic, political, and educational in nature. Unlike in the consensus theory, this
theory does not give prominence to shared norms and values or consensus of people.
They highlighted the importance of the struggle between classes and the clashes of the
haves and have-nots as a means of achieving equality.

What is the difference between Conflict and Consensus

• The consensus theory emphasizes that the necessity of shared norms and belief
systems of people to maintain social order.

• These theorists do not pay a lot of attention to social change and consider it to be a
slow process.

• They emphasize the integration of values.

• If an individual goes against the accepted code of conduct, he or she is considered as


• Conflict theory highlights that the society and social order are controlled by the
powerful and the dominant groups of society.

• They emphasize the existence of a clash in interests among different groups in


• They reject the beliefs of consensus, shared norms and values.

Functionalist Perspective The functionalist perspective is based largely on the works of Herbert Spencer,
Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, and Robert Merton. According to functionalism, society is a system of
interconnected parts that work together in harmony to maintain a state of balance and social
equilibrium for the whole. For example, each of the social institutions contributes important functions
for society: Family provides a context for reproducing, nurturing, and socializing children; education
offers a way to transmit a society’s skills, knowledge, and culture to its youth; politics provides a means
of governing members of society; economics provides for the production, distribution, and consumption
of goods and services; and religion provides moral guidance and an outlet for worship of a higher power.
The functionalist perspective emphasizes the interconnectedness of society by focusing on how each
part influences and is influenced by other parts. For example, the increase in singleparent and dual-
earner families has contributed to the number of children who are failing in school because parents
have become less available to supervise their children’s homework. As a result of changes in technology,
colleges are offering more technical programs, and many adults are returning to school to learn new
skills that are required in the workplace. The increasing number of women in the workforce has
contributed to the formulation of policies against sexual harassment and job discrimination.
Functionalists use the terms functional and dysfunctional to describe the effects of social elements on
society. Elements of society are functional if they contribute to social stability and dysfunctional if they
disrupt social stability. Some aspects of society can be both functional and dysfunctional. For example,
crime is dysfunctional in that it is associated with physical violence, loss of property, and fear. But
according to Durkheim and other functionalists, crime is also functional for society because it leads to
heightened awareness of shared moral bonds and increased social cohesion. Sociologists have identified
two types of functions: manifest and latent (Merton 1968). Manifest functions are consequences that
are intended and commonly recognized. Latent functions are consequences that are unintended and
often hidden. For example, the manifest function of education is to transmit knowledge and skills to
society’s youth. But public elementary schools also serve as babysitters for employed parents, and
colleges offer a place for young adults to meet potential mates. The baby-sitting and mate-selection
functions are not the intended or commonly recognized functions of education; hence they are latent

History and Orientation

Symbolic Interactionism, formulated by Blumer (1969) is the process of interaction in the

formation of meanings for individuals. The inspiration for this theory came from Dewey
(1981), which believed that human beings are best understood in a practical, interactive
relation to their environment.

Core Assumptions and Statements

The theory consists of three core principles: meaning, language and thought. These core
principles lead to conclusions about the creation of a person’s self and socialization into a
larger community (Griffin, 1997).

Meaning states that humans act toward people and things according to the meanings that
give to those people or things. Symbolic Interactionism holds the principal of meaning to be
the central aspect of human behavior.

Language gives humans a means by which to negotiate meaning through symbols. Humans
identify meaning in speech acts with others.

Thought modifies each individual’s interpretation of symbols. Thought is a mental

conversation that requires different points of view.
With these three elements the concept of the self can be framed. People use ‘the looking-
glass self’: they take the role of the other, imagining how we look to another person. The
self is a function of language, without talk there would be no self concept. People are part of
a community, where our generalized other is the sum total of responses and expectations
that we pick up from the people around us. We naturally give more weight to the views of
significant others.

Conceptual Model

Transcript of Non Symbolic Interaction

Non Symbolic Interactionism
Herbert Blumer's Non Symbolic Interactionism
"Interaction on its nonsymbolic level operates, in my judgment, in an intrinsically different way. It is
marked by spontaneous and direct response to the gestures and actions of the other individual, without the
intermediation of any interpretation. That there is involved a lively process of interaction of this sort when
people meet is, I think, undeniable, although it is difficult to detect. People are unaware of this kind of
response just because it occurs spontaneously, without a conscious or reflective fixing of attention upon
those gestures of the other to which one is responding."
Herbert Blumer
Herbert George Blumer earned his doctorate in 1928 at the University of Chicago and went on to teach
there until 1951. He later became the founding chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of
California, Berkeley. In 1983 the American Sociological Association honored him with its Career of
Distinguished Scholarship Award, acknowledging the importance of his codification of the fundamental
theoretical and methodological tenets of the sociological perspective that he called symbolic
Non Symbolic Interactionism
"It is from this type of interaction chiefly that come the feelings that enter into social and collective
attitudes. They arise from the unwitting, unconscious responses that one makes to the gestures of others."
1. Facial Expression
2. Gestures
3. Tone of voice
4. proximity
5. pacing (speech)
6. Body posture
Full transcript