Functionalism and Marxism

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In the history of anthropology and sociology, there have been many different social theories. Often these theories are influential for a period of time and then lose popularity once a new, more seductive theory is established. Marxism and functionalism are two examples of social theories that made a grand impact on the anthropological and sociological fields, but have since faded from the forefront. Marxism was established by Karl Marx in the mid-1800s and was later adopted by other theorists, such as Marvin Harris. Marxism was built upon the idea that there has been an ongoing class struggle in human history and it is this conflict between classes that will lead to social change and eventually to the birth of Communism. Functionalism…show more content…
In other words, the functionalist attempted to determine how the parts of a society functioned to maintain stability within a society. In his research on joking relationships in Africa, Radcliffe-Brown noted that within any society “the maintenance of a social order depends upon the appropriate kind and degree of respect being shown towards certain persons, things, and ideas or symbols” (Radcliffe-Brown 1940, 171). Through his fieldwork he came to realize that joking relationships are the “modes of organizing a definite and stable system of social behavior” (Radcliffe-Brown 1940, 174). In other words, the joking relationships, which are typical social practices in many African societies, function to maintain and combine disjunction, or the possibility of hostility, and conjunction, or the avoidance of conflict (Radcliffe-Brown 1940). This ensures that the proper respect will be given to certain people and in turn, creates stability within the social structure. Although the aim of Marxism is to analyze and explain the changes that occur within the dynamic society, there are functionalist undertones that exist in the relationship that the superstructure has with the base. Marx viewed the base as the modes of production that exist within a society. He believed that the same ruling class that determines and benefits from the modes of production is also in control of the “intellectual force” of society (Marx 1845, 144). Therefore, the base, or
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