Functionalist perspective in sociology is pioneered by Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim. Spencer compared societies to living organisms. In a living organism each part has a role to play in the life of the total organism. Similarly, in a society each part has a role to play. Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton contributed further to this perspective.
Merton pointed out that not all elements existing in a society are functional at all times. Some elements can be dysfunctional.
Hence a sociologist who uses functional perspective is likely to ask specific kinds of questions about each social element. What are the consequences of the elements being studied and what are its effects positive or negative on the system.
The conflict perspective in modern sociology derives its inspiration from Karl Marx. Modern conflict theory is developed through contributions of C. Wright Mills, Lewis Coser. It extends its attention from the class conflict ideas of Marx to conflict between many groups and interests in societies. The examples could be farmers and business men, urban population and rural population, racial conflicts etc.
Conflict theories see conflict as an existing phenomenon in societies. The conflict between groups brings out the social problems to the fore and forces the society to resolve them.
The interactionist perspective was initially influenced by Max Weber. The sociologists following this perspective study every day social interaction that takes place as people go about their daily lives.
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