What is the difference between Functionalism and Marxism

Last Updated on January 7, 2019 by Karl Thompson

Functionalists have a very general analysis of the role of education in society, simply looking at how it contributes to the maintenance of social order, whereas Marxists analyse the role of education by focusing on how it performs different functions for different social classes.

As I see it, Marxists offer a ‘deeper layer’ of analysis compared to Functionalists, although critics of Marxism may say they seeing class divisions where there are none.

Below is a basic comparison of Functionalist and Marxist perspectives on the role of education in society:

Functionalism: Education serves the needs of an industrial society by providing it with an advanced, specialised division of labour

Marxism: Education part of the ideological state apparatus, and works for the Bourgeois

Functionalism: Education serves the needs of the social system by socialising new generations into shared norms and values which provide harmony and stability

Marxism: Teaches us the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – we believe we fail because it’s our own fault, thus put up with inequality

Functionalism: The formal and hidden curriculums helpsprepare children for service to society

Marxism: Correspondence Theory – Hidden Curriculum makes us accept authority without question

Functionalism: Education provides the means for upward mobility for those prepared to work hard

Marxism: Education reproduces class inequality – middle class kids more likely to succeed and get good jobs

5 thoughts on “What is the difference between Functionalism and Marxism”

  1. Thanks for your response – for the purposes of A-level Sociology you’vre certainly shown a good level of understanding!

  2. The Marxism beliefs really structure around the idea of social inequality and how education is a leading factor in the inequality of working class people and upper class, education supposedly gives more opportunities to upper class people therefore allowing the lower class people in our society to fall short of these opportunities and struggle keeping up with the rest of society. Whereas functionalists would say those who want to work hard and achieve in life will do well through the education system as they are prepared to put the work in when others aren’t, they argue this against the belief of education causing inequalities in society. Marxism’s also believe that we are made to believe we fail because of our own problems, this therefore leads to inequality being normalised and put up with, however functionalists argue school provides us with a stepping stone to realty and teaches us the social norms and values which ultimately lead to harmony and stability in society

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