Society: Consensus And Conflict
Views of modern Western society tend to fall into two camps: consensus and conflict. Consensus views beginning with the economist Max Weber (1864–1920) and continuing into the structural functionalism of the American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) describe society as a complex combination of static and dynamic systems. Weber identified society as a system of potential harmonization, with rational actors choosing the best means to the end of ensuring the smooth operation of society; Parsons discussed the functional and dys-functional aspects of society as it strives for a dynamic equilibrium through complementary institutional structures.
Marx is still the main proponent of the conflict theory of society, among a plethora of thinkers up to Louis Althusser (1918–1990) and beyond. Marx conceived of society as a kind of shape shifter, culminating in and overcoming moments of conflict through a sequence of class struggles: slavery giving way to feudalism, feudalism giving way to capitalism, capitalism giving way to socialism, socialism giving way to communism. Althusser divided society into repressive and ideological apparatuses. He had a rather pessimistic view of society's transformations because of its ingrained structures of dominance, especially in the overwhelming powers of the modern state.
The philosopher Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) combined both consensus and conflict theories while exploring a legitimation crisis of modern society struggling for a communicative competence among both institutions and individual actors. These five thinkers—Weber, Parsons, Marx, Althusser, Habermas—still stand as the most prominent models of social scientific thinking regarding society today. What is attractive about their approaches seems to be an ability to connect abstract macro-level ideas about society with more concrete micro-level ideas about individual social actors within the framework of these umbrella systems.
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