As a sociological discipline, functionalism is counterposed to Marxism. However it shares with Marxism the importance of ‘totality’ and the corresponding view that scientific inquiry is based upon the interdependence of parts within a whole. It is important to distinguish why the Marxian use of the totality differs significantly from functionalist systems. Primarily this involves the Marxian emphasis on the contradictory character of the whole and the treatment of the social totality from the perspective of its conflicts.
Functionalism in contrast views society generally as a stable system and looks for the mechanisms that give it harmony – it thus seeks to reduce conflict to a residual element of the system, or view conflict from the perspective of its maintenance of the social system. Marxism was founded by Karl Marx. Marx saw society as divided into two major parts, the economic base otherwise known as the infrastructure and the super-structure. Functionalists see society as a set of parts which work together to form a whole. Functionalism is also called a consensus theory.
Marxism and functionalism are similar in that they see that the way society is structured as an important part in determining the way people have relationships and behave between themselves. This is known as structural perspective. Both functionalists and Marxists believe that people are portrayed as creature within the social system. Functionalists believe that society operates to the benefit of everybody. They stress that societies continue to exist because a lot of the time there is consensus between various aspects.