Functional and Conflict Theories of Change

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Functional and Conflict Theories of Change   

Neither functional nor conflict theory includes any grand theories of change such as those above. Functionalists accept change as a constant which does not need to be "explained." Changes disrupt the equilibrium of a society, until the change has been integrated into the culture. Changes which prove to be useful  (functional) are accepted and those which are useless or dysfunctional are rejected. Many conflict theorists follow the Marxist pattern of evolutionary change, but conflict  theory itself has no special theory of change. Instead of viewing change as the constant, conflict theory views social conflict 'as the constant, and change as the result of this conflict. Since conflict is continuous, change is continuous. Change produces new interest. groupings and classes, and conflict between these produces further change. Any particular change represents the success of victorious groups or classes in imposing their preferences upon others. As shown in Table 20-l, functional and conflict theories of change are differences in emphasis and are not in fundamental
opposition. By this time, most students may have decided that theories of change are not very satisfactory. Perhaps the study conditions and practices of change will be more rewarding .


Unlike earlier scholars who thought up grand theories of social change, William F. Ogburn, an American sociologist, was the first scholar to devote detailed study to the actual processes of change. His work still forms the basis for much of the recent theory and research on social change, including even s'l"h popular best-sellers as Alvin Toffler's Flture Shode
[1970] and The tu« Wave [1981].


A discovery is a shared human perception of an aspect of reality to which already exists. The principle of.the lever, the circulation of the blood, and the conditioned reflex existed long before.


they were discovered by human beings. A discovery is an addition to the world's store  of verified knowledge, A discovery adds something new to the culture because, although this reality may always have existed, it becomes part of the culture only after its discovery. A discovery becomes a factor in social change only when it is put to use. For two hundred years after the cause of scurvy was discovered, sailors continued to die because people were cheaper than lime juice. When new knowledge is used to develop new technology, vast changes generally follow. The ancient Greeks knew about the power of steam, and before A. D. 100 Hero of Alexandria had built a small stean engine as  a toy, but steam power produced no social changes until it was put to serious use nearly two thousand years later. Discoveries become a factor in social change when new knowledge is put to new uses.


An invention is often defined as a new combination or a new use of existing knowledge. Thus,  George Dense in 1895 combined a liquid-gasengine, a Liquid-gas tank, a running-gear mechanism, an intermediate clutch, a driving shaft, and a carriage body and patented this contraption as an automobile. None of these ideas was new; the only novelty was the • combined use of them. The Dense patent was attacked and eventually revoked by the courts on the ground that he did not originate the idea of combining these items. While existing elements are used in a new invention, it is the idea of combining them in a use  way that produces something which never before existed -. Thus, iron, with the  addition of small amounts of other metal!,became steel, an alloy with properties which no metal known at that time could equal. Likewise, a round slice of tree log or stone and a length of tree were not new; but the wheel and axle were new. The wheel did not exist until someone had the idea of using a limb and a slice of a tree log or stone in this manner. Inventions. may be classified as material inventions, such as the bow and arrow, telephone, or airplane, and social inventions, such  s the alphabet, constitutional government, or the corporation. In each case, old elements are used, combined, and improved for a new application. Invention is thus a continuing process, with each new invention the last in a long series of preceding inventions and discoveries. In a popularly written book, Burlingame [1947] analyzed a number of familiar inventions, showing how each began hundreds or thousands of years ago and passed through dozens of preliminary inventions and intermediate stages. Invention is not strictly an individual matter; it is a social process involving an endless series of modifications, improvements, and recombination. As Gillian [1948, pp. 15S-163] pointed out, each invention may be new in form, function, and meaning. "Form" refers to the shape of the new object or the actions of the new behavior trait "function" refers to 'what the invention does "meaning" refers to the long-range consequences of its use. To these three we might
also add that an invention may be new in principle, that is, in the basic scientific law upon which it is based.  The jet engine and the piston engine use the same principle (expansion of burning gases) but differ in form (one uses expanding 'gases directly for thrust, the other to push a piston in a cylinder). The steam engine and the piston gasoline engine are similar in form but differ in principle (one creates expanding gases by boiling water, the other by burning gasoline). The bow and arrow differ in both  principle and form from the primitive spear but have the same function and meaning.
The wheeled cart was new in all respects (in principle, since the load was carried by wheel and axle instead of being dragged or packed  in form, since it was new in design; in function, since it carried both people and. possessiorus: in meaning, since it made large-scale, long-distance overland transport possible).  Very few' inventions are new in all-four respects Mos t e.f the important inventions have been made people working alone or in small groups Fawkes , 1969]. Inventions typically passed through long periods of development, covering many decades, before becoming marketable products Most inventors -were not scientists but, contrary to the "backyard tinkerer" image, worked closely with scientists and were well informed about the scientific knowledge of the time. They were in  mainly by the excitement of making something new, not by the desire for wealth, and most inventors made little or nothing on their inventions. Edison, for example, claimed that he lost money on his inventions and made money only on his manufacturing operations. 1969, p. 94]. Invention today increasingly is accomplished through team research at large corporate, government, or university laboratories. Most corporate research and development activity aims at "product improvement" rather than at new inventions, while government funding is heavily concentrated upon weapons development. Thus, despite the "institutionalization of research," the single inventor or small independent team still supplies many of the useful new inventions.