The individualist versus the collectivist debate

Sociological theories

There are two main approaches to sociological theory which attempt to explain income and wealth inequalities:

  1. Functionalism: Theorists on the right of politics (functionalists) may explain inequality as part of the 'natural order' as society is hierarchical. People with skills, talents and abilities are better rewarded than those without. (Individualist)
  2. Conflict Theory: People on the left of politics (conflict theorists) may argue that inequality is a consequence of those at the top of society dictating the economic and social system to maintain their privileged position. It is society as a collective that causes inequality. (Collectivist) There are a great many other complex sociological theories which aim to explain social inequalities. No one theory is accepted by all sociologists as correct.

Individualism versus collectivism

The fundamental differences between an individualist and collectivist

There are two main ideological views on the best way to deal with wealth and health inequalities. One is that individuals should take primary responsibility.

This means people should aim to make their own provision wherever possible in terms of housing, healthcare, education and retirement. Individualists argue the government does not have the resources to provide for all groups and that extended state support encourages dependency.

The other view is for increased state support in the provision of welfare. Collectivists believe too many people lack the means or ability to provide for their welfare and so state provision is the fairest and most effective way of meeting need and creating a better society.