I believe that Parson's theory of structural functionalism is one that guides a lot of our thinking in contemporary society, especially in the U.S. While most of us can talk a lot about conflict "out there," we are slow to see how conflict shapes our daily condition in really important ways (although, I think our ability and willingness to do so is increasing).
Mostly, though, it is assumed that "things will work themselves out" and that the system is fair to everyone, and so "it works; whatever inequalities there are is a result of people falling into the places that thier efforts afforded them"... In general, structural functionalism provides this sort of safe, un-critical view of the world. On the other hand, if we read Dahrendorf and Collins, we are told that conflict is natural, pervasive, and has functional qualities - under the right condiions. I really like Dahrendof's conceptualization of power as a tool for understanding the nature of democracy. What are your thoughts on Dahrendorf's quote on page 222 in the Allen text? How is this perspective quite different from Parson's outlook?