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Functionalist Theory - Summary Notes

What is the Functionalist Theory? Functionalism interprets each part of society in terms of how it contributes to the stability of the whole society. Society is more than the sum of its parts; rather, each part of society is functional for the stability of the whole society. The different parts are primarily the institutions of society, each of which is organised to fill different needs and each of which has particular consequences for the form and shape of society. For example, the government, or state, provides education for the children of the family, which in turn pays taxes on which the state depends to keep itself running. The family is dependent upon the school to help children grow up to have good jobs so that they can raise and support their own families. In the process, the children become law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, who in turn support the state. If all goes well, the parts of society produce order, stability, and productivity.

Functionalist Theory - Summary Notes

Theorists - Emile Durkheim A French Sociologist (who was also Jewish) who was born April 15, 1858 in Epinal, France and passes away at age 59 on November 15, 1917 in Paris, France. He was the originator of Structural Functionalism which influenced contemporary functionalists (e.g. Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski and Parsons) by his work. A key contributor to the formation of sociology and anthropology. He was considered the father or sociology. The first sociology teacher in France ever. He wanted to understand and theorise the impact of the large scale structures of society and society itself on the thoughts and actions of individuals He used the term social facts to describe the social structures and cultural norms that are external to and coercive of actors Was a committed social activist (particularly with respect to the Dreyfus Affair) and deeply interested in progress and social change. the purpose of education is not the same across all societies, but that its purpose in any given society will instead be whatever it needs to be in order to maintain that society. Emile Durkheim Who were the contemporary theorists and their theories? Talcott Parsons (1902 - 1979) A.R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881 - 1855)

He conceptualises society as a collection of systems within systems: the personality system within the small-group system within the community system within society He viewed the whole world as a system of societies. Parsons explicitly wrote that the term "functional" or "structural functionalist were inappropriate ways to describe the character of his theory

Was a founding father of functionalism associated with the branch known as structural-functionalism. Radcliffe-Brown's emphasis on examining the contribution of phenomena to the maintenance of the social structure reflects the influence of French sociologist Emile Durkheim He particularly focused on the institutions of kinship and descent and suggested that, at least in tribal societies, they determined the character of family organisation, politics, economy, and intergroup relations

Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 - 1942)

Malinowski is a father of social anthropology Malinowski was convinced that every detail of a culture, and this most certainly would include its folklore, had a function. Malinowski's functionalism is based on human biology and psychology Malinowski functionalism is a metamorphosis of the seven needs of the individual nutrition, reproduction, bodily comforts, safety, relation, movement, and growth into the secondary needs of society.

Functionalist Theory - Summary Notes

Strength and Usefulness

One of the strengths of Functionalism is that it asserts that there are purposes for social conditions or facts. For example, under a functionalist point of view the newspaper deliverer and the sewer worker all contribute to the function of the entire unit--without serving these purposes, the social structure would not function properly. It is the framework for building theories that envisions society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. It begins with the observation that society is structured : relationship organised in terms of rules. It regards society as a system: the various parts are linked together in one form or another. It believes that basic needs are to be met in order for society to survive. Order and stability is brought about by value consensus.

Weaknesses and Limitations

Functionalism has received criticism for neglecting the negative functions of an event such as divorce. Critics also claim that the perspective justifies the status quo and complacency on the part of society's members. Functionalism does not encourage people to take an active role in changing their social environment, even when such change may benefit them. Functionalism sees active social change as undesirable because the various parts of society will compensate naturally for any problems that may arise. Some could arguably assert that poverty serves a function in such a society. But as Durkheim saw "function", he was much more optimistic and may have argued that poverty was more a product of "anomie" than actually serving a function. Functionalists have problem explaining social change. They believe if society exists to fulfil needs, when these needs are met there is no need to change. It draws an anology between an organism and society. Organisms are biological with a natural life process and societies are not. Functionalist theories have very often been criticised as teleological, that is, reversing the usual order of cause and effect by explaining things in terms of what happens afterward, not what went before.

Anomie: lack of the usual social or ethical standards in an individual or group