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FUNCTIONALISM, the dominant position among contemporary social theories for many years (especially in the U.S.) Talcott Parsons, Robert K. Merton / NO LONGER dominant. Examine the role (or function) that institutions, or types of behaviors play in society and the way they are related to other social features.
STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM because of its focus on the: (a) functional requisites, or needs, of a social system that must be met if the system is to survive; (b) corresponding structures that meet these needs.

The analysis of social and cultural phenomena in terms of the functions they perform in a sociocultural system.
(1) Society is conceived of as a system of interrelated parts in which no part can be understood in isolation from the whole; (2) A Change in any part of the system leads to a certain degree of imbalance which, in turn, results in changes in other parts of the system and to some extent to a reorganization of the system as a whole.

Functional analyses emphasize three elements:

(1) The general interconnectedness, or interdependence, of the systems constitutive parts; (2) The existence of a normal state of affairs, or state of equilibrium comparable to the normal or healthy state of an organism; (3) The way that all the parts of the system reorganize to bring things back to normal. How social systems maintain, or restore equilibrium? Functionalists tend to use shared values, or general accepted standards of desirability as a central concept (Emphasis on values).

The origin of functionalism

19th century, as the result of an anology: Society is like a biological organism, hence its parts can be organized in terms of their functions for menitaining the body social.
AUGUSTE COMTE (1789-1857): interested in statistics (order) and dynamics (change, progress); The statistical study of sociology consists in the investigation of the laws of action and reaction of the different parts of the social system; The concept of equilibrium (a lack of harmony between the whole and parts of the social system is pathological) Comparisons between social and biological organisms HERBERT SPENCER (1820-1903): a forerunner of functionalism because of his concept of differentiation (mutual dependence of various parts of a system), which occurs because of an increase in societys size (Parsons). Evolutionary theory resembles the theory that Durkheim presented in The Division of Labor in Society (has greatly influenced modern functionalist theorists) Spencers position: reductionist; the cause of social progress was psychological (the individuals need for greater happiness).

VILFREDO PARETO (1848-1923): the first sociologist to precisely describe a social system in term of the interrelations and mutual dependencies among its parts.
The molecules of the social system are individuals with interests, drives, and sentiments. His system a physio-chemical system characterized by interdependence of parts and adjustive change, not a biological organism.

Talcott Parsons borrowed from Pareto the idea of a dynamic or moving equilibrium that produces harmony for the system. EMILE DURKHEIM (1858-1917), the most important frontrunner of functionalism (Talcott Parsons and Robert K. Merton influenced by him); Erving Goffman and Peter Berger incorporated some of Durkheims ideas in their symbolic interactionist / phenomenological perspectives The first sociologist to occupy a professorial position in sociology at a university University of Bordeaux (1887); The founder of the first French sociological journal: Anne sociologique

Concept of INTEGRATION the incorporation of the individual in the social system (Rules of Sociological Methods)
The Division of Labor in Society The Elementary Forms of Religious Life Suicide

SOCIAL FACTS: laws, morals, beliefs, customs, fashions, etc., are the proper subject matter for sociology; INSTITUTIONS: beliefs and modes of behavior instituted by the collectivity ANOMIE, the most famous concept and central to his study on suicide: normlessness, a situation where rules or norms are absent.
the result of an abrupt change in society (war, business crisis, divorce) CHRONIC ANOMIE: a state of constant change (characteristic of industrial society)

MARX Alienation (the opposite of self-actualization), the alienation of people from aspects of their "human nature". Marx believed that alienation is a systematic result of capitalism (The idea of God has alienated the characteristics of the human being).

Sociology the science of institutions, their genesis and their functioning.



Durkheims De la division de travail social (1893) is one of his most known works, although not the best. It focuses on: (a) a crucial aspect of social structure, such as the division of labor, (b) one of the societys basic characteristics, such as social solidarity. Although Durkheim was not the first social theorist who recognized the division of labor in society (Comte, Marx, Spencer), his work contains theoretical propositions developed inductively on the basis of careful analyses of factual material which were not found in the earlier works. De la division de travail social important and interesting from the methodological viewpoint, for it illustrates the difficulties of inductive generalization in sociology. Durkheim was among the fist sociologists who paid serious attention to the both quantitative and qualitative aspects of population (volume and density) and treated them systematically in his work; Volume the number of social units (individuals) in society; Density the number of social relationships in complex societies.

One of the basic ideas in this book is that an increase in the density of population is the main cause of social differentiation, and that civilization, which consists in an intensification of contacts, is thus essentially connected with an increasing density of the population. An increase in the population volume and density sharpens the struggle for existence among people. In such circumstances of intensified struggle, a group can not survive in a given area, unless there are sufficient individual differences in capacity to make economic differentiation possible. The division of labor becomes thus an integral and permanent part of the societys life and collective consciousness. DURKHEIM: the role of the division of labor is not simply to embellish or ameliorate existing societies, but to render societies possible which, without it, would not exist. A central thesis of Durkheim's De la division de travail: society holds together by solidarity of its members.

DURKHEIM VIEWED SOCIAL EVOLUTION AS A MOVEMENT FROM THE MECHANICAL SOLIDARITY OF THE PRIMITIVE TRIBES TO ORGANIC SOLIDARITY (INDUSTRIAL SOCIETIES) SOLIDARITY A moral phenomenon that can be neither observed nor measured; There is only in law that social solidarity expresses itself; The degree of social solidarity determines the degree of the integration of society and its very nature. Two forms of social solidarity: Mechanistic and organic (contractual); Related to them, two types of law: repressive and restitutive; Mechanistic solidarity and repressive law which correspond to it are attributes of the traditional and primitive societies, Organic solidarity and restitutive law characterize modern complex societies.

Durkheim aimed to demonstrate the growing importance of the contractual - as compared with the repressive - elements in law and to connect this change with the growing importance of the division of labor in densely populated societies. The division of labor develops as there are more individuals sufficiently in contact to be able to act with and react upon one another. The progress of the division of labor is directly correlated to the moral or dynamic density of society. Moral density cannot grow unless material density grows; the later can be used to measure the former. Moral density is measured by the number of individuals who effectively have relations (not merely economic but cultural relations) with one another. Material density is influenced by the concentration of population, the growth of towns and the development of communication. Summary: An increase in the density of a population leads to an increase in the division of labor.

Three principal ways in which progressive condensation of societies has occurred: (1) The inclination of more advance populations to concentrate; (2) The formation of cities and their development; (3) The number (rapidity) of means of communication/transportation. Durkheim:
The division of labor varies in direct ratio with the volume and density of societies, and, if it progresses in a continuous manner in the course of social development, it is because societies become regularly denser and generally more voluminous.

Work becomes more divided as society become more voluminous and denser because struggle for existence is more acute, not because external circumstances are more varied. Having the same need and pursuing the same objects, people are in constant competition everywhere, leading to great diversity and conflicts. This is best shown in times of famine or economic crisis. This break of the social equilibrium can only be resolved by a more developed division of labor.

The growth of the division of labor in society (resulting from the increase of density) further increases the interdependence of its members who now have less and less in common, and therefore, it creates the need for an ever increasing interaction and social exchange among individuals as well as among groups. This, leads to a stronger social solidarity; "Such is the moving power of progress", Durkheim concludes. Durkheim distinguishes two principal forms of abnormal division of labor, or pathological forms of the phenomena: (a) Anomic division of labor (b) Forced division of labor Anomic DL: a condition of extreme specialization of labor, in which the individual became isolated in his specialization, and more particularly a condition in which there was a permanent division between capital and labor; Forced DL: a condition in which individuals do not freely chose their occupation but are forced into it. Under such conditions the individual no longer feels the idea of a common work being done by those who work side by side him. Consequently, collective sentiments, become weaker (weakened solidarity).


Le Suicide is Durkheims best known and most important work. It is among the very first modern examples of consistent and organized use of social statistical method in social investigation. Durkheim developed deductively a propositional theory on suicide rates in societies. Defining suicide as the act of a man who prefers death to life" Durkheim sought to discover the law that determines the frequency of suicide in society. He strongly rejected the psychological, biological, and geographical (environmental) factors (sic, "cosmic factors") as explanatory variables of suicide rates, and persisted to explain these rates with social causes. Durkheim: A specific tendency to suicide has to be explained neither by the organic-psychic constitution of individuals, nor by the nature of the physical environment. Individual peculiarities can not explain the social suicide-rates. The most varied and even the most contradictory events of life may equally serve as motives or pretexts for suicide, but "the trues causes are social".


Durkheim: suicide-rates depend upon social causes and are in themselves a "collective phenomenon. In order to understand why suicide-rates differ from society to society, one must forget the individual and seek the causes of the suicide attitude of each society in the "sociological character" of suicide-rates, that is, "in the nature of the societies themselves". Durkheims conclusion:

The social suicide rates can be explained only sociologically.

Durkheim's analysis is based on the premise that the social facts are objective and therefore they can be studied with the same accuracy as natural facts. Suicide-rates are but one manifestation of social facts. Comparing numerous statistics of suicide rates from different countries, Durkheim developed three theoretical propositions:
(1) Suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of religious society; (2) Suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of domestic society; (3) Suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of political society.


Religion Durkheim compared statistical data on suicide-rates across different religious communities (Protestants, Catholics, and Jews), in a number of countries as well as in the heart of a single society.
Among purely Catholic countries he chose Spain, Portugal, Italy, and also France and Ireland; Among Protestant countries he focused on Prussia, Saxony, Denmark; Among countries with mixed religious populations, Durkheim chose Germany (Bavaria for Catholics and Prussia for Protestants), and Switzerland (several Catholic and Protestant cantons). In all cases, suicide rates were much higher among Protestants than among Catholics. Durkheim investigated also suicide among Jews, which resulted to be lower than among the two other religious groups. Faced with such evidence, Durkheim came to the conclusion that suicide rates are affected in a different way by different confessions. "Confessional influence great as to dominate all others". In seeking to find a satisfactory explanation to this, Durkheim came to the conclusion that:

Suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of the social groups of which the individual forms a part.

By seeking to sociologically explain the evident differences of suicide rates between Protestants and Catholics, Durkheim came also to the conclusion that:

The only essential difference between Catholicism and Protestantism is that the second permits free inquiry to a far greater degree than the first.
The Catholic, Durkheim observed, accepts his faith "ready made", without scrutiny. The Protestant is far more "the author of his faith". The Bible is put in his hands and no interpretation is imposed upon him. The very structure of the reformed cult stresses this state of religious individualism. Durkheim argued that "If Protestantism concedes a greater freedom to individual thought than Catholicism, it is because it has fewer common beliefs and practices. He thus reached the conclusion that higher suicide rates among protestants result from Protestantism being a less strongly integrated church than the Catholic church.


With regard to suicide among Jews, Durkheim employed a slightly different argument. Low suicide rates among Jews could be explained with "reasons other than their religion". He argued that: Because (a) Jews are everywhere in a very small minority and (b) live more exclusively than other confessional groups, they owe their immunity in a sense to the hostility surrounding them. Therefore, lower suicide rates among Jews are not because Judaism imposes a higher morality but because "it obliges them to live in greater union." With regard to domestic society and political society, Durkheim argued that, here again, the degree of integration among members of these societies (family, army, etc.) plays a determinant role with regard to suicide rates. Here, the same low operates: The stronger the social solidarity, the lower the suicide-rates. (1) Married people women in particular with children commit suicide less then unmarried ones; (2) Political threats strengthen social solidarity and decrease suicide rates, etc.



An Outline of AGIL THEORY
AGIL theory, Parsons's extremely abstract theoretical constructs, is elaborated in Parsons in his and Smelsers Economy and Society (1st and 2nd chapters). Parsons suggests that every social system is characterized by a certain degree of "differentiation by function" of all collectivities of which the system is comprised. SOCIAL SYSTEM: A "system generated by any process of interaction between two or more actors. ACTORS within a system have different ROLES, depending on the nature of the interaction. A society comprises all the important roles of the persons/collectivities in its population.

SOCIETY is a network of differentiated sub-systems in complex relation to each other.

Every social act originates from an actor and has two aspects: (1) a performance aspect (the act has effects on the maintenance of the system as a whole); (2) a sanction (or reward) aspect (the act has an effect on the state of the actor toward whom it is directed).

Every social act takes place in a situation that consists of "physical", "social" and "cultural" objects, these categories being not mutually exclusive. Parsonss model is named after the initials of the terms he gives to four functional imperatives of the social system: AGIL
ADAPTATION [to the environment] THE ECONOMY Environment refers to a broad array of elements that are "outside" system boundaries but are relevant to system's functioning. The function of adaptation is to control the situation for purposes of attaining goal states; GOAL ATTAINMENT THE POLITY Goal refers to a desirable future state of affairs. The function: Attainment or maintenance of a goal state as defined by values; INTEGRATION [of its members] into a whole THE LEGAL SYSTEM Some elements of the structure of systems are designated to coordinate other system elements into a collective "whole" in the pursuit of goals. The function of integration is to maintain solidarity between units in the interest of effective functioning; LATENT PATTERN [maintenance and tension-management] CULTURAL VALUES Values guide and give meaning to actions. A set of actions, however, may be variously interpreted from alternative value perspectives. The function: creating cultural understandings among members by which the meaning of collective action can be judged.

The Economy

The Polity

Latent patternmaintenance and tension management Cultural values

The legal system


These four functional requirements are necessary for social system survival. PARSONS: Any system of action can be described and its processes analyzed in terms of these four fundamental categories". This framework applies not only to the society level, but also to many different levels (functional sub-systems) of social systems, of which economy is one. in Parsons's model, the Economy, serves the Adaptive function of the entire society through the production of the consumerable goods and services on behalf [to meet the needs] of the society as a whole. Parsons envisions his AGIL model as an entire society system comprised of four sub-systems: A, G, I and L, all of which are, themselves, systems, and therefore have four functional imperatives (needs). These needs are the same as those for the higher [society] level. To meet these needs, each of the four subsystems needs to have four other lower level sub-systems. And each of the consecutive sub-systems would also function as a lower-level system, comprised of four other lower subsystems and so on.

Every sub-system of the society acts as part of the situation for the others. The sub-systems of systems A, B, C, and D, would be symbolically represented, respectively



This Parsonian system + sub-system model could be symbolically presented as:



















Although the boundary processes among different systems are complex, the relations between the different levels of the system are maintained clear. Parsons's AGIL model, although a very sophisticated theoretical scheme, is NOT a propositional theory. Parsons himself acknowledged this when he considers Economy and Society not a theory, but a model, a conceptual framework for developing a theory.

Robert K. Merton (1910-2003)

Influenced by Emile Durkheim & Max Weber (Their theories on suicide and the protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism perfect examples of MRTs) Talcott Parsons (HARVARD), large scale theorizing, incurable theorists. Pitirim Sorokin (HARVARd), large scale theorizing + strong interest in empirical research and statistical studies) Paul Lazarsfeld (under his influence (COLUMBIA) Merton became active in empirical research from 1941) Major work: Social Theory and Social Structure; One of the most important ways in which Merton diverged from Parsons was his decision to abandon the quest for an all encompassing theory (He chose the path to what he calls middle-range theories, designed to guide empirical inquiry.



Considerable attention to Codification of functional analysis in sociology Important differences with Parsons Merton offered fewer specific propositions about the structure of society than Parsons. (1) Functionalists: Society a system of interrelated parts (Parson + Merton); (2) Merton deeply interested in social integration and equilibrium. Like Durkheim and Parsons he analyzed society with reference to whether the cultural and social structures are well or badly integrated; (3) Shared values are central in explaining how societies and institutions work; (4) Emphasized dysfunctions: Manifest Dysfunctions vs. Latent Dysfunctions


PARSONS: All the existing institutions are inherently good and functional for society (major point of attacks on him) MERTON: Emphasizes the existence of dysfunctions and encourages social scientists to identify them.
a) b) Something that may have consequences that are generally dysfunctional (lessen the adaptation or adjustment of the system); These consequences may vary according to whom one is talking about; Social scientiests should ask the question: Functional or dysfunctional for whom?

BUREAUCRACY A functional institution for industrial society (bureaucratic specialization means better utilized of talent, human resources); bureaucratic rules may become an end in itself (inhibits change and well functioning of institutions); MANIFETS FUNCTIONS the consequences people observe or expect (manifest function of social behavior emphasized by PARSONS); LATENT FUNSTIONS the consequences that are neither recognized nor intended (latent functions of things and the increased understanding of society functionalist analysis can bring emphasized by MERTON).


First used by psychologists, the term reference group was introduced to social scientiests by Robert Merton in early 1950s. The concept reference groups refers to an individuals conception of his/her own status positions relative to referent others, or members of various groups with which one identifies. Reference group refers more or less to a set of individuals whose standing or perspective is taken into account by an actor when selecting a course of action or when making a judgement about a specific issue; According to Merton, not only different statuses among individuals involve different roles, but also the same status involves different roles. Furthermore, an individuals status may change over time, and therefore it involves different roles. Merton uses the terms role sets and social status. His notion of role sets begins with the observation that each social status involves not one single associated role but an array of them. The teacher, for instance, has to deal with his students, the school principal, and parents. Each has a different - often contradictory - set of expectations. However, Merton never incorporated these ideas into a systematic theory.

Mertons Middle-Range theories (MRT)

Mertons concept of middle-range theories emerged as a critical reaction the most influential critic to the Parsonian functional perspective for constructing a total system of sociological theory. Both Parsons and Merton attempted to answer a substantial question: in the absence of a general theory of society, how is sociological knowledge to be accumulated to the point where lawful statements about human behavior can be derived? They responded to this question in different ways: PARSONS called for a single social science frame of reference and conceptual scheme. MERTON took the opposite direction. Criticizing Parsons concern for developing an all-encompassing system of concepts which, in Mertons view, would prove both futile and sterile, Merton called for the construction of multiple and independent sociological theories. Merton criticized Parsons approach for (a) being framed at too high a level of abstraction to attain scientifically precise knowledge to be cumulative, and (b) believing this possible only if the data of the several behavioral sciences is collected from a common theoretical orientation.

(1) Mertons view is that sociology is trying to run before it can walk. (2) Sociology is a young discipline not nearly so developed as, even though contemporary with, modern physics. (3) Merton believes that the best sociology can hope for is not a grand theory, but more historically specific middle-range theories. Mertons point is that at the current stage of the development of the discipline, attempts (such as Parsonss) to develop unified theories from which all subsidiary theories can be derived will only result in arguments which are the equivalent of early philosophies of the universe.

Writing in 1949, Merton was remarkably right in predicting that the route to general theory would become blocked up if each charismatic sociologist tried to develop their own general theory. In his view and to his credit, the persistence of such practice could only make for a balkanization of sociology with each principality governed by its own theoretical system.
Moreover, whereas PARSONS had a conception of scientific progress as a movement towards a particular goal by certain means, MERTONs solution is that scientific progress should proceed cautiously.

Merton defines social theory as logically interconnected sets of propositions from which empirical uniformities can be derived. Based on this definition, Merton recommends that the analytical focus of sociological theory should be on the middle-range. Essentially, middle-range theories deal with particular aspects of social phenomena. For Merton, theories of the middle-range should lie midway between (a) everyday working hypothesis that evolve during empirical research and (b) allinclusive general theories that try to explain all the observed uniformities of social behavior, social organization, and social change. An example would be a theory of suicidal behavior. Although middle-range theories contain abstractions, Merton maintains that they are close enough to the real world to be put into propositional form and subjected to empirical test. Merton refers to the theory of reference groups, of social mobility, of role-conflict, and of the formation of social norms as examples of middle-range theories. To Merton, the purpose of middle-range functional analysis is thus to provide the structural orientation necessary to lay the foundation of the sociological enterprise. Merton believes that the foundation is to be composed of numerous building blocks which, presumably, will eventually add up to permit the construction of a single sociological edifice.

A summary of Mertons arguments on MRT

MRT focus on a limited range of phenomena, allowing specific hypotheses to be derived from them; Although MRT are abstract, they are couched at a lower level of abstraction and reveal clearly defined and operationalized concepts. Middle-range theories are connected to the empirical world; the seminal ideas in such theories are simple and, more importantly, can be empirically tested; MRT can, in principle, be later consolidated and integrated into wider theoretical networks; at some point, MRT will provide their own impetus for combination and synthesis in the form of more encompassing theoretical schemes. MRT are sufficiently abstract to transcend specific events and configurations, they transcend sheer description of social phenomena; MRT cut across the distinction between microsocial problems and macrosocial problems; MRT provide the explanation which so-called general or grand theories fail to do because these are in fact conceptual schemes rather than explanations; MRT are consistent with a variety of so-called grand conceptual schemes and can therefore link them together; MRT are legacies of the classical tradition; MRT are most important in identifying areas of sociological ignorance.

Merton is not clear as to what the final product should look like; his immediate aim is the identification of all standardized cultural items and their functional interrelationships. Once a table of sociological elements can be determined, it will then be possible to perform the precise observations necessary for the application of deductive theory and the discovery of laws. Merton maintains that theories of the middle range offer more theoretical promise than Parsons grand theory. Mertons middle-range theory does not mean a middle level of abstraction but rather a theory at the highest level of abstraction in dealing with social systems, but concerned only with selected aspects of those systems. Merton suggest that social scienties should return to the classical tradition of addressing particular substantive events and problems.


Mertons influence on modern social science

Merton and his theory of the middle-range played a crucial role in the development of post-war American sociology and social science in two main respects: (1) First, as a discipline-builder, especially in setting research agendas, and in shaping the methodological stances suited to studying these questions. Merton was instrumental not only in helping to build a cumulative sociology from its earlier social problems and history of ideas but also in building into the core of this cumulative sociological enterprise various emerging components. (2) Second, although Merton focuses on middle-range theorizing, he himself actually built up a flexible and powerful analytical framework that actually is a general theory.

Although Mertons functionalism has never become as dominant as Parsons, his middle-range strategy has become the legitimating credo for much theoretical activity. Mertons middle-range strategy has encouraged the proliferation of countless so-called theories of any empirical topic, such as, theory of race relations, family conflict, social mobility, juvenile delinquency, etc, many of which fall short of sufficiently abstract concepts and standard theoretical schemes. However, by following a Mertonian middle-range strategy, the concepts and propositions of social theory become more tightly organized as theoretically focused empirical research forces clarification, elaboration, and reformulation of the concepts and propositions of each middle-range theory. The desirable eventually result might be a more encompassing social theory. What Robert K. Merton did was theoretically important and pragmatically very useful and helpful, because he formulated theories which could be tested in his time and not 100 years later. This is probably why he was so influential for combining theory and research.


In the 1980s functional theorizing was reviewed under what is sometimes termed neofuncionalism. Neofuncionalism: a label for diverse kinds of activity. Thos who labor under the functionalist umbrella are: (a) Functionalists, usually of Parsonian persuasion, who analyze phenomena in terms of specific functional requisites (Mnch); (b) Social scientists who downplay functional requisites and examine a variety of phenomena, although the agenda is often the same as early functional theory, revolving around conceptualizations of social differentiation, integration, and social evolution (Luhman); (c) Those who stress cultural processes and the functions of ritual, ideology, and values for integrating social structures. Functional theorizing has not only generated critics; it has also served as a source of inspiration for approaches that have lost much of their functional character. These perspectives are all derived from Durkheims muted functionalism and can be grouped under the label structural theorizing, or structuralism (Lvi-Stauss).