Structural Functionalism A Consensus Theoretical Perspective
WHAT IS A THEORY? • A series of propositions that seek to explain a given phenomenon. • Sociological Theory therefore explains how society or aspects of society work
STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM • Developed in 19th Century Europe under Auguste Comte. • Emile Durkheim was the most influential of early functionalists. He developed the discipline. • Talcott Parsons was influential in functionalism becoming the dominant perspective in Sociology in the USA in 1940s and 1950s. • Popularity wanes during 1960s because of criticism, competing perspectives, changes in fashion.
Comparison with Biology • Society seen as an organism made up of interrelated parts • Integration is based on value consensus • To understand any part of society, that part must be seen in relation to society as a whole • Functionalists examine a part of society in terms of its contribution to maintenance and survival of the entire social system.
OBSERVATIONS • Behaviour is structured, - organized in terms of rules • Social relationships are patterned and recurrent • Values provide guidelines for action and translate into specific directives (roles and norms) • Structure of society is sum total of social relationships governed by norms and values • Major aspects of social structure are family, economy, educational and political systems
FUNCTIONAL PREREQUISITES • The basic needs or requirements that must be met for society to survive • Various Approaches used to identify FPs • a. Universality - Murdock saw family existing in all known human society; Davis and Moore claimed that all societies have some form of social stratification • b. Analysis of factors that would lead to breakdown or end of society. There must be a system for reproducing new members and maintaining health of existing members. This requires role differentiation and role assignment, and a system of goals and rewards.
Problems with specifying FPs • A. Assumption that because the same institution exists in every society, it meets the same need. This cannot be assumed in case of SS systems or family as they do not perform same functions in all societies. • B. Reliance on common sense and ingenuity. Since societies change and not die, it is not possible to identify unequivocally the aspects that are indispensable to its existence.
REMINDERS • Theory assumes a certain degree of order and stability (essential for survival of social systems) • Theory concerned with explaining origin and maintenance of order and stability in society • Value consensus is critical, forming basis of social unity/solidarity • Socialization seen as extremely important as it facilitates the internalization of values and transmission from generation to generation
CRITICISMS • 1. Theory tends to ignore conflict and coercion. Functionalists never ask “whose ends and values?” that persons pursue. Few Functionalists seriously consider the possibility that some groups act only in terms of their own self interests and thus dominate and hurt other persons. • 2. Reification of the social world and deterministic view of human action. David Walsh argues the concept of social system represents a reification of the social world, a portrayal of the social system as active agent, determining human behaviour. In reality, only human beings act.
CRITICISMS Cont’d • 3. Value consensus as solution to problem of social order. Stability of society might be due more to absence of value consensus. Eg. from Haralambos - lack of commitment to value of achievement by those at bottom of strata. Systems may in fact stabilize society. Consensus in and of itself will not necessarily result in social order, but might produce opposite result (individualism, extreme competition).