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MHS Library | Functionalist Theory

Functionalist Theory (from Canvas)

The key aspects of the theory:

* People who believe in this theory believe that although social order is crucial for the well-being of society, achieving it is impossible.

* It states that each aspect of society depends on each other and each contributes to the overall stability and functioning of the society. In other words, every little aspect is important and changes can be felt across the society.

* Functionalism interprets each part of

What phenomena does it explain best:

* Phenomenas where society diverts all of its attention towards safety after a crime can eb explained by the functionalist theory.

The criticisms of the theory:

* Doesn’t encourage people to act in changing the social environment

* Unable to account for social change

* Ignores the inequalities of race, gender, class, etc.

functionalist theory

The functionalist perspective, also called functionalism, is one of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology. It has its origins in the works of Emile Durkheim, who was especially interested in how social order is possible or how society remains relatively stable. As such, it is a theory that focuses on the macro-level of social structure, rather than the micro-level of everyday life. Notable theorists include Herbert Spencer, Talcott Parsons, and Robert K. Merton.

Theory Overview
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. Durkheim actually envisioned society as an organism, and just like within an organism, each component plays a necessary part, but none can function alone, and one experiences a crisis or fails, other parts must adapt to fill the void in some way.

Within functionalist theory, the different parts of society are primarily composed of social institutions, each of which is designed to fill different needs, and each of which has particular consequences for the form and shape of society. The parts all depend on each other. The core institutions defined by sociology and which are important to understanding for this theory include family, government, economy, media, education, and religion. According to functionalism, an institution only exists because it serves a vital role in the functioning of society. If it no longer serves a role, an institution will die away. When new needs evolve or emerge, new institutions will be created to meet them.

Let's consider the relationships between and functions of some core institutions. In most societies, 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. From the functionalist perspective, if all goes well, the parts of society produce order, stability, and productivity. If all does not go well, the parts of society then must adapt to produce new forms of order, stability, and productivity.

Functionalism emphasizes the consensus and order that exist in society, focusing on social stability and shared public values. From this perspective, disorganization in the system, such as deviant behavior, leads to change because societal components must adjust to achieve stability. When one part of the system is not working or is dysfunctional, it affects all other parts and creates social problems, which leads to social change.

Critiques of the theory

Functionalism has been critiqued by many sociologists for its neglect of the often negative implications of social order. Some critics, like Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, claim that the perspective justifies the status quo and the process of cultural hegemony which maintains it. Functionalism does not encourage people to take an active role in changing their social environment, even when doing so may benefit them. Instead, functionalism sees agitating for social change as undesirable because the various parts of society will compensate in a seemingly natural way for any problems that may arise.

(Source: Thoughtco)