Functionalist perspective of the way society

This assignment, will be outlining and evaluating the functionalist perspective of the way society is organised. This essay will be exploring about the social institutions, norms and values. Functionalist analysis has a long history in sociology. It is prominent in the work of Auguste Comte (1798-1857) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), two of the founding fathers of the discipline. It was developed by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) and refined by Talcott Parsons (1902-79). During the 1940s and 1950s functionalism was the dominant social theory in American sociology. Since that time it has steadily dropped from favour, partly because of damaging criticism, partly because other approaches are seen to answer certain questions more successfully, and partly because it simply went out of fashion.

To begin with, functionalist idea is that all the systems (organs) in society are functioning in harmony it will remind healthy. Functionalism views society as a system: that is a set of interconnected parts which together form a whole. The basic unit of analysis is society, and its various parts are understood primarily in terms of their relationship to the whole. The early functionalists often drew an analogy between society and organism such as the human body, to show that societies are thought to function like organisms, with various social institutions working together like organs to maintain and reproduce societies; the functionalist perspective attempts to explain social institutions as collective means to meet individual and social needs.They argued that an understanding of any organ in the body such as the heart or lungs, involves understanding of its relationship to other organs and, in particular, its contribution towards the maintenance of the organism. In the same way, an understanding of any part of society requires an analysis of its relationship to other parts and, most importantly, its contribution to the maintenance of society. Contributing this analogy, functionalists argued that, just as an organism has certain basic needs that must be satisfied if it is to survive, so society has basic needs that must be met if it is to continue to exist. Thus social institutions such as the family and religion are analysed as a part of the social system rather than as isolated units. In particular, they are understood with reference to the contribution they make to the system as a whole.

Besides, sociology traditionally analyses social institutions in terms of interlocking social roles and expectations; social institutions are created by and defined by their own creation of social roles for their members. The social function of the institution is the fulfillment of the assigned roles. According to functionalist theories, institutions come about and persist because they play a function in society, promoting stability and integration. Merton observed that institutions could have both manifest and latent function – the element of a behaviour that is not explicitly stated, organised, or intended, and is thereby hidden.

Accordingly, the weaknesses of functionalist theory is that it tends to lead to exaggerated accounts of positive consequences of sports and sports participation however it mistakenly assumes that there are no conflicts of interests between the different citizen groups in society such as women, people with disabilities, racial groups and people who are economically poor in society yet it doesn’t recognise that sport can privilege or disadvantage people more than others. The theory also ignores the powerful historical and economic factors that have influenced social events and social relationships.

After all, functionalism has been criticized for downplaying the role of individual action, for its failure to account for social change and individual agency; and for being unable to account for social change. In the functionalist perspective, society and its institutions are the primary units of analysis. Individuals are significant only in terms of their places within social systems (i.e., social status and position in patterns of social relations). Therefore, some critics also take issue with functionalism’s tendency to attribute needs to society. They point out that, unlike human beings, society does not have needs; society is only alive in the sense that it is made up of living individuals. By downplaying the role of individuals, functionalism is less likely to recognize how individual actions may alter social institutions.

Moreover, critics also argue that functionalism is unable to explain social change because it focuses so intently on social order and equilibrium in society. Following functionalist logic, if a social institution exists, it must serve a function. Institutions, however, change over time; some disappear and others come into being. The focus of functionalism on elements of social life in relation to their present function, and not their past functions, makes it difficult to use functionalism to explain why a function of some element of society might change, or how such change occurs.

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