Topic 5: Functionalism

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  • Topic 5: Functionalism
    • Society as a system
      • Functionalism- macro structural theory. Focuses on needs of social system as a whole & how these needs shape society
      • 3 similarites between society & biological organism (Parsons)
        • System organisms- in the body each part is interdependnt (organs, cells); in society parts are institutions (school, family) individual roles (teacher, mother)
        • System needs- need nutrition or will die; members must be socialised for society to continue
        • Function- meet systems needs, circulatory system = economy maintain social system
      • Value consensus- agreement among society's members about what values are important, shared culture
      • Individuals conform due to:
        • Social control- positive sanctions reward conformity, negative ones punish deviance, e.g college diplomas
        • Socialization- individuals internalize systems norms & values (religion, family & media)
      • Parsons 4 system needs:           1.Adaptation 2.Goal attainment (parliament)   3.Intergration (by media, religion)        4.Latency
      • Structural differentiation- specialization where separate instituitions develop to carry out functions that were previously performed by a single institution, e.g. churches used to perform education, now schools.
    • Merton's internal critique of functionalis
      • Not everything in society is indespensible e.g. others can socialize children, not just nuclear family(one parent families)
      • Not everything in complex modern societies is functional for all others- some have functional autonomy/  independence
      • Some elements of society may be functional for some groups & dysfunctional for others e.g. low taxes for high earners
    • External critique of functionalism
      • Conflict perspective: ignore conflict e.g ,Marxist argue society is based on exploitation and divided into classes; stability through ISA's
      • Action perspective: deterministic & ignores individuals free will & choice; interactions shape society not other way round
      • Postmodernis perspective: metanarrative or big story; society too fragmented for this to be possible
      • Teleological- things exsist because of their effect or function (family= socialize childeren
        • Functionalism is unscientific- arguments cannot be falsified, e.g. Durkheim; crime is both functional (boundary maintenance) and dysfunctional (people not conforming to norms & values)


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