Functionalism theory - key points and evaluation + synoptic links

Helpful overview of the functionalist perspective.

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  • Created by: Amy Leech
  • Created on: 09-04-13 15:04
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Macro approach, top down approach, favours First major attempt to produce a grand theory.
quantitative measures Sometimes seen as teleological, as trying to
Social order is maintained through value, explain the origins of any social institution by
consensus, whereby values are internalised the function it performs for society.
through the early socialisation process and Focuses too much on harmony and co-operation
individuals learn the social norms and values of and fails to take into account the differences
their social position. and conflicts between groups in society.
Conflict is minimised as individuals accept the
necessity of social inequalities.
Society is made up of a system parts such as
family, education, religion and media, which all
reinforce social solidarity.
-Parsons overstressed the extent of consensus and
Talcott Parsons: equilibrium in society.
-Aim to provide a theoretical framework that combined -He ignores the inequality of capitalist society and the
the ideas of Weber, who stressed the importance of divisions between different social groups.
understanding people's actions, and those of Durkheim, -For Parson's, powerful groups have legitimate power
who emphasised the need of focusing on the structures and therefore there is no need for ideology. He
of societies and how they function. therefore has no concepts to explain oppression.
-He describes society as an organic analogy; society is -Parson's work is based on speculation rather than
similar to a living being that adapts to its environments empirical research. He offers a complex classification
and is made up of component parts, each performing system at the expense of unpacking the subtle detail of
some action that helps the living being to continue to everyday social interaction.
exist. Institutions exist, or don't, because of their
functions for the maintenance of society.
-Like a living being has basic needs, Parsons suggests Robert Merton:
there are 4 needs (functional prerequisites) that all -Belonged to the same functionalist approach as Parsons
societies must satisfy: however he is critical of Parson's arguments and
1. Adaptation (economic function) ­ Every proposed two amendments to the functionalist theory:
society has to provide an adequate standard of 1. Parsons assumed if an institution was
life for survival of all its members. functional for one part of society it would be for
2. Goal attainment (Political function) ­ all parts. Merton claims this ignored the idea
Societies must develop in ways of making that some institutions can be dysfunctional or
decisions. harmful towards society.
3. Integration (social harmony) ­ Each 2. Merton suggests Parsons failed to realize the
institution is society develops in response to distinction between the intended functions
particular functions. There is no guarantee that and unintended consequences of these
the different institutions will not develop actions. Merton claims this makes an analysis of
elements that may conflict. society much more complex than Parson's
4. Latency (individual beliefs and values) ­ The simple model.
previous three functional prerequisites all deal
with the structure of society. The final
prerequisite deals instead with individuals Wrong:
and how they cope. Parsons divides latency -Parson's theory has over socialised view of the
into 2 areas: individual. Parson's emphasis on shared values assumes
Pattern maintenance ­ refers to the that people automatically conform, without resistance, to
internalised norms. He therefore explains how people
problems face by people when
are shaped by society at the expense of individual drives
conflicting demands are made of and motives.
them (issue of identity).
Tension management - if a society is
going to continue to exist, then it

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Argued Parson's theory explains how society reinforces
to belong to society and not to leave itself through socialisation into roles, but it fails to
explain how individuals produce roles.
or oppose it.
-People appear to passively acquire roles and behave in
line with cultural expectations.
-For society to exist, it must fulfil the functional
-This ignores how people may creatively reinvent and
bend roles and norms.…read more

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Society has a distinct quality that cannot be reduced to
the motives of individuals. Society shapes individual
-Durkheim's concept of social facts established sociology
as a distinct subject. It explains how any individual's
action can be shaped by wide patterns of integration
and regulation.
-His main concern was with how society hangs together
through shared values. He referred to shared values as
the collective conscience.
-Durkheim was aware of the possibility that societies
might not function smoothly.…read more



very useful, thanks :)


Good stuff. Thanks


Great resource which clearly explains the functionalist perspective but also provides students with excellent synoptic links ! Fab !

virtue ethics

Cheers mate, great stuff




great work


Personally, as the most respected sociological expert in the world, I would give this resource a 7/10 on the dankometer 

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