• Sociology is the study of social facts which are objective(they can be measured), constraining (collective values place limits on our behaviours) and external (exist before and after us).
  • Society has a distinct qulaity which cannot be reduced to the motives of individuals.
  • He developed constraint into his theory of suicide in which he suggested too little or too much intergration or regulation could lead.
  • Thus, external contraint to certain levels shapes individual behaviour.
  • His concept of social facts established Sociology as a subject.
  • His main concerns were that an individual's actions are shaped by society and shared values lead to a collective conscience. 
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  • Society is made up of basic linked elements which meet basic needs: it is a functional unit, people have decision making capacity and core values and norms create intergration.
  • Society is made up of 3 systems: personality (person's beliefs and internalised values), social (institutionalised expectations) and cultural (core values and shared history).
  • The social system has to fulfill functional prerequisities: adaptation (economy), goal attainment (power), intergration (control) and pattern maintenance (socialisation).
  • All 3 systems are interconnected, for example, social system links to the personality system via social role which is a learned expectation of how to behave in a given situation, such as a student who has learned to sit quietely in class. These roles are institutionalised into the social system and are passed on through socialisation.
  • People make their own decisions and pattern dilemmas variable represent the dilemmas they ecounter (affective versus affective neutrality).
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Evaluation of Parsons

  • Parsons does include choice through pattern variables but the expected social roles effectively determine how we should act.
  • His emphasis on shared values assumes people automatically conform.
  • Deterministic, as his theory fails to explain how people create roles.
  • Ignores the inequality of Capitalism and divisions in social groups.
  • Based on speculation not empirical research ('armchair sociology')
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  • Parsons' work had failed to understnad how people can be motivated by material interests, people may accept the goals of society but do not conform.
  • He developed 5 responses to the 'American Dream': conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion.
  • He put forward 3 arguments against early Functionalist theory: 

functional unity: not all parts of society are seemlessly connected.

universal functionalism: some institutions are dysfunctional

indispensibilty: there are functional alternatives to some institutions

  • He was keen to identify the functions of actions and did this via manifest (intented function) and latent (unintended consequence) functions.
  • Sociologists should proceed by examining latent functions to question the degree of order in society.
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