The assumptions, strengths, weaknesses and applications of functionalism.

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  • Created by: Natalie
  • Created on: 19-01-12 16:36

Functionalism - Assumptions

  • Society is a whole system made up of numerous subsystems (institutions) each of which has its own set of functions which allow society to work effectively. There is a strong relationship between each subsystem.
  • Society has a structure with key institutions performing vital functions and roles directing people in how to behave.
  • Society is compared to a living organism to explain how the system and sub-system work. Both an organism and society have basic needs that need to be satisfied if it is survive, and if one part becomes 'diseased' then it can contaminate the rest.
  • Order in society is maintained through value-consensus. This ensures that there are shared values so that conflict is minimised and harmonious relationships are promoted. Values are internalised through the early socialisation process.
  • They believe that a small amount of conflict exists but this stayys small because people accept the inevitability and necessity of social inequality which is based on different levels of talent and ability.


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Functionalism - Assumptions (2)

  • Individuals have become socialised through the process of socialisation where shared norms, values and beliefs are transmitted
  • Change is regarded as evolutionary. When one sub-system changes it has a ripple effect to encouragge other sub-systems to change so as to allow society to return to 'equilibrium' and continue to function harmoniously.
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Functionalism - Strengths

  • First major attempt to produce a theory of society
  • Demonstrates that the social institutions are linked together and can work interdependently (e.g. family with education)
  • It allows us to understand the functions of social rituals and social institutions (e.g. why we head for the church for comfort in times of major upheaval)
  • It examines the importance of primary socialisation for any social order to be possible
  • Neo-functionalism has become an accepted perspective and has its hallmarks in the New Right.
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Functionalism - Weaknesses

  • Places too much emphasis on harmony and fails to take into account competing power interests which present conflict
  • It fails to provice an adequate explanation of social change. All change is seen as evolutionary which may not be the case.
  • It is accused of accepting the status quo
  • It has a deterministic view of human action, suggesting that external factors shape the identity of the individual so there is no room for personal choice
  • It is seen as too positive and conservative - it upholds inequality, injustice and an acceptance that meritocracy plays a huge part in achievement
  • Parsons theorised about a mono-cultural, middle class, American society - is it really relevant today?
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Applying Functionalism to Crime and Deviance

  • Crime amd deviance are necessary and inevitable for society
  • Deviance tests norms and lawas and reinforces collective awareness
  • Functionalists assume that crime statistics are accurate
  • Functionalists ignore women and middle-class crime.
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