Functionalist Theories

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Functionalism - Durkheim


  • Became concerned with rapid social change as we transitioned into a modern industrial society
  • Very different to traditional society - had little DOL and strong collective conscience
  • Rapid change risks undermining old norms, without establishing new ones
  • = Anomie
  • Society exists as a separate entity above members
  • Many questioned logic of treating society as if it were separate
  • Durkheim rejected - members are constrained by 'social facts' = moral codes and beliefs passed on to gens
  • Therefore, not the consciousness of the individual that directs the behaviour, but common beliefs that shape their consciousness
  • Postmodernists - functionalists can't explain the diversity and isntability today, as they assume society is stable/orderly
  • See funcionalism as a meta - no longer relevant as society is fragmented
  • Social actionists - society isn't a big thing 'out there' as D describes. Instead, social reality is what individuals construct by giving meaning to world
  • Functionalism is unscientific - claims aen't falsifiable
  • Functionalism can't account for today's diversity
  • Not relevant, outdated - no longer collective conscience as no longer dependent on each other in work, no longer assumed nuclear family is the prime type
  • Experienced rapid social change through migration and techno advancements, but no anomie
  • Is relevant, recognises rapid social change would occur
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Functionalism - Parsons 1

Parsons 1

  • Sees similarities between society and an organism
  • Both systems: are self-regulating with independent parts, has basic needs to survive, each part much contribute
  • Social order is possible bc of a shared culture which gives rules on how to behave
  • Creates a value consensus - the 'glue'
  • Socialisation process ensures individuals internalise norms and values, and +ve and -ve sanctions in place to maintain social control
  • Marxists critical - society basd on explotation as divided into classes
  • Marxists - only have stability bc ruling class prevent change through ideological manipulation
  • 'shared' values only benefit an maintain ruling class
  • Functionalism legitimises their position and acts as a conservative ideology
  • Isn't relevant - pre-undustrial society doesn't work the same way as modern industrial does
  • As Parsons sees society as having inter-related reliant institutions, but in modern society many are only dstantly related so no 'knock-on effect' if one of them falters
  • Relevant - theory of society similar to organism is useful, claims social system has needs e.g. socialised members > still need to be fulfilled
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Functionalism - Parsons 2

Parsons 2

  • Assumes everything is functionally indispensable in its current form > nuclear fam better than lone-p
  • Also assumes all parts are tightly integrated - change in one area has 'knock on effect' elsewhere
  • Also assumes everything in society performs beneficial functions
  • Merton critical - there are functional alternatives e.g. lone-p can replace nuclear, and can be better in some cases
  • Merton - not all society is related e.g. structure of banking is seperate to sports
  • Merton - Parsons neglects idea of conflict theories - some things are functional for some groups and dysfunctional for others e.g. DV
  • Parsons is too deterministic - views individuals as having no free will
  • Functionalism overemphasises the level of consensus in society - apart from the simplest of societies, people have different values and attitudes within the same society
  • Ignore differences in power
  • Not relevant - assumptions only applicable to pre-industrial e.g. universal functionalism as not everything performs a +ve function for everyone
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