Sociology paper 3 ; functionlism (theory and methods)



  • What type of perspective is it?:  Positivist perspective, emphasises the structures of society over the induvidual

1. Society as a system : they say society is like a biological organism, they have to all work together in order to function properly 

within society, different institutions are essential for society to function eg. education, the family .

2. Value concensus and social order: Parsons argues that social order is achieved through shared culture and sharing norms and values. social order is possible when people agree upon these norms and values ; this is called value concencus it is the glue that holds society together.

Intergration of induviduals: Value concensus is achieved through intergration of induviduals 

for example, there needs to be a concensus that work is important --> material needs are met . so there has to be rules about punctuality and conduct ect. Parsons argues this is possible through:

  • Socalisation the socalisation process ensures induviduals internalise the systems norms and values . The family, education system , media and religion all contribute to this
  • Social control: postitive sanctions reward conformity eg. working hard in school rewards qualifications. negative sanctions punish deviance for example
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Functionlism pt 2

The parts of the social system: Parsons approach is called the 'building block approach' 

Bottom layer: made up of status roles, which is made up of induvidual actions. statuses are positions, for example 'teacher' roles is the role that shows acceptable behaviours, teachers cannot show favoritism.

Status roles; come in clusters called institutions eg. the family. related insitutions are grouped together in something called sub- systems   

eg in economic sub systems, function to meet socities material needs (banks, factories, farms) 

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Functionlism pt 3

The systems needs (Parsons)

Parsons identifies 4 basic needs that have to be met;

1. Adaption: how the social system meets its members material needs through the economic sub-system 

2. Goal attainment : how the political sub system sets goals and allocates resources to achieve them

3. Intergration: how different parts of the system are intergrated together to achive these goals. 

educational and religious sub-systems are part of this 

4. Latency: processes that maintain society . The kinship sub-system provides

- Pattern maintainence (socalisation)

- tension management (a place to let off steam) 



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Functionalism part 4 ; types of society

Parsons identifies 2 types of society; 

1. traditional 

2. modern 

Charcteristics of modern society 

  • people persue their own induvidual self interest(self orientation)
  • Achieveing status through hard work through deffered gratification

Charcteristics of traditional society 

  • peoples status are ascribed at birth 

society is changing from one to another, Parsons sees this as;

structral diffrentiation 

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Merton's internal critique of functionalism

Functionlist sociologist Merton critcises the three key assumptions of Parsons 

1. Indispensability: Parsons assumes that institutions in society are indespensible eg. primary socialisation is best perfomed by the nuclear family. 

Merton argues that there are 'functional alternatives' eg. primary socalisation may work just as well in same sex families or in single parent families. 

2. functional unity: Parsons assumes that all part of society are intergrated. He assumes that a change in one part of society will impact on the rest 

Merton argues that modern societies are complex and that only some parts may be slightly related to each other. some parts may have functional independance from others 

3. Universal functionalism: Merton argues that somethings may be functional for some groups but dysfuncnctional for others eg. the capitalist system 

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External criticisms of functionalism

External criticisms of functionalism 

  • functionalism is criticised for being unscientific, despite being a postitivist perspective.

 Conflict theories: functionalism cannot explain conflict and social change 

  • Marxists see 'shared values' as a way of concealing interests of the dominant class. changes that take place re justify the privilaged position of the ruling class

Action perspectives : criticise functionalism for having a deterministic view of the induvidual. Induviduals have no free will or choice . they are puppets, whos strings are pulled by the social system. 

Postmodernists: argue that functionalists assume that society is stable and orderly, our society is fragemented the same values cannot apply to all.

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