theory and method

the theory part of the crime and deviance paper

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  • is a macro,consensus,structural theory
  • it focuses on the needs of the social system as a whole and how these needs shape all the main features of society.
  • in describing society, F often use an organic analogy-they say that society is like an biological oraganism

Parson identifies 3 similarities between society and a bio organism

  • SYSTEM Organism, such as the human body, and socities are both self regulating system of inter-rated, interpendent parts that fit together in fixed way. in society, the parts are institutions (such as the education system)
  • SYSTEM NEEDS Functionalist see the social syetem odf society as having certain needs that must be met to if it is to survive .e.g. is member must be socialised if society is to continue.
  • FUNCTIONS For F, the function of any part of a system is the contribution it makes to meeting the system's need thus ensuring its survival
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Value consensus and social order

  • PARSONS argues that social order is achieved throught the existense of a shared culture or, in his words, a central value system.
  • A culture is a set of norms and values, beliefs and goals shared by members of a society.
  • it provides a frame work that allows individuals to cooperate by laying down the rules about how they should behave, defining the goals they should pursue, and so on.
  • Social order is only possible so long as memebers of society agree on these norms and values- parson calls this value consensus. Value consensus is the glue that holds society together.

Intergration of individuals

  • value consensus intergrates individual into social system, thereby directing them towards meeting the system's needs
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  • E.G the system has to ensure that people's material needs are met, and so consensus may include a general value about the need for people to work. to achievve this goal, there also needs to be a set of specfic rules of conduct or norms- e.g punctuality, how to obtain a job etc

For parson , the system has 2 mechanism for ensuring that individuals conform to shared norms and meet the system's needs

  • SOCIALISATION Through the socialisation process, indivduals internalise the system's norms and values so that society becomes part of their personaity structure. Different agencies of socialisation, such as the family, education system, media &religion all contribute this process
  • SOCIAL CONTROL Positive sanctions rewards conformity, while negative ones are punish.
  • Because individuals are intergrted, through socilaisation & social control, into a shared value system, their behaviour is oriented towards pursuing society's share goals and meeting its needs.
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  • the behaviour of each individual will be relatively predicatable and stable, allowing cooperation between them. this intertegration into shared normative order makes orderly social life possible

The Parts of the social system

  • Parson's model of the social system- at the bootom there is individual action and each action we perfomed is governed by specific norms or rules.
  • these norms come in cluster called status- roles. statuses are the positions that exist in a given social system
  • Statuses- role also come in clusters, known as institutions. E.G. the family is an institution made up of the related role of father, mum &child etc. in turn, related institutions are grouped together into sub- systems
  • theses sub-system together make up the social system as a whole
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The System's needs

Parson identifies 4 basic needs. each need is met by a separate sub-system of institution

  • ADAPTATION The social system meets its members' material needs. these needs are met by the economic sub-system
  • GOAL ATTAINMENT Society needs to set goals and allocate resources to achieve them. this is the function of the political sub-system, through institutions such as parliament
  • INTEGRATION The different parts of the system must be integrated together in order to pursue shared goals. performed by the sub-system of religion, education& the media
  • LATENCY refers to processes that maintain society over time. the kindship sub-system provides pattern maintence- socialising individual to go on performng the roles society requires- and tension management- a place to let off stream after the stresses of work
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Types of society

  • Parsons identities 2 types of society- TRADITIONAL & MODERN. Each types has its own typical pattern of norms.
  • Within each type, the variable 'fit' together. for example, in modern society, students are expected to pursue their own individual self-interest, achieving their status through their efforts in education, attained thrugh deferred gratification.
  • they are all judged by the same universal standards of the exams. by constrast, in traditional society, an individual's status is ascribed at birth and they are expected to pt the kindship group's interests before their own (collective orientation)

Social change

  • societies move from simple to complex structures. for example, in traditional society, a single institution- the kinship system- performs many functions. it organised production and consumption (adaptaton), often provides political leadership(goal attainment), socialises its member(latency) and perform religious functions
  • however, as societies develop, the kindship system loses these functions- to factories, political parties,schools, churches and so on. parson calls this structural differentiation
  • Parson also sees gradual change occurring through what he calls moving (or dynamic) equilibrium. as a change occurs in one part of the system, it produces compensatory changes in other parts. e.g., the rise of industry brings about change from one type to another

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Mertons internal critique of functionalism

  • Merton criticise 3 key assumptions of Parson
  • INDISPENSABILITY Parsons assumes that everything in society is functionally indispensable in its existing form.
  • merton argues that this is just untested assumption and he points to the possibility of 'functional alternative' e.g. Parson assumes that primary socialisation is best performed by the nuclear family, but it may be that one-parent families or communes do it just as well or better.
  • FUNCTIONAL UNITY Parsons assumes that all parts of society are tightly integrated into a single whole or 'unity' and that each part is functional for all the rest.
  • Similarly, he assumes that change in one part will have a 'knock-on' effect on all other parts. however, neither of these assumptions is necessarily true.
  • Complex modern societies have many parts, some of which may be only 'related' to another. instead of functional unity, some parts may have 'functional autonomy' from others.
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  • UNIVERSAL FUNCTIONALISM Parson assumes that everything in society pperforms a + function for society as a whole. Yet some things may be functional for some groups &dysfunction for other.
  • the idea of dysfuction introduced a negleted note into functionalism, by suggesting that they may be cionflicts of interest & that some groups may have the power to keep arrangements in place that benefits them at the expense of other.

Manifest & latent functions

  • merton makes a useful distinction between 'manifest function'- intended function& 'latent function'- an unintended function
  • Merton's distinction is therefore useful in helping to reveal the hidden connections between social phenomena, which the actor themselves may not be aware of.
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External critiques of functionalism

Logical criticism

  • Teleology is the idea that things exist coz of their effect or function.e.g F explain the extence of the family in terms of its effect
  • Critics argue that a real explanation of something is one that identifies its cause- and logically, a cause must come before its effect
  • by contrast, functionalism explains the existence of one thing ( the family) in terms of something else that can only be its effect( socialisation) since socialisation can only come after we have families
  • F is also criticised for being unscientific if in principle it is falsifiable by testing. yet this is not true of functionalism
  • E.G F sees deviance as both dysfunctional and functional. if deviance is both functional dysfunctional, then the theory cant be disproved &is unscientific.
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Conflict perspective criticisms

  • Marxist criticise F for its inability to explain conflict and change
  • M argues that society is based on exploitation &divided into classes with conflicting interests & unequal power
  • Stability is simply the result of the dominant class being able to prevent change by using coercion or ideological manipulation.
  • in this view 'shared' values are merely a cloak concealing the interests of the dominant class.
  • Conflict theorists see F as a conversative ideology legitimating the status quo, its focus on harmony &stabiity rather than conflict & change,
  • along with its assumptions of 'universal functionalism' and 'indispensability' all help to justify the existing social order as inevitable and desirable.
  • Critcs argue that this approach legitimates the privileged position of powerful grups who would have most to lose from any fundamental changes in society

Action perspective criticism

  • WRONG criticises functionalism's 'over-socialised' or deterministic view of the individual.
  • he describes the F view as follows the social system uses socialisation to shapes people's behaviour so that they will meet the system's need by perforing their prescribed roles
  • individuals have no free will of choice- they are mere puppets whose string are pulled by the social system.
  • From an action perspective, this is fundamentally mistaken. While F sees human beings as shaped by society, the A P takes the opposite view- that indivivduals create society by their interaction
  • A related criticism is that f reifies society- that is, treats it as a distinct thing over& above individuals with its needs.
  • by contrast, A P argues that society is not a thing "out there" with its own independent existence. for them, the only social reality is the one that individuals construct by giving meaning to their worlds.

Postmodernist criticism

  • postmodernist argue that F assume that society is stable &orderly. as such, it cannot account for the diversity &instabilty that exist in today's postmodern society.
  • in the PM view, F is an example of a meta-narrative that attempts to create a model of the workings of society as a whole. however, according to the PM, such overall theory is no longer possible coz today's society is increasingly fragmented


  • Funtionalism seeks to answer the fundamental question of how social order is posible- even if its answeer neglects conflict & is too deterministic
  • it can also be said theat Merton's move away fom Parsons 'grand theory', his notion of dysfunctions, & his distinction between manifest & latent ffunctions, all provide useful starting points for resarch.
  • it is also true that many of functionalism's critic end up 'borrowing' its basic notion that society is a system of interdependent parts
  • Finall as CRAIB notes, Parsons' theory ' has its fault, but at least it is a theory of society as a whole'
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