The Theories of Theory and Methods




Functionalism is a structural theory founded by Durkheim, which adopts a macro approach to explaining society. Functionalism explores society by analysing different social institutions and their underlying roles and functions. It is a modernist approach which was greatly developed in the mid-20th century by Parson. This essay will evaluate…

Organic Analogy

-          A central concept of functionalism is the organic analogy

-          This is the view that society and the body are comparable, as they are both made up of distinct parts, each with their own unique roles, which together keep the whole running smoothly and effectively

-          For example, Parsons argued that society has ‘system needs’ such as core norms and values, which if are not taught, will lead to society breaking down

-          This theory is an important contribution of functionalism, as it demonstrates that institutions in society are inter-related and inter-dependent

-          However, conflict theories such as Marxism and feminism argue that social institutions do not contribute to the smooth running of society for the benefit of all, and instead argue that institutions maintain hierarchies, such as ruling class power over the working classes or male power over women

Consensus and Social Solidarity

-          A further contribution of functionalism is explaining how social order is possible in society

-          Parsons argues that social order is only possible when members of society agree on shared norms and values, which Parsons refer to as value consensus

-          For example, primary and secondary socialisation ensures younger members of society are taught the norms and values from an early age

-          This theory helps explain how consensus is formed between individuals in society, and is an important contribution to functionalism

-          Alternatively, action perspectives would criticise functionalist views of socialisation as deterministic as it implies that we have little free will or choice over our lifestyle and choices

Family and Households

-          One area functionalism has contributed to is the family

-          Parsons argues that the family is responsible for performing two irreducible functions

-          These are the primary socialisation of children and the stabilisation of adult personalities

-          Functionalism recognises the important role the family plays, particularly in preparing children for adulthood, and acting as a haven of support within society

-          However, the functionalist view of the family can be criticised for being too optimistic, and ignoring the dark side of family life, such as domestic violence

Research Methods

-          Durkheim was a positivist who saw sociology as a science; he regarded quantitative methods as the most appropriate to use when studying society

-          Quantitative methods include official statistics, questionnaires, structured interviews and experiments

-          Functionalism in this regard has made an important contribution to the subject type sociology is, and how society, social institutions and human behaviour can be explained using a scientific approach

-          However, interpretivists would argue that qualitative methods are more…




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