Functionalism

Topic: Theoretical Approaches

Functionalism is a perspective of thinking that analyses society on a macrosociological perspective and how each and examines the structures that make up a society and the contribution it makes to societal stability.

Functionalism defines that society is heading towards an equilibrium where society adapts to changes that happen to it. Functionalism views society as a connected structure between institutions such as schools, media, banks, etc. that meet the needs of society and social facts, which are ways of thinking or acting as formed by the society that cannot be influenced by individuals. Some examples of social facts are; law, religion, birth rates, and death rates. All of these social facts have no impact on society but would impact the individual.

Functionalism views all structures, whether social facts or institutions as essential in meeting the needs of society and maintaining the equilibrium. For example, schools will educate students who will then find jobs and work in the community. The outcomes of institutions are known as manifest functions. Another example of this would be banks providing loans to businesses to provide services to the community; the manifest of this is the provision of services to maintain the community/society. Latent functions are the indirect effects of an institution, for example, when a school takes students on extracurricular activities, this will lead to students being exposed to new learning opportunities which may change their outcomes or perspectives.

Functionalism, however, focuses only on institutions and large groups but not the individual meaning it is limited in its application. It also does not take into account social change and conflict as it is not adaptable to these changes due to its focus on maintaining equilibrium in society.

Practice Questions

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Key Points

• Functionalism is the study of institutions and social facts and their role in maintaining society as an equilibrium.

• Functionalism promotes solidarity and stability in a community but cannot account for the individual or any social changes


Key Terms

social facts: are ways of thinking or acting for individuals as deemed by society

functionalism: is a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability

institutions: In the social sciences, institutions are the structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given

manifest function: the element of a behavior or outcome that is conscious and deliberate

macrosociological: the study of sociological trends on large scales of populations, countries or institutions



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