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Functionalist View of Society

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Functionalist View of Society

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  • Feb. 14, 2004
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Society shapes the individual and not the individual that shapes society. What is meant by that is that we are all products of our upbringings and learn through socialization what our beliefs are, what we agree on personally and often shared beliefs and the understanding of what is the "norm." Through our primary interaction with others beginning at home and continuing onto school, college and work, our beliefs aren't always set in stone and can change through time, growth and the interaction with others once outside the family. It seems to me that I would be more of a functionalist rather than a conflict theorist.

In modern societies the boundaries between the functionalist theory and the conflict theory are less clearly defined than in the times of Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim. However the main class groups such as landowners and the working class can still be identified in most societies. It seems to me that I would be more of a functionalist rather than a conflict theorist.

As our textbook says, "Functional analysis is a sociological theory that focuses on the structures that emerge in society and on the functions that these structures perform in the operation of society as a whole." (Landis 467) In other words, functionalists see shared norms and values as being fundamental to society. They focus on social order based on understood agreements and view social change as occurring in a slow and orderly fashion. Functionalism assumes that society is a system whose various sections work together to encourage balance. It assumes that all aspects of society have a certain function. Although, if a part of this mechanism fails, it is not necessary that the whole society will fail because of it.

The functionalist perspective is embedded in the work of Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). It gives us the view of society as an organism in which each part functions in a certain way to ensure the stability of the whole. "Durkheim explained that society was held together...