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Structural Functionalism is a sociological paradigm which addresses what social functions various elements of the social system perform in regard to the entire system. Social structures are placed at the centre of analysis and social functions are deduced from these structures. It was developed in the United Kingdom by social anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski and Alfred Radcliffe-Brown. (Radcliffe-Brown is often cited as the founder of Structural Functionalism.)

Structural Functionalism drew its inspiration primarily from the ideas of Émile Durkheim and Max Weber. It emphasises the central role that agreement (consensus) between members of a society on morals plays in maintaining social order. This moral consensus creates an equilibrium, the normal state of society. Durkheim was concerned with the question of how societies maintain internal stability and survive over time. Durkheim proposed that such societies tend to be segmentary, being composed of equivalent parts that are held together by shared values, common symbols, or, as his nephew Marcel Mauss (1925) held, systems of exchanges. In modern, complex societies members perform very different tasks, meaning that a strong interdependence develops between them. Based on the metaphor of an organism in which many parts function together to sustain the whole, Durkheim argued that complex societies are held together by organic solidarity. He espoused a strong sociological perspective of society which was continued by Radcliffe-Brown (1952), who, following Auguste Comte, believed that the social constituted a separate ‘level’ of reality distinct from both the biological and from inorganic matter. Explanations of social phenomena, therefore, need to be constructed within this social level, with individuals merely being transient occupants of comparatively stable social roles.

Consequently, Radcliffe-Brown proposed that most stateless ‘primitive’ societies that lack strong centralised institutions or government are based on an association of corporate descent groups. Structural Functionalism also takes on Malinowski's (1928) argument that the basic building block of society is the nuclear family, and that clans are therefore an outgrowth of families, not vice versa.

The central concern of Structural Functionalism is a continuation of the Durkheimian task of explaining the apparent stability and internal cohesion of societies which are necessary to ensure their continued existence over time. Societies are seen as coherent, bounded and fundamentally relational constructs, who function like organisms, with their various parts (social institutions) working together to maintain and reproduce them. The various parts of society are assumed to work in an unconscious, quasi-automatic fashion towards the maintenance of the overall social equilibrium. All social and cultural phenomena are, therefore, seen as being functional in the sense of working together to achieve this state and are effectively deemed to have a ‘life’ of their own. They are then primarily analysed in terms of this function they play. Individuals are significant not in and of themselves but in terms of their status, their position in patterns of social relations, their roles and the behaviour(s) associated with their status. The social structure is then the network of statuses connected by associated roles.

In Integrated SocioPsychology terms, Structual Functionalism describes much of the Lower Right of 4Q/8L.

Action Frames of Reference & Social Change
The dominant figure in the devlopment of Structural Functionalism as applied to understanding modern Western society has been American Talcott Parsons.

According to Parsons (1937), Sociology needs a set of concepts that allows talk of social action, rather than physical events or biological behaviour. Parsons thoughta of these concepts as an action frame of reference. There are 5 basic elements to an action frame of reference:- Actors - those who...
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