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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...

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