Strengths and Weaknesses of the Functionalist View on Society

Topics: Sociology, Émile Durkheim, Structural functionalism Pages: 4 (1458 words) Published: February 4, 2013
Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the functionalist view on society.

Functionalism is a consensus perspective, whereby society is based on shared values and norms into which members are socialised. For functionalists, society is seen as a system of social institutions such as the economy, religion and the family all of which perform socialisation functions.

A strength of the functionalist theory is that it a macro level structural theory which uses an organic analogy- using the body as a way to describe the different parts within society. Parsons identifies three similarities; System, System Needs and Functions. The System being organisms such as the human body, and society which fit together in fixed ways. For example in the body, organ cells, in society the parts are institutions and individual roles. The system needs meaning just as organisms have needs such as nutrition; society has needs which need to be met in order to survive, and lastly, functions. Functions involve the contribution something makes to meet the systems needs; so as the circulatory system of the body carries nutrients and oxygen to the tissues, the economy helps maintain the social system by meeting the needs for food and shelter. An example using this analogy would be the brain would be the politics and the family the heart. This analysis clearly looks at the whole of society; all while making it easier to understand sociologically and visually shows how all the different functions of society link and work together. However, the fact that it is a macro level theory can also be interpreted as a disadvantage. It does not look at individuals or small groups within society and therefore may miss differing factors which contribute to the workings of society. Marxists will also criticize the functionalist approach by saying rather than society being a harmonious whole, it is infect based on exploitation and divided into classes with unequal power.

Being a consensus theory,...
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