Structural Functionalism

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Structural functionalism, or simply functionalism, is a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability.[1] This approach looks at society through a macro-level orientation, which is a broad focus on the social structures that shape society as a whole, and believes that society has evolved like organisms.[2] This approach looks at both social structure and social functions. Functionalism addresses society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions, andinstitutions. A common analogy, popularized by Herbert Spencer, presents these parts of society as "organs" that work toward the proper functioning of the "body" as a whole.[3] In the most basic terms, it simply emphasizes "the effort to impute, as rigorously as possible, to each feature, custom, or practice, its effect on the functioning of a supposedly stable, cohesive system". For Talcott Parsons, "structural-functionalism" came to describe a particular stage in the methodological development of social science, rather than a specific school of thought.[4][5] The structural functionalism approach is a macrosociological analysis, with a broad focus on social structures that shape society as a whole.

Criticisms
Main articles: Conflict theory and Critical theory
In the 1960s, functionalism was criticized for being unable to account for social change, or for structural contradictions and conflict (and thus was often called "consensus theory").[46] Also, it ignores inequalities including race, gender, class, which causes tension and conflict. The refutation of the second criticism of functionalism, that it is static and has no concept of change, has already been articulated above, concluding that while Parsons’ theory allows for change, it is an orderly process of change [Parsons, 1961:38], a moving equilibrium. Therefore referring to Parsons’ theory of society as static is inaccurate. It is true that it does place emphasis on equilibrium and the maintenance or quick return to social order, but this is a product of the time in which Parsons was writing (post-World War II, and the start of the cold war). Society was in upheaval and fear abounded. At the time social order was crucial, and this is reflected in Parsons' tendency to promote equilibrium and social order rather than social change. Furthermore, Durkheim favored a radical form of guild socialism along with functionalist explanations. Also, Marxism, while acknowledging social contradictions, still uses functionalist explanations. Parsons' evolutionary theory describes the differentiation and reintegration systems and subsystems and thus at least temporary conflict before reintegration (ibid). "The fact that functional analysis can be seen by some as inherently conservative and by others as inherently radical suggests that it may be inherently neither one nor the other." (Merton 1957: 39) Stronger criticisms include the epistemological argument that functionalism is tautologous, that is it attempts to account for the development of social institutions solely through recourse to the effects that are attributed to them and thereby explains the two circularly. However, Parsons drew directly on many of Durkheim’s concepts in creating his theory. Certainly Durkheim was one of the first theorists to explain a phenomenon with reference to the function it served for society. He said, “the determination of function is…necessary for the complete explanation of the phenomena” [cited in Coser, 1977:140]. However Durkheim made a clear distinction between historical and functional analysis, saying, “When…the explanation of a social phenomenon is undertaken, we must seek separately the efficient cause which produces it and the function it fulfills” [cited in Coser, 1977:140]. If Durkheim made this distinction, then it is unlikely that Parsons did not. However Merton does explicitly state that...
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