THEORY BRIEFING SHEET: FUNCTIONALISM
1. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE INDIVIDUAL AND SOCIETY
Functionalism has its origins in the work of Emile Durkheim, a 19th Century French Philosopher and Sociologist. Durkheim’s work originated as an attempt to resolve the Hobbesian Problem of Order (after the philosopher Thomas Hobbes) - which, in brief, questions why a society which is ultimately comprised of lots of self-interested individuals doesn’t collapse into all-out war. The solution proposed by Durkheim was that people did not have complete freewill rather, our behaviour is shaped and limited by social laws (in the same way the natural world is subject to the laws of nature). By this, he means the accepted ways of life which exist externally to the individual (e.g. they exist before we are born and will persist after we die), and which are internalised during our socialisation. These norms and values give shape to our behaviour, and without them there would be chaos - what Durkheim calls Anomie. The basic principles outlined by Durkheim staked Functionalism’s claim as a structural-consensus theory - one which emphasises that behaviour is constrained by social pressures, and that this contraint maintains social order to the benefit of all.
3. FUNCTIONAL IMPERATIVES
The term “Functionalism” was first coined in the 1950s by the American sociologist Talcott Parsons - who brought together the principles of Durkheim and other theorists to create a unified sociological theory. Parsons also extended these ideas - making particular additions to the organic analogy. He notes, for example, that living organisms have a set of core “needs” - which, left unfulfilled, cause illness and death. Society, he continues, also has fundamental needs - or Functional Imperatives - which must be met if it is to continue to exist in a state of health. These needs, he argues, are; ● Adaptation - ensuring that society organises its resources in an efficient way, to use the environment to...
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