Functionalism: Similarities between Society and an Organism

Topics: Sociology, Social class, Marxism Pages: 9 (3360 words) Published: January 19, 2014
Functionalism has given a useful understanding of society, despite its limitations. Functionalists describe society using an organic analogy; they say society is like a biological organism. Parsons found three similarities between society and an organism. System organisms such as the human body and society are both self-regulating and inter-related, independent parts fit together in fixed ways. In the body these are organs; in society they are institutions, such as family and education. Both organisms have system needs for example an organism needs nutrition without which it would die. Social systems have basic needs for example members of society need to be socialised. Both society and organisms function to contribute to meeting the systems needs and thus ensure survival. For example the circulatory systems delivers oxygen to cells, similarly the economy in society helps meet the needs for food and shelter. Parsons argues the central question sociology tries to answer is how is social order possible? Parsons argues social order is achieved through the existence of a shared value system. A culture is a set of norms, values, beliefs and goals shared by members of society. It provides a framework enabling individuals to cooperate by laying down rules about how to behave and what others expect of them, defining goals they should pursue and so on. Social order is only possible so long as members of society agree on these norms and values. This agreement is called value consensus. Value consensus is the glue that holds society together. Thus the basic function of value consensus is to make social order possible. It does this by integrating individuals into the social system thus directing them too meet the systems needs. Parsons argues the system has two mechanisms to ensure individuals conform to shared norms and meet the systems needs. One of the mechanisms is socialisation; the social system can ensure its needs are met by teaching individuals to want to do what it requires them to. Through the socialisation process individuals internalise the systems norms and values so that society becomes part of their personality structure. Different agencies of socialisation such as them family, education ect all contribute to this process. Another mechanism is social control where positive sanctions reward conformity while negative ones punish deviance. As individuals are integrated through socialisation and social control into a shared value system, their behaviour is orientated towards pursuing societies shared goals and meeting its needs. The behaviour of each individual will be predictable and stable and allows cooperation. This integration into the shared normative order makes orderly social life possible. Parsons uses a building block approach to describe the social system. At the bottom are individual actions, each action we perform is governed by norms or rules. These norms are called status roles, for example a teacher. Statuses are positions that exist in the social system. Roles are a set of norms that tell us how the occupant of the status must carry out their duties. Status roles come in clusters, known as institutions, such as the family. Related institutions are grouped together in sub systems such as the economy. These sub systems together make the social system as a whole. Parsons identifies four basic needs of society. Each need is met by a separate sub system of institutions. One is adaption; the social system meets its members material needs. These needs are met by the economic sub system. Another is goal attainment; society needs to set goals and allocate resources to achieve them. This is the function of the political sub system, through institutions such as parliament. Another is integration; the different part of the system need to be integrated together in order to pursue shared goals. This is performed by sub systems of religion, education and the media. The fourth one is latency; this refers to the process...
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