Functionalism is often referred to as the consensus theory because it does not address the issue of conflict in society, and functionalists believe that society operates in a harmonious way that maintains itself in a state of balance, remaining healthy and co-ordinated and any sudden practices that may upset the balance are rejected:
"Sociologists who use functionalist theory assume that society is an organised system of interrelated parts held together by shared values and processes that create consensus among people"
(Coakley, 1998, p.32)
From a functionalist perspective a consensus containing shared norms and values is vital to the functioning of society as order flows from consensus. A sporting example of this is a football team, the players and staff want to win (shared norms and values) and they are willing to help each other out to achieve this, thus the whole team and staff contribute.
A functionalist approach is popular with sociologists aiming to try and preserve the status quo in society, they believe that anything that may upset the balance such as disharmony or exclusion are rejected. From a functionalist view, sport is used to promote common values held essential to the integration and development of a society. McPherson, Curtis and Loy (1989, p.102) believe that "all groups strive to maintain the social order, and that sport can facilitate this process". Functionalists want to show how sport is a valuable contributor to social stability that benefits society as well as individuals, because from a functionalist perspective sport would be seen to help integration within society as it gives people something in common with strangers, and strengthens their relationship with friends.
The Government aims to improve health and they identify how sport is a means of this (Appendix 1), the approach to achieving this is predominantly a functionalist approach in that they believe sport is an inspiration and a precious contributor to health. The Government believes that if they increase opportunities and improve access to facilities for all people, then their goal of improved health will be attained.
This somewhat one-sided view on sport will be analysed throughout this assignment, identifying whether or not the Governments use of sport acknowledges certain factors regarding inclusion and exclusion or are their policies and objectives insufficiently discriminatory and ambiguous. The strengths and weaknesses of the policies will be examined from a functionalist perspective and an understanding will be gained as to whether or not they are viable in a society of conflict.
Government's use of sport
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has laid out policies and objectives for sport and their main objective is to increase participation in sport and physical activity across the whole population (Appendix 2), which in turn will help to improve health and hopefully providing a greater quality of life for all (Appendix 3). According to National Statistics Online "In 2000, 27 per cent of girls and 20 per cent of boys aged between 2 and 19 were overweight" (Appendix 4) (www.nationalstatistics.gov.uk) so this gives an understanding as to why the Government wants to try and promote sport. The Government states the benefits that sport and informal physical activities can have in contributing to good health. An over-emphasis on the positive effects of sport is seen and to quote Hylton et al (2001, p.21); that from a functionalist approach the policy has "an unambiguous utilitarian argument that sport is good for health" and it doesn't identify that not everyone can play sport. Further on in Hylton et al's text (2001, p.130) they state that "for many non-participants, sport is less a source of health gain than an activity ripe with potential for injury".
The Government has identified that to improve participation they need to provide more opportunities (Appendix 5) to as wide a range of sports...
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Department for Culture, Media and Sport, (2004), Sport and Health, (online), DCMS, last accessed on 17 October 2004 at URL: http://www.culture.gov.uk/sport/community_sport/sport_health
Department for Culture, Media and Sport, (2004), Community Sport, (online), DCMS, last accessed on 17 October 2004 at URL: http://www.culture.gov.uk/sport/community_sport
National Statistics Online, (2004), Health: Diet and Nutrition, (online), National Statistics, last accessed on 9 November 2004 at URL: http://www.nationalstatistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget
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