Why has the functionalist perspective been so severely criticised?
Structural functionalism developed out of the European philosophical traditions of the C19th. It was in some respects, a response to the massive social upheavals of industrialisation and political unrest of the times as it offered a way of accounting for social unrest by looking at the power of society over the thoughts and actions of men.
The nature of humanity was seen as selfish but rational. Man needed the power of society to restrain and control him. Society was seen as a compelling force and early structuralists such as Hobbes and Durkheim emphasised the power of society and the relative lack of power of mankind to control it. The emphasis of the earliest writers in the tradition, Comte, Spencer and Durkheim, shows a concern with the need for order and harmonious integration in social life. It is their work which has formed the basis of the work by Parsons and others in the USA. This writing forms the basis of the functionalist perspective and has been very influential in the thought and research of Sociology in that country though functionalism has been less influential in modern European thought.
One of the underlying tenets of functionalism is the organic analogy. This is essentially a descriptive technique which suggests that society is similar to an organism in Biology. This theory has been put forward by many writers and is strongly associated with the work of the anthropologist, Radcliffe-Brown. It originated at the turn of the century with new discoveries in the natural sciences and is a holistic view of society which suggests that just as organs serve different functions for the biological organism, so the individual institutions of our society serve the needs and purposes of the whole of our culture.
The contrast with the social theory of Marxism could not be more strongly marked. Marxism stresses that the motive force for society and social change is conflict. He stresses that