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The functionalist perspective, also called functionalism, is one of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology. It has its origins in the works of Emile Durkheim, who was especially interested in how social order is possible or how society remains relatively stable. Functionalism interprets each part of society in terms of how it contributes to the stability of the whole society. Society is more than the sum of its parts; rather, each part of society is functional for the stability of the whole society. The different parts are primarily the institutions of society, each of which is organized to fill different needs and each of which has particular consequences for the form and shape of society. The parts all depend on each other. For example: the government, or state, provides education for the children of the family, which in turn pays taxes on which the state depends to keep itself running. The family is dependent upon the school to help children grow up to have good jobs so that they can raise and support their own families. In the process, the children become lawabiding, taxpaying citizens, who in turn support the state. If all goes well, the parts of society produce order, stability, and productivity. If all does not go well, the parts of society then must adapt to recapture a new order, stability, and productivity. Functionalism emphasizes the consensus and order that exist in society, focusing on social stability and shared public values. From this perspective, disorganization in the system, such as deviant behavior, leads to change because societal components must adjust to achieve stability. When one part of the system is not working or is dysfunctional, it affects all other parts and creates social problems, which leads to social change. The functionalist perspective achieved its greatest popularity among American sociologists in the 1940s and 1950s. While European functionalists originally focused on explaining the inner workings of social order, American functionalists focused on discovering the functions of human behavior. Among these American functionalist sociologists is Robert K. Merton, who divided human functions into two types: manifest functions, which are intentional and obvious and latent functions, which are unintentional and not obvious. The manifest function of attending a church or synagogue, for instance, is to worship as part of a religious community, but its latent function may be to help members learn to discern personal from institutional values. With common sense, manifest functions become easily apparent. Yet this is not necessarily the case for latent functions, which often demand a sociological approach to be revealed.

Functionalism has received criticism for neglecting the negative functions of an event such as divorce. Critics also claim that the perspective justifies the status quo and complacency on the part of society's members. Functionalism does not encourage people to take an active role in changing their social environment, even when such change may benefit them. Instead, functionalism sees active social change as undesirable because the various parts of society will compensate naturally for any problems that may arise

Functionalism: Basic Principles...

1. It is useful to employ an organism analogy to an understanding of the Functionalist Perspective.

Societies are analogous to living organisms (for example, a human being). Each part of the human body is linked, in some way, to all other parts. Individual organs combine to create something that is "greater than the sum total of their individual parts". In social terms, "organs" equate to social institutions (patterns of shared, stable, behavior) and the focus of analysis is upon the relationship between various institutions in society. This represents a macro approach to the theorizing and study of the social world.

2. All parts of a society have: a. A purpose (or function). b. Certain needs.

For example, the purpose of the work institution is to create wealth and in order to do this it needs people with a certain level of educational knowledge.
In this respect, each institution in society faces certain problems that have to be solved if it is to both exist and function properly. TAlcott Parsons identifies these as: a. Goal Attainment

This involves the need to set goals for human behavior and also to determine the means through which they can be achieved (the means of keeping an institution moving towards its allotted goals). b. Adaptation This involves procuring the means to achieve valued goals. this may, for example, involve the ability to create / provide the physical necessities of institutional life. c. Integration People have to be made to feel a part of any institution. They need to be made to feel that they belong and one way of achieving this is to give them something that they can hold in common (values, beliefs, etc.). The ability of an institution to integrate people successfully is vital for its continuation, internal harmony and so forth. d. Latency (or Pattern Maintenance) This involves the development of social control mechanisms that serve to manage tensions, motivate people, resolve interpersonal conflicts and the like within an institution. Parsons calls the above functional imperatives". That is, "structural commands" that have to be met if an institution - or indeed a society - is to continue to exist. 3. The above leads to the concept of functional interdependence between institutions in society. The purpose of each institution can only be properly understood by examining the relationship it has to all other institutions in society. 4. Society is seen as a form of living organism that exists independently of individuals. Society exists "out there" in the structure of people's social relationships rather than "in here" (inside the mind of individual social actors). 5. People experience society in terms of structural pressures and constraints on their behavior (for example, the pressure to go to school or to work, the pressure to form a family and have children and so forth). In this respect, society is like a "hidden hand" that pushes and coerces people in their daily lives - making us do things that we may not particularly want to do but which we have to do if we are to survive or to continue with our responsibilities to other people. This concept was originally used by Adam Smith ("The Wealth of Nations") to explain the way in which economic markets work. The relationships into which we enter place rules, routines and responsibilities on us and our recognition of these things acts like a hidden hand controlling our behavior. 6. "Individual choice" is not a useful concept for Functionalists because people are seen to react to social stimulation (pressure). That is, they respond to various structural pressures and we learn our responses through the socialization process. 7. Social order is based upon and maintained by a value consensus - a basic agreement about values. These basic values derive from the "functional imperatives" noted above (generated by the way in which institutions have purpose and needs).

8. Durkheim ("The Rules of Sociological Method", 1895) emphasizes two concepts: a. Social Solidarity - the feeling that we belong to a common society (that we have certain basic values in common with people). Solidarity is based upon such things as common culture, socialization, basic values and norms, etc. b. Collective Conscience - the "external expression" of the collective will of people living in a society. This represents the social forces that help bind people together (to integrate them into the collective behavior that is society). It can be likened to the "will" of society. 9. In methodological terms, Functionalism has historical links to positivism, although Durkheim refers to realist methodological concepts (unobservable phenomena such as "levels of social integration" in relation to suicide). If people's behavior is a response to social stimulation, this is like the natural world (where objects react in a nonconscious way to external forces - a light bulb cannot decide not to shine, for example). Therefore, it is possible to study human beings in much the same way since their "consciousness" is not a significant variable in the overall scientific equation. Thus it is possible to study the social world: a. Objectively (that is, with out reference to the sociologist's personal values) and b. Scientifically (that is, in terms of social facts rather than opinions). Functionalist sociology, therefore, tends to advocate the concept of value-freedom in relation to the study of social life.

Functional Requisites are basic functions that must be carried out for societies to survive and thrive.
n sociological research, functional prerequisites are the basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, and money) that an [1] individual requires to live above the poverty line. Functional prerequisites may also refer to the factors that allow a society to maintain social order. Herbert Blumer (1969), who coined the term "symbolic interactions," set out three basic premises of the perspective:

"Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things." "The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society." "These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters."


Culture, groups, social class, social status, social roles, and stigmas.

Forms of relation and interaction

Forms of relation and interaction in sociology and anthropology may be described as follows: first and most basic are animal-like behaviors, i.e. various physical movements of the body. Then there are actions - movements with a meaning and purpose. Then there are social behaviors, orsocial actions, which address (directly or indirectly) other

people, which solicit a response from another agent. Next are social contacts, a pair of social actions, which form the beginning of social interactions. Social interactions in turn form the basis of social relations. Symbols define social relationships. Without symbols, our social life would be no more sophisticated than that of animals. For example, without symbols we would have no aunts or uncles, employers or teachers-or even brothers and sisters. In sum, Symbolic integrationists analyze how social life depends on the ways we define ourselves and others. They study face-to-face interaction, examining how people make sense out of life, how they determine their relationships


Behaviorists have described a number of different phenomena associated with classical conditioning. Some of these elements involve the initial establishment of the response, while others describe the disappearance of a response. These elements are important in understanding the classical conditioning process.


is the initial stage of learning when a response is first established and gradually strengthened. For example, imagine that you are conditioning a dog to salivate in response to the sound of a bell. You repeatedly pair the presentation of food with the sound of the bell. You can say the response has been acquired as soon as the dog begins to salivate in response to the bell tone. Once the response has been acquired, you can gradually reinforce the salivation response to make sure the behavior is well learned.


is when the occurrences of a conditioned response decrease or disappear. In classical conditioning, this happens when a conditioned stimulus is no longer paired with an unconditioned stimulus. For example, if the smell of food (the unconditioned stimulus) had been paired with the sound of a whistle (the conditioned stimulus), it would eventually come to evoke the conditioned response of hunger. However, if the unconditioned stimulus (the smell of food) were no longer paired with the conditioned stimulus (the whistle), eventually the conditioned response (hunger) would disappear.

Spontaneous Recovery

Is the reappearance of the conditioned response after a rest period or period of lessened response. If the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are no longer associated, extinction will occur very rapidly after a spontaneous recovery.

Stimulus Generalizations the tendency for the conditioned stimulus to evoke similar responses after the response has been conditioned. For example, if a child has been conditioned to fear a stuffed white rabbit, the child will exhibit fear of objects similar to the conditioned stimulus.

Discrimination Is the ability to differentiate between a conditioned stimulus and other stimuli that have not been paired with an unconditioned stimulus. For example, if a bell tone were the conditioned stimulus, discrimination would involve being able to tell the difference between the bell tone and other similar sounds.