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Structural Functionalism Essay Paper

Words: 815, Paragraphs: 6, Pages: 3

Paper type: Essay , Subject: Biology

STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM: IT’S ROLE IN COMMUNICATION Structural functionalism is a broad perspective in sociology and anthropology which sets out to interpret society as a structure with interrelated parts. Functionalism addresses society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions and institutions. A common analogy, popularized by Herbert Spencer, presents these parts of society as “organs” that work toward the proper functioning of the “body” as a whole. 1] In the most basic terms, it simply emphasizes “the effort to impute, as rigorously as possible, to each feature, custom, or practice, its effect on the functioning of a supposedly stable, cohesive system. ” For Talcott Parsons, “structural-functionalism” came to describe a particular stage in the methodological development of social science, rather than a specific school of thought. [2][3] Classical functionalist theories are defined by a tendency towards biological analogy and notions of social evolutionism: Functionalist thought, from Comte onwards, has looked particularly towards biology as the science providing the closest and most compatible model for social science. Biology has been taken to provide a guide to conceptualizing the structure and the function of social systems and to analysing processes of evolution via mechanisms of adaptation … functionalism strongly emphasises the pre-eminence of the social world over its individual parts (i. . its constituent actors, human subjects). — Anthony Giddens The Constitution of Society 1984, [4] Whilst one may regard functionalism as a logical extension of the organic analogies for society presented by political philosophers such as Rousseau, sociology draws firmer attention to those institutions unique to industrialised capitalist society (or modernity). Functionalism also has an anthropological basis in the work of theorists such as Marcel Mauss, Bronislaw Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown. It is in Radcliffe-Brown’s specific usage that the prefix ‘structural’ emerged. 5] Durkheim proposed that most stateless, “primitive” societies, lacking strong centralised institutions, are based on an association of corporate-descent groups. Structural functionalism also took on Malinowski’s argument that the basic building block of society is the nuclear family, and that the clan is an outgrowth, not vice versa. Durkheim was concerned with the question of how certain societies maintain internal stability and survive over time. He proposed that such societies tend to be segmented, with equivalent parts held together by shared values, common symbols or, as his nephew Marcel Mauss held, systems of exchanges.

In modern, complicated societies, members perform very different tasks, resulting in a strong interdependence. Based on the metaphor above of an organism in which many parts function together to sustain the whole, Durkheim argued that complicated societies are held together by organic solidarity. These views were upheld by Radcliffe-Brown, who, following Comte, believed that society constitutes a separate “level” of reality, distinct from both biological and inorganic matter. Explanations of social phenomena had therefore to be constructed within this level, individuals being merely transient occupants of comparatively stable social roles.

The central concern of structural functionalism is a continuation of the Durkheimian task of explaining the apparent stability and internal cohesion needed by societies to endure over time. Societies are seen as coherent, bounded and fundamentally relational constructs that function like organisms, with their various parts (or social institutions) working together in an unconscious, quasi-automatic fashion toward achieving an overall social equilibrium. All social and cultural phenomena are therefore seen as functional in the sense of working together, and are effectively deemed to have “lives” of their own.

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They are primarily analyzed in terms of this function. The individual is significant not in and of himself but rather in terms of his status, his position in patterns of social relations, and the behaviours associated with his status. The social structure, then, is the network of statuses connected by associated roles. It is simplistic to equate the perspective directly with political conservativism. [6] The tendency to emphasise “cohesive systems”, however, leads functionalist theories to be contrasted with “conflict theories” which instead emphasise social problems and inequalities.

Radcliffe-Brown’s theory can be applied even to the modern age communication, where the overall society can be seen as com prising of several components, like institutions, mores, norms, customs and so on, within which there are several smaller units. A human individual can be counted as a single and most basic unit of any of these “organs. ” Just like in a human body, where every organ has a function, each individual can have a part to play in the bigger body of society, which is all-important in order for the human body to function.

These functions can be accounted as a role, which could be based in society, culture, economy or even politics. These roles are very well portrayed in advertising, movies and literature, sometimes even emerging as stereotypes. However, these stereotypes can also be used as a positive role model. As long as this principle is not enforced on any individual unwillingly, and each carries out his ‘role’ satisfactorily, then a society tends to run smooth. However, the threat of misusing a natural hierarchy always lingers, as history has always shown. Vidya Nair PGP1 18081 Section A

Structural Functionalism Essay

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