Structural Functionalism (Assumptions: Consensus, Integration, Order, and Predictability)
"Structural functionalism concentrates on the positive and negative functions of social structures. Societal functionalism is a particular type of structural functionalism that aims to explain the role of social structures and institutions in society, the relationship between these structures, and the manner in which these structures constrain the actions of individuals. According to structural functionalists, individuals have little to no control over the ways in which particular structures operate. Indeed, structural functionalists understand individuals in terms of social positions. For example, when the structural functionalists Kingsley Davis and Wilbur Moore discuss social stratification, they do not refer to individuals, but to the positions these individuals occupy. It is not individuals who are ranked, but positions that are ranked according to the degree to which they contribute to the survival of society. High-ranking positions offer high rewards that make them worth an individual’s time and effort to occupy. The structural functionalist account of stratification has been criticized on the grounds that there must be other ways to motivate individuals to occupy particular positions and perform certain tasks without such a disparate system of rewards." (1)
Talcott Parsons’s Structural Functionalism
History and Biography: Talcott Parsons (local copy) (see also the ASA page on Parsons)
Influences and Basic Ideas: Classics, especially Durkheim and Weber (introduced to USA)
Action Theory (local copy of Bolender's page)
3. Essence of Parson’s action theory:
4. By late 1940s he is turning
away from action theory, and 1951: The Social System:
Giddens on Parsons (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy_UzSm0NnY)
Unit act becomes status-role (position within structure). (link to local original)
Personality: needs-dispositions, socio-culturally shaped biological needs,
Value and Motivational orientations (internalization).
Four types of action:
Pattern-Variables (local copy of this): “five dichotomous choices of action that actors must make in every situation—tools for analyzing conscious processes.—fundamental problem of orienting oneself to the situation.” (Ritzer, Classical Sociological Theory, page 467)
Enter Structural-Functionalism and AGIL (system (any type of system) functions—actually functional imperatives) (local copy)
The Action System:
Cultural System (latency/Pattern Maintenance) Social System (integration) Behavioral organism (adaption) Personality System (goal-attainment)
Hierarchies and interrelationships: Lower provides upper with energy (conditions); higher levels control the lower (information)
Problem of Order—what prevents chaos? How does it all “hang together?”
Structural-Functionalism address this:
Social System: “a number of human actors that interact with one another in a situation with a physical or environmental context.” (p.73) Relationships mediated by culture. Society is one special type)
Internalization—Socialization: ways that norms and values (culture) transferred to actors.
Society (relatively self-sufficient collectivity, special type of “social system”)
Fiduciary system (latency/Pattern Maintenance) Societal community (integration) Economy (adaption) Polity (goal-attainment)
Personality linked to social system: roles, expectations, and self-control. Individual as relatively passive
1. Source of energy—the body, affected by conditioning and learning, yet also shaped by genetics.
Talcott Parsons’s Action System
"Talcott Parsons’s version of structural functionalism is perhaps the best known. According to Parsons, four functional imperatives are embedded in all systems of action: adaptation, goal attainment, integration, and latency (also known as pattern maintenance). Adaptation refers to the fact that a system must adjust or cope with its external environment, particularly when this environment is deemed threatening. In order for a system to function effectively, it must first define the goals it hopes to achieve. Parsons called this functional imperative goal attainment. Integration is also important to a system, because it needs to regulate the interrelationship of its component parts. Finally, a system needs to furnish, maintain, and renew motivation for individual participation, including the cultural patterns that create and sustain this motivation. Parsons referred to these functions as latency and pattern maintenance. Parsons further differentiated among four types of action systems: the cultural, the social, the personality, and the behavioral organism. Each of these systems compels actors to perform a specific functional imperative. The behavioral organism takes care of adaptation, the personality performs goal attainment, the social controls integration, and the cultural is responsible for the latency function." (1)
Robert Merton’s Structural Functionalism
"Robert Merton expanded Parsons’s understanding of structural functionalism by explaining not only the function of social structures, but also their dysfunctions, nonfunctions, and net balances. Merton’s theory of structural functionalism has been called “middle range” because he moved away from trying to analyze society as a whole toward studying different levels of the social world such as organizations and groups. Merton also introduced the concepts of manifest and latent functions — referring, respectively, to intended and unintended consequences. According to Merton, functions can also be characterized as displaying unanticipated consequences."(see)
A Structural-Functional Model
Social Structure and Anomie
Go to http://members.tripod.com/GellnerPage/gellner12.html, a website dedicated to the functionalist Ernest Gellner. Read the selection on industrial society from Nations and Nationalism, especially the section on high culture. Then, answer the following questions:
a. What were the functions of the apprenticeship system of education?
b. What are the functions of a national system of general education?
c. Using Parsons’s terms “pattern maintenance” and “goal attainment”, state the relationship between an industrial economy and a national education system.
The Talcott Parsons Page (http://www.hewett.norfolk.sch.uk/curric/soc/PARSONS/parsons.htm). A brief biography and exposition of Parsons’s theories of family and education which were central to his ideas about socialization and pattern maintenance.
Original Works by Parsons and Merton (http://www.spc.uchicago.edu/ssr1/PRELIMS/theory.html)
Lecture and Study Outlines for Parsons, and Davis and Moore 9http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/soc/courses/soc2r3/sf/parsons.htm and http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/soc/courses/soc2r3/sf/d-m.htm)
The Robert Merton Resource Page (http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/~felwell/Theorists/Merton/)
Robert Merton’s Papers (http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/merton/list.html) Links to many of Merton’s most cited works.
Crime Theory (http://www.crimetheory.com/Merton) This website provides references to articles that discuss crime from a structural functionalist perspective. An electronic version of a recent article that focuses on Merton and crime is also available.(see)
Credits, references, and bibliography
Much of this page comes from the "Instructor's Manual" to accompany Contemporary
Sociological Theory and Its Classical Roots: The Basics, Second
Edition, George Ritzer, Mcgraw-Hill, 2007. The Instructor's Manual was prepared
by James Murphy, University of Maryland, College Park and Todd Stillman,
Fayetteville State University. These excerpts are from chapter 4.
2. Ritzer, George. 2007/2010/2013. Contemporary Sociological Theory and Its Classical Roots: The Basics. 2nd/3rd/4th editions. St. Louis: McGraw-Hill
3. Ritzer, George. 2008. Classical Sociological Theory. St. Louis: McGraw-Hill.
4. "Talcott Parsons." The American Sociological Association. Accessed: August 5, 2009. http://www.asanet.org/cs/root/leftnav/governance/past_officers/presidents/talcott_parsons.
5. "Robert Merton." The American Sociological Association. Accessed August 5, 2009. http://www.asanet.org/cs/root/leftnav/governance/past_officers/presidents/robert_k_merton
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