Unformatted text preview: Functionalism and the
Roots of Sociology
•The historical background to Sociology. What were the
circumstances surrounding the rise of Sociology in the
•What was their starting point? In other words, what did
they perceive as the main problems facing the new
• What is the term Functionalists use to describe
society’s basic needs?
•What institutions or ‘agencies,’ did the early
Sociologists identify as shouldering the biggest
responsibility in meeting those needs?
•What analogy do Functionalists use for human society? ‘Functional Requirements’ Functionalists prioritise the following, and look for
‘socialising agencies’ (all of which ought to work in
tandem, hence the term ‘interdependence of
institutions’) to assert these values;
institutions’) Social order/stability Value consensus Socialisation Conformity/consensus Functionalist Theorists
Functionalist Functionalism has been out of fashion within
Sociological circles since the 1960s. Can you recall
why this perspective may of appeared inappropriate at
this particular time?
this Nevertheless, this theory provides many of the
‘building blocks’ of the discipline, and its concerns
(deviance, conformity, social group behaviours, class,
gender etc) remain sociology’s main areas of enquiry.
What might the American Sociologist Talcott Parsons
say about the education system? What might Emile
Durkheim a contemporary hot potato like ‘integration?’
Durkheim Murdock and the Nuclear Family
Murdock ‘A people whose marriages and families are weak can
have no solid institutions.’
For Functionalists such as Murdock, the Nuclear
Family is a universal feature of human societies the
world over. After carrying our case studies into 250
human societies for his anthropological work ‘Social
Structure,’ he proposed that this family type is
biologically ‘natural.’ Education Parsons argued that the Family acts as a ‘bridge’
between the individual and wider society.
between Within the family we gain ‘ascribed’ status- we are
judged in terms of our status as brother, sister,
daughter Education provides Secondary socialisation – now
we are judged on ‘achieved’ status. Our conduct is
measured against universal values. Schools must operate on meritocratic principles.
For Parsons, Ability + Effort = Merit.
For Education and ‘Role Allocation’
Education Schools must instil the value of achievement by
rewarding those who succeed, and the value of
equality of opportunity, so that all who make the
necessary commitments will succeed.
necessary Hence, the best people will go on to fill the most
important positions This represents achieved
status in action.
status Can you think of any reservations
you might have with Parsons?
you Emile Durkheim and Integration
Emile For Durkheim, people are creatures whose desires are
unlimited. “The more one has, the more one wants.”
This natural insatiability must be kept in check by
external, social controls. A well-regulated society should impose controls
(social controls) on human desires.
(social What state ensues when regulations on human
behaviour begin to break down?
behaviour Functionalism as a Macro, or
Structural-Sociology So, the individual is born into an ongoing social system – it
existed before you were born. It exists independently of you, and
determines our behaviour. The individual acts according to a
‘script’ laid down by society. The values, institutions and of
society shape our actions and roles. What do you think this says about individual choice (‘agency’)? Are we puppets? “For a moment we see ourselves as puppets
indeed. But then we grasp a decisive difference between the
puppet theatre and our own drama. Unlike the puppets, we have
the possibility of stopping in our movements, looking up and
perceiving the machinery by which we have been moved. In this
act lies the first step towards freedom.”
act Peter Berger (1963) ...
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