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Flashcards in Functionalism Deck (37)
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Briefly outline the key features of the functionalist view of society.

- Macro, structural theory.
- Focus: needs of the social system and how these needs shape all main features of society.
- Society: based on consensus among members about values, goals and rules.
- Modernist theory.
- Shares goals of Enlightenment project.


Briefly explain the organic analogy.

Society is like a biological organism. Parsons identifies 3 similarities between society and a biological organism.


Briefly outline Parsons' three similarities between society and a biological organism.

- System: Organisms and societies are self-regulating systems of inter-related, interdependent parts that fit together in fixed ways. Body - organs, cells etc. Society - institutions, individuals roles etc.

- System needs: Organisms have needs e.g nutrition. Organisms will die if needs aren't met. Functionalists: social system has basic needs which need to be met for survival. Ex: members must be socialised.

- Functions: For Functionalists - function of any part of a system is the contribution it makes to meeting the system's needs ensuring its survival. E.g: body - circulatory system carries nutrients + oxygen to the tissues. Society - economy helps maintain the social system by meeting need for food and shelter.


According to Parsons, how is social order achieved?

Through the existence of a shared culture or, in his words, a central value system.


Define culture.

A set of norms, values, beliefs and goals shared by members of a society.


Define value consensus.

The glue that holds society together.


Briefly explain how value consensus makes social order possible.

By integrating individuals into the social system, thereby directing them towards meeting the systems needs.

Example: the system has to ensure that people's material needs are met, and so the consensus may include a general value about the need for people to work.


Briefly outline the following two mechanisms for ensuring that individuals conform to shared norms and meet the system's needs:
- Socialisation
- Social control

- Socialisation: Social system - can ensure that needs are met by teaching individuals to want to do what is requires them to do. Through socialisation - individuals internalise norms and values so society becomes part of their personality structure.

- Social control: Positive sanctions reward conformity. Negative ones punish deviance.
E.g: if the value system stresses individual achievement through educational success, those who deviate by dropping out may be stigmatised as layabouts. Conversely, conformists: rewarded with college diplomas.


How does integration into a shared value system make orderly social life possible?

Makes their behaviour oriented towards pursuing society's shared goals + meeting its needs. The behaviour of each individual will be relatively predictable and stable, allowing cooperation between them.


According to Durkheim, what were the features of traditional society?

- Based on 'mechanical solidarity' with little division of labour, where all its members are alike.

- Strong 'collective conscience' bound them so tightly together that individuals in the modern sense didn't really exist.


According to Durkheim, in what ways is modern society different from traditional society?

- In modern society, the division of labour promotes differences between groups and weakens social solidarity.

- Brings greater freedom to the individual, but this must be regulated to prevent extreme egoism destroying all social bonds.


Briefly explain what Durkheim means by anomie. What is its impact on society?

Rapid change undermines old norms without creating clear new ones, throwing people into a state of anomie or normlessness that threatens social cohesion.


Briefly outline Durkheim's view of society and social facts.

- Society exists as a separate entity over and above its members - a system of external 'social facts' shaping their behaviour to serve society's needs.

- Durkheim's belief that social facts can be explained in terms of their function is the basic principle of functionalist analysis.


Briefly explain the 'building blocks' in Parsons' model of the social system.

At the bottom we have individual actions. Each action we perform is governed by specific norms or rules. These norms come in 'clusters' called status roles. Status roles also come in clusters, known as institutions. In return, related institutions are grouped together into sub-systems. These sub-systems together make up the social system as a whole.


Briefly outline the four basic system needs (AGIL schema) that Parsons identifies.

- Adaptation: The social system meets it members' material needs through the economic sub-system.

- Goal attainment: Society needs to set goals and allocate resources to achieve them. This is the function of the political sub-system, through institutions such as parliament.

- Integration: The different parts of the system must be integrated together to pursue shared goals. This is the role of the sub-system of religion, education and the media.

- Latency: Refers to the processes that maintain society over time. The kinship sub-system provides pattern maintenance and tension management.


Which of the four basic system needs (AGIL schema) are instrumental and which expressive? Explain your answers.

- Instrumental: adaptation and goal attainment.

- Expressive: integration and latency.


Briefly outline the norms of modern society.

We pursue our individual self-interest, achieve our status and are all judged by the same universalistic standards (such as equality before the law).


Briefly outline the norms of traditional society.

Individuals are expected to put collective interests first, status is ascribed and they're judged by particularistic standards (such as different laws for nobles and commoners).


According to Parsons, how do societies change from one type to the other?

Change is a gradual, evolutionary process of increasing complexity and structural differentiation.


Briefly explain structural differentiation. Give an example to illustrate this.

Societies move from simple to complex structures.

Example (trad society): a single institution - the kinship system - performs many functions. It organises production and consumption (adaptation), often provides political leadership (goal attainment), socialises its members (latency) and performs religious functions (integration).


Briefly outline Merton's criticism of Parsons' three key assumptions.

Indispensability: Parsons - everything in society is functionally indispensable in its existing form. Merton - argues this it's an untested assumption and points to the possibility of 'functional alternatives'.

Functional unity: Assumes all parts of society are tightly integrated into a 'unity' and each part is functional for all the rest. Also: change in one part will have a 'knock-on' effect on all other parts. However, neither assumptions are necessarily true. Some parts may be distantly related to each other. Instead of functional unity, some parts may have 'functional autonomy'.

Universal functionalism: Assumes everything in society performs a positive function for society as a whole. However, dysfunction introduces a neglected note into functionalism by suggesting there may be conflicts of interest and that some groups may have the power to keep arrangements in place that benefit them at the expense of others.


Using examples, briefly explain Merton's two types of function.

Manifest (intended): Hopi Indians who perform a rain dance with the aim of magically producing rain (during droughts).

Latent (unintended): Promoting a sense of solidarity in times of hardship, when individuals might be tempted to look after themselves at the expense of others.


Define teleology.

The idea that things exist because of their effect or function.


Using the example of the family, explain the criticism that functionalism is teleological.

Functionalism explains the existence of one thing (the family) in terms of something else that can only be its effect (socialisation) since socialisation can only come after we have families.


Briefly explain why functionalism is unscientific. Give an example to illustrate this.

For many, a theory is only scientific if in principle it is falsifiable by testing. Yet this isn't true of functionalism.

E.g: functionalists see deviance as both dysfunctional and functional (e.g by reinforcing social solidarity). If deviance is both, then the theory cannot be disproved and is unscientific.


Briefly outline the Marxist criticism of functionalism.

- Inability to explain conflict and change (inability arises partly out of the organic analogy).
- Argue society isn't a harmonious whole (based on exploitation and division).
- Stability: result of dominant class being able to prevent change by using cohesion or ideological manipulation.


According to conflict theorists, how does functionalism legitimate the status quo?



Briefly outline Wrong's action perspective criticism of functionalism.



Briefly explain how functionalism reifies, Why do action approaches see this as a problem?



Briefly outline the postmodernist criticism of functionalism.