Functionalist Theory interprets every part of society regarding how they contribute to the whole collective system. This theoretical perspective has its origins in the works of Emile Durkheim. Other notable theorists include Talcott Parsons, Robert K. Merton, and Herbert Spencer. Society acts like a living organism. Each part of community plays a necessary role and can’t function alone. If one of these individual parts of society fails, they all do. Within functionalist theory, the multiple components of society are composed of social institutions. Some of these core institutions are family, government, economy, education, media, and religion. Each of these has a vital role to play for society to properly work. An excellent example of how this functions is how taxes are paid by citizens for the government to pay for schools and to keep the state running correctly. If one of these links in the chain break, society falls.
Functionalism is often critiqued for the often negative implications of social order it creates. “Functionalism does not encourage people to take an active role in changing their social environment, even when doing so may benefit them. Instead, functionalism sees agitating for social change as undesirable because the various parts of society will compensate in a seemingly natural way for any problems that may arise” (Crossman, 2016). This shows how functionalism can be criticized for its failure to account for social change and individual agency, as well as being conservatively biased. Functionalism can also be criticized for attributing human-like needs to society as a whole.
An excellent example of functionalism in government is how it enforces norms and regulates conflicts. Governments also coordinate and plan activities as well as conduct dealings with other societies. Functionalism also applies to the law system. In the many facets that make up a functional society such as lawyers, judges, police, and criminals, each has a specific role to play in the justice system. Functionalism acts a lot like a hand, each finger having a particular role to play that is necessary for the hand to work. Although some of the roles are more important, like a thumb, it is only as strong as the other parts of the system. Society is a very delicate thing. The smallest ripple or disruption can cause chaos. For instance, when a disaster hits and the trucks carrying food to grocery stores stop, the shelves go empty in a fraction of time. Because of this, the surrounding area’s food supply stops and then the disaster goes from bad to worse. Functionalism theory is a very important subject everyone should study because it explains how many aspects of society works. One must be aware of how the world works if he or she wants to truly find their correct place in it.
Crossman, A. (2016, May 6). Everything You Need to
Know About Functionalist Theory. Retrieved June 25,
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