Sociology Index


Functionalism is often referred to as ‘consensus perspective’ theory because it doesn’t address the issue of conflict (conflict perspectives) in society, rather functionalism projects an ideal picture of harmonious social relationships. Functionalism emerged in Europe in the 19th century as a response to what was perceived as a crisis of social order. Functionalism seemed to be the result of two developments.

The emergence of a new industrial society with it’s subsequent loss of community – poor working conditions, increase in crime, growth of housing slums, poverty etc. The French revolution which suggested ideals of equality, happiness and freedom of the individual.

These historical conditions which were seen to approximate a crisis of economic and political order thus gave rise to a very conservative type of sociology which reflects a concern with the need for social order and integration. Functionalism is necessary if the social and economic crisis was to be overcome and controlled.

Main ideas in Functionalism - The starting point of all Functionalism is that all societies have certain basic needs - Functional requirements which must be met if a society is to survive.

Functionalists are therefore concerned with the contribution the various parts of a society make towards those needs. All Functionalism is concerned with the basic need and desirability for social order and stability to prevail in society.

Explaining Social Order - In explaining the basis of social order in societies the starting point for Functionalists is to look at whole societies and not the individual; they explore the ways in which the various parts which make up a society function to maintain social order.

David Emile Durkheim draws an analogy between the way a biological organism works and society. The various organs of a living thing work together in order to maintain a healthy whole in much the same way that various institutions in society work together to produce social order.

Central Value System - Functionalists believe that the basis of an orderly society is the existence of a central value system that imposes common values on all its members. Therefore, when Functionalists look at the ways in which the various parts of society contribute to bringing about social order they are mainly concerned with the ways in which these parts help to perpetuate and maintain this common value system.

Talcott Parsons and Education
The family is the Primary agent of Socialization - in the family we are judged on particularistic terms - because we gain ascribed status from the Family. That is to say we are judged in terms of our status as brother, sister, daughter, son etc...