Functionalist Explanation, Social Stratification, Social Inequality, Social Structures, Labeling Theory
Structural functionalism is a perspective used to analyze societies and their
component features that focuses on their mutual integration and interconnection. Structural
functionalism addresses what social functions various elements of the social system
perform with regard to the system as a whole. Social
structures are placed at the center of analysis, and social functions are deduced from
these structures. Structural functionalism implies that social institutions, collectively
forming a social structure, function to maintain the harmony of the social whole.
Structural functionalism was a theoretical school in
British social anthropology and was originally formulated in opposition to evolutionism.
The concern of structural-functionalism was a continuation of the Durkheimian task of
explaining the need for stability and internal cohesion in the system as a whole.
Unlike the other major theoretical approaches, the
structural functional model comes from a variety of authors. Usually it is associated with
Talcott Parsons, although the single most famous article is a short summary article on social stratification by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert
Moore. Robert Merton is another well known sociologist who provided some important
structural functional theoretical statements. All of these were sociologists who were from
the United States and spent most of their academic life there. As a result, this approach
is often associated with sociology in the United States.
Parsons and the functionalist approach to sociology
occupy an intermediate position between classical and contemporary sociology. Some new
sociological approaches were developed in North America before Parsons. But Parsons and
the functional approach to sociology became so dominant that by the late 1950s, sociology
and functionalism became more or less identical - Wallace and Wolf.
Wallace and Wolf trace the development of structural
functionalism to Comte, Herbert Spencer, and Durkheim. The functional approach was
developed from the 1930s through the 1960s in the United States. Parsons studied Weber and
Durkheim, and translated some of these into English. Parsons thus became a major
interpreter of these writers in America, and his interpretation may be considered to have
developed the influence of these writers in a particular way. Although a liberal within
the American context, Parsons used concepts and models from Weber and Durkheim to
establish a sociological approach which countered the Marxian view.
emphasizes the aspects of social institutions and behavior that are conducive to stability
and order within society. Functionalism analyses the way that social processes and
institutional arrangements contribute to the effective maintenance and stability of
society. The fundamental perspective is opposition to major social change.
Structural-functionalism drew its inspiration primarily
from the ideas of Emile Durkheim, Bronislaw Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown. Structural
functionalist theory is associated with Radcliffe-Brown and Evans-Pritchard.
Structural functionalism is a range of theoretical
perspectives within anthropology and sociology that addresses the relationship of social
activity to an overall social system. The most famous accomplishment of the
structural functionalists was the formulation of segmentary lineage theory.
Structural Functionalism as a Heuristic Device
- Chilcott, John H.
Abstract: Argues that structural functionalism as a method for conducting fieldwork and as
a format for the analysis of ethnographic data remains a powerful model, one that is
easily understood by professional educators. As a heuristic device, functionalist theory
can help in the solution of a problem that is otherwise incapable of theoretical
justification. - eric.ed.gov
Feminine Faces of Leadership: Beyond Structural-Functionalism? - Fennell,
Abstract: Reviews four philosophical leadership perspectives: structural-functionalism,
constructivism, critical theory, and feminism. Explores the leadership phenomenon through
the eyes of six women principals. Although the behaviors of all six fall within a
structural-functionalist perspective, each is attempting to construct inclusive, positive,
and enabling leadership practices. (39 references) (MLH)
Outcomes-Based Education Reexamined: From Structural Functionalism to Poststructuralism -
Colleen A. Capper, Department of Educational Administration, 1186D Educational Sciences
Building, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michael T. Jamison
Educational Policy, Vol. 7, No. 4, 427-446 (1993)
Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) views itself as a drastic break from current educational
practices and a means of providing educational success for all students. Though not stated
in overt terms, OBE also positions it self as a means of "emancipating "
students and teachers from traditional practices which lead to educational inequity. This
article reexamines OBE from a multiparadigm perspective of organizations and educational
administration. This examination reveals that although there does indeed seem to befacets
of outcome-based practice which are empowering to students and teachers, much of the
system continues to be lodged in a framework which aims toward structure and control.
Synecdoche and Structural-Functionalism
by N. J. Demerath III © 1966 Social Forces, University of North Carolina Press.
Abstract: Both critics and defenders tend to regard structural-functionalism as a single
school with a distinct identity and a common strategy. This paper argues that the illusion
of unity has obfuscated the debate. It suggests that structural-functionalism harbors at
least two quite different approaches. While both are "legitimate," they lead to
different conclusions and different vulnerabilities. Thus, it matters whether one is
primarily concerned with the structural part or the systematic whole. In each case there
are advantages and disadvantages, but charges of Panglossian unity, illusions of
indispensability, static analysis, and ideological conservatism do not apply equally to
both. Each is exposed to biases, but the biases are not the same.
Structural-Functionalism Reconsidered: A Proposed Research Model
by Ruth Lane © 1994 The City University of New York.
Abstract: Structural-functionalism, once the flagship of comparative political research,
has fallen upon the ash heap of history, discarded by friends and foes alike for failures
of theoretical rigor and, worse still, falsity of predictions about political development.
Twenty years of hindsight suggest that structural-functionalism need not be so arbitrarily
discarded. When radically revised by means of a conversion from macro-analysis to a form
of micro-analysis, structural-functionalism shows a theoretical vigor that its successors
often lack. The theory can be turned on its head to provide a series of propositions and
hypotheses at a level sufficiently concrete to integrate theoretical development within
comparative political research.