Basic ideas

Functionalism is a perspective that attempt to understand society by analyzing the functions each social institutions serves. As the word function implies, Functionalism almost sees society as a organism that continue its existence through the co-functioning of its different body parts.

As accused by many sociologists, the way functionalism analyze society dictates that this perspective will construct a rather idealistic, and sometimes unrealistic understanding of society. Functionality is defined as the positive contribution different social institution made to ensure the survival of society, and thus it is classified as "consensus theory" (It is intuitional to suggests that harmonious interaction between social institutions will have positive contribution toward society. However, it is worth noticing that it is not always as such; for example, a certain level of crime is functional for soceity) . Therefore, functionalism, rather than deducting the function of institutions by observing their behaviors, create functions the institutions may serve and then try to apply those functions to the behaviors of the institutions. This can be problematic because this way of understanding assume that all social structures must have positive contributions to the survival of society, thereby ignoring the possibility that some social institutions may not serve functions at all, or may be harmful to the society.

Being a structural theory, Functionalism describes society in a top-down manner. The primary interest of the functionalists is to show how the cooperations inside the social structure maintain the society. This perspective gives little space for individuals' will of influencing society, since functionalism almost assumes that once the function is settled the individuals inside will automatically comply to the demand of the system.

Important sociologists

Emile Durkheim

Important studies


- As stated earlier in this entry, Functionalism seems to be dedicated to the "consensus" part of society. It is essentially hard for functionalism to decide whether an institution contribute to the existence of society or not (they may hold the view that there is a mechanism, similar to those in organism, embedded in society which helps to eliminate useless or harmful institution; but the existence or at least the efficiency of the mechanism is in question.)

-The studies are based on interpretations of the researcher rather than empirical data.

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