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Assess the contribution of functionalist theory to our understanding of society

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Introduction

Assess the contribution of functionalist theory to our understanding of society Functionalism sees society as a system, that it is a set of interconnected parts which can work together in unison to form a whole. The early functionalists drew an analogy between society and an organism, i.e, the human body. They said that an understanding of an organ of the body involves understanding its relationship with every other organ and its contribution to the organism as a whole; therefore they said that this could also describe society, that every part requires its own analysis to see what it contributes to the society as whole. Functionalists have also continued this argument to say that just like an organ has simple basic needs to survive, so does society, and that if one part fails it will all diminish. Thus social institutions such as the family and religion are analysed as a part of the social order rather than isolated units. Functionalist analysis has focused on the question of how social systems are maintained. With the functionalist concern for investigating on how functional prerequisites (basic needs or necessities of existence) are met. This emphasis has resulted in many institutions being seen as beneficial and useful to society. But this view has led critics to argue that functionalism has a built-in conservative bias which supports the status quo. ...read more.

Middle

Durkheim pointed out that in society a combination of social facts like morals and values and needs like food and reproduction, which are essential. In present society this is also clearly present with values and norms taught throughout the socialization process and societies control that is mostly accepted and holds functions of society together and keep them functional. The functionalists are aware that these functions may not always run smoothly but believe there will always be enough compliance from all other `organs' of society to keep it functioning. Parsons shares one of Durkheim's view that was social control in society is more than just fear, that individuals have moral constraint and compared it to a business deal. Whereby a certain amount of agreement is made on what is wanted from society and then rules are based around this. All societies have this morality in order to stay functional and realise it is constructive. With these same values amongst most members of society a common identity is formed and common goals can be achieved, modern society in a lot of ways conforms to this in that we have divisions which are accepted and rules that are accepted, a society which we are meant to perceive as fair. Functionalists' views put forward an existing social equilibrium where by a combination of social control and socialization run society and its institutions. ...read more.

Conclusion

functionalism would disagree that every institution is there and has developed and should stay shared by conservatives, saying it is there and must be for a reason so changing it would be too bigger risk. Parsons says control is through consensus but there is no evidence to show this and I think in today's society this may be true as a majority but not the whole system of society. The main problem with all functionalist perspectives is that they share the view that society dictates how every individual acts and will act throughout their life and everything is predetermined for them, this is very much disagreed with by anti-positivists theories of research which looks into the individuals rather than the society and tries to reason that they have control over what institutions society creates and how they control them. Therefore functionalism has lost some of its relevance in relation to modern day society; it still holds the base ideas about institutions and functions which other theories have been based and created from. No theory can provide all the answers at the time it was created so it is not expected that it is entirely relevant more than 150 years later. Different aspects of society may be explained by these very different views but overall functionalism is able to give us an understanding of society and is still relevant in some aspects to explaining modern day societies. ...read more.

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