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STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM. The dominant theoretical paradigm of the British school of social anthropology, 1930–1955. Associated with the theoretical writings of A. R. Radcliffe-Brown in Structure and function in primitive society. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown 1881-1955. A.R . Radcliffe-Brown.

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Structural functionalism


The dominant theoretical paradigm of the British school of social anthropology, 1930–1955.

Associated with the theoretical writings of A. R. Radcliffe-Brown in Structure and function in primitive society

A. R. Radcliffe-Brown 1881-1955

A r radcliffe brown

A.R. Radcliffe-Brown

  • Born: Alfred Reginald Brown

  • Birmingham, England, 1881

  • Family of modest means

  • Last of three children

  • Had tuberculosis--left his lungs impaired

  • In 1926 he added his mother's maiden name to his

    own, becoming famous as A. R. Radcliffe-Brown.



  • King Edward’s High School in Birmingham and Trinity College, Cambridge

  • Turn of the century important developments in field of philosophy and in anthropology

  • Radcliffe- Brown spent the years 1906-1908 in Andaman Islands

  • His fellowship for Trinity College was a reconstruction of Andamanese culture history

Andaman islanders

Andaman Islanders

Andaman islands

Andaman Islands



  • French Sociologists:

  • Durkheim

  • Maussin particular

  • Thereafter was concerned primarily with the meaning and function of rites, myths, and institutions



  • Most of working life spent outside England.

  • He held chairs of social anthropology at:

  • Cape Town, 1920-1925

  • Sydney, 1925-1931

  • Chicago, 1931-1937

  • Oxford, 1937-1946

  • Visiting professor at Yenching, China in 1935 and

  • Sao Paulo, Brazil from 1942 to 1944.



  • After retirement from Oxford:

  • Professor of social science and director of Institute of Social Studies at Farouk University, Alexandria, Egyptfrom 1947 to 1949

  • Later held special appointment at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, from 1951 to 1954.

Structural functionalism

  • “I conceive of social anthropology as the theoretical natural science of human society,

  • the investigation of social phenomena by methods essentially similar to those used in the physical & biological sciences.

  • While I have defined social anthropology as the study of human society, there are some who define it as the study of culture.

  • It might be thought that this difference is of minor importance.

  • Actually it leads to two different kinds of study”

Structural functionalism

  • “In a hive of bees there are the relations of association of the queen, the workers & the drones.

  • These are social phenomenon; I do not suppose that anyone will call them cultural phenomena.

  • Let us consider what are the concrete, observable facts with which the social anthropologist is concerned.

  • We can observe the acts of behavior of these individuals.

  • We do not observe a culture since that word is but an abstraction.

  • I use the term “social structure” to denote this network of actually existing relations”

Structural functionalism

  • Biopsychological Functionalismor “Needs” Functionalism (Malinowski)

  • Structural Functionalism

  • (Radcliffe-Brown)

  • Exchange Functionalism (Mauss)



  • Biopsychological Functionalismor “Needs” Functionalism

  • Society meets the needs of individuals

Marcel mauss exchange functionalism

Marcel Mauss: Exchange Functionalism

  • Emile Durkheim’s nephew

  • Classic work The Gift, Mauss argued that gifts are never "free".

  • Gifts give rise to reciprocal exchange

  • "What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?"

Marcel mauss

Marcel Mauss

  • The answer is simple: The giver does not merely give an object but also part of himself, for the object is indissolubly tied to the giver.

  • The objects are never completely separated from the men who exchange them.

Marcel mauss1

Marcel Mauss

  • Because of this bond between giver and gift,

  • The act of giving creates a social bond with an obligation to reciprocate on part of the recipient.

  • To not reciprocate means to lose honor and status,

  • But the spiritual implications can be even worse:

  • In Polynesia, failure to reciprocate means to lose mana, one's spiritual source of authority and wealth.

Radcliffe brown structural functionalism

Radcliffe-BrownStructural Functionalism

  • Structure– Organized arrangement of the parts of society

  • Function– The contribution of the parts to the maintenance of the whole

Structural functionalism

Structural Functionalism

  • People exist to meet the needs of society

    • Individuals are cogs in the social system

  • Malinowski: Funeral meets psychological needs of the individual

  • Radcliffe-Brown: Funeral creates social solidarity of the group

Structural functionalism1

Structural Functionalism

  • Societies have structure and order

  • All phenomena occurring within the culture are seen to have the

  • Underlying goal of maintaining the overall societal structure and order, despite individual motivation..

Structural functionalism

Five Basic Principles

1. Society is seen as an organically structured whole akin to a biological organism.

2. Society has a social structure- an ordered arrangement of parts.

3. Structure is ideally integrated, unified, and exists in equilibrium.

Five basic principles

Five Basic Principles

4. This structure is the object of analysis; the most valued data is the structure you can abstract.

5. The function of Social activities and institutions is ultimately interpreted in terms of maintaining the whole social structure of the society

Structural functionalism

Function Of Institutions Is To Maintain TheStructure

  • The problem for society is to survive — to maintain its structure

  • But basic human nature is inherently selfish and

  • Is therefore hostile to that survival.

Society s survival

Society’s Survival

  • Therefore the behavior of individuals must be molded to the requirements society needs to survive

  • Conflict must be restrained and

  • The conduct of persons in their interrelations with each other must be controlled by norms or rules of behavior

  • Failure of the individual to follow these norms results in sanctions

Structural functionalism

MALINOWSKI: Society seen as a nurturing, comforting, cocoon emanating from, and responding to, human needs

RADCLIFFE-BROWN: Society seen as a tyrannical entity, often at odds with human nature, which controls humans by injecting fears and anxieties into their psyches, and if necessary sacrificing them for its own sake

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