Pre-Functionalism 1 MARX: Substructure and Superstructure Superstrucural institutions are organised in such a way as to maintain the economic relationships of the base. That is, the superstructure is functional for the base e.g. a)Media individualises problems b)Law protects private property c)Religion provides comfort for the disadvantaged
Pre-Functionalism 2 DURKHEIM: Functions and social order Actions have unexpected outcomes that help maintain the social system e.g. the functions of deviance a) identifies the normative boundaries b) enables reaffirmation of commitment to shared norms c) opportunity for collective cohesion d) ‘experiment’ with new social forms
What does FUNCTION mean? The consequence for a social system of a social occurrence where this occurrence is regarded as making an essential contribution to the working and maintenance of this system Jary& Jary Collins Dictionary of Sociology
The Theory of Structural Functionalism Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) 3 Important Facts Parsons was initially trained as a biologist His dad was a Professor of English He got an obituary in the P&J
Forms of Understanding • Analysis ‘the division of a physical or abstract whole into its constituent parts to examine or determine their relationship’ • Synthesis ‘the process of combining objects or ideas into a complex whole’ Source: Collins Concise Dictionary Structural functionalism is synthesis; it shows how individual parts ‘fit into’ the social whole: the system
Parsons: The System of Reality Human existence is composed of:1. Physical reality (matter) 2. Biological reality (life) 3. Social reality (action)4. Spiritual reality (values)
Parsons’ Action Frame of Reference • Resources (means) • Goals (ends) • Persons (actors) • Values(purposes)
The Unit Act ‘PERSON’ selects appropriate ‘RESOURCES’ to reach desired ‘GOALS’ justified by dominant ‘VALUES’. There is the assumption that rational calculation links these elements together re WEBER *‘Person’ is not equivalent to individual. *Collectivities are ‘persons’
Conditions of Action • Possibility of action is dependent upon the AVAILABILITY OF RESOURCES. • The acceptability of action is dependant upon the IMPOSITION OF NORMATIVE STANDARDS. • The orientation of action is dependant upon the MOTIVATION OF ACTORS. • The continuity of action is dependant upon its COORDINATION WITH OTHER ACTION UNITS. • = the STRUCTURE (framework) of action
System ‘System is the concept that refers to a complex of interdependencies between parts, components and processes that involves discernible regularities of relationship and to a similar type of interdependency between such a complex and its surrounding environment’
Society as System of Action Society = system of mutual interdependence of action units through exchange e.g. Family Education Work State
FUNCTION The ‘function’ of an action unit is whatever it contributes to the maintenance of the overall system of action.
Functional Pre-requisites & (Institutions) “AGIL” • Adaptation (economy) • Goal attainment (polity) • Integration (community) • Latency (cultury) = STRUCTURE Note the parallel to “the system of reality”
Function and Structure Function= What any action unit contributes to the production of : Adaptation, Goal-attainment, Integration, Latency System= through utilising the output of other action units
Action as Exchange Therefore social action is the exchange of essential resources among interdependent action units. What one action unit requires to perform its function is provided by other action units: school and work
Structural-Functionalism 'Theoretical approach in which societies are conceptualised as social systems and particular features of social structures are explained in terms of their contribution to the maintenance of these systems e.g. religious ritual explained in terms of the contribution it makes to social integration' Source: Jary & Jary Collins Dictionary of Sociology
Biological Metaphor 1 Hinduism: social order as the body of Brahma St. Paul: the church as the body of Christ
Biological Metaphor 2 • re Parsons’ training as a biologist • Think of society as we would think of a biological organism; a unity composed of mutually interdependent parts. re Durkheim on organic solidarity • Society, like an organism in nature, becomes more differentiated in terms of social structure through evolutionary change Abercrombie et al Penguin Dictionary of Sociology (re Parsons ‘Societies’)
Function and change Argument: structural functionalism can only explain things as they are, therefore cannot explain change; therefore is ‘conservative’ i.e. static Counter-argument change is part of any functioning social system. That is, change is adaptation to new circumstances re Marx on change in the mode of production.
Social Change and Social Exchange Social Change is change in the frequency and significance of exchange among action units Instance: Secularisation is the process through which functional exchange between religion and other action units diminishes
(Problems of ) Functional Explanation • Function (after the action: ‘in order to’) • Cause (before the action: ‘because’) • Teleology (problem of purposeful causes): giraffes and tall trees Human beings have purposes: does society?
Function and Purpose The term is not quite a synonym for ‘consequence’ or ‘purpose’ but combines elements of both……Functional consequences are not mere accident. Rather it is because these consequences are beneficial for the system .. that the action occurs or the institution exists. Hence functions have a purpose but it is not necessary for functionalism that actors be conscious of the functions of their actions Source: Bruce & Yearly Sage Dictionary of Sociology (emphasis added)
Durkheim on Functional ‘explanation When, then, the explanation of a social phenomenon is undertaken, we must seek separately the efficient cause which produces it and the function it fulfils. We use the word ‘function’ in preference to ‘end’ or ‘purpose’ precisely because social phenomena do not generally exist for the useful results they produce’ Source: Durkheim The rules of sociological method (1938) p.96 Italics added
Adapting the model From biology: society as integrated system To cybernetics: society as learning system “Science of systems of control and communications in animals and machines” Source: Oxford English Dictionary e.g. thermostatic control, sweat reflex
Feedback Loop In a system where a transformation occurs, there are inputs and outputs. The inputs are the result of the environment's influence on the system, and the outputs are the influence of the system on the environment. Input and output are separated by a duration of time, as in before and after, or past and present.
In every feedback loop, as the name suggests, information about the result of a transformation or an action is sent back to the input of the system in the form of input data. If these new data facilitate and accelerate the transformation in the same direction as the preceding results, they are positive feedback - their effects are cumulative. If the new data produce a result in the opposite direction to previous results, they are negative feedback - their effects stabilize the system. In the first case there is exponential growth or decline; in the second there is maintenance of the equilibrium…..The examples are numerous: chain reaction, population explosion, industrial expansion, capital invested at compound interest, inflation, proliferation of cancer cells. However, when minus leads to another minus, events come to a standstill. Typical examples are bankruptcy and economic depression. In either case a positive feedback loop left to itself can lead only to the destruction of the system, through explosion or through the blocking of all its functions. The wild behaviour of positive loops - a veritable death wish - must be controlled by negative loops. This control is essential for a system to maintain itself in the course of time. • Source: Principia Cybernetica Web, http://pespmc.1.vub.ac.be/FEEDBACK.html
Positive Social Feedback Loop MORAL PANIC (Cohen & Taylor) This expression refers to the alleged over-reaction of the mass media, police and local community leaders to the activities of particular social groups which are relatively trivial, both in terms of the nature of the offence and the number of people involved Source: Abercrombie et al Penguin Dictionary of Sociology
Homeostasis the tendency of a system to maintain internal stability, equilibrium, owing to the coordinated response of its parts to any situation that tends to disturb its normal condition.
Social Order as Dynamic Equilibrium The condition of a system that maintains a state of balance among its parts through continuous motion and change e.g. a gyroscope that is: change and order are not opposed; social change maintains the social order through the adaptive capacity of the social system. Is society an ‘intelligent’ system that ‘learns’?
CYBERNETIC HIERARCHY • Combining the models (biology & cybernetics) • Developing evolutionary stages are dominated by a particular functional pre-requisite. This is based on the cybernetic principle that as a system develops so ‘mass’ is replaced by ‘information’ e.g. computers • Hence: Adaptation Goal Attainment Integration Latency • Postmodernity as the information age; knowledge industries