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Structural Functionalism

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  1. Structural Functionalism

  2. Content • Parsons: Functional Imperatives , Structure of the General Action System and Pattern Variables • Merton: Clarifying functional analysis, Dysfunctions, and Manifest and Latent functions.

  3. The debate between “consensus theories and conflict theories • Consensus theories see shared norms and values as fundamental to society ,focus on social order based on tacit agreements, and view social change as occurring in a slow and orderly fashion. In contrast, conflict theories emphasize the dominance of some social groups by others, see social order as based on manipulation and control by dominant groups, and view social change as occurring rapidly and in a disorderly fashion as subordinate groups overthrow dominant groups. • Representatives of the debate: Marx and Comte, Simmel and Durkheim, Dahrendorf and Parsons.

  4. Function and functional imperatives • Function A function is a complex of activities directed towards meeting a need or needs of the system • Functional imperatives There are four functional imperatives that are necessary for all systems—adaptation(A), goal attainment(G), integration(I), and latency(L),or pattern maintenance.

  5. A set of assumptions of Structural functionalism • Systems have the property of order and interdependence of parts • System tend toward self-maintaining order, or equilibrium. • The system may be static or involved in an ordered process of change. • The nature of one part of the system has an impact on the form that the other state of equilibrium of system. • Systems maintain boundaries with environments. • Allocation and integration are two fundamental processes necessary for a given state of equilibrium of a system. • System tend toward self-maintenance involving the maintenance of boundaries and of the relationship of parts to the whole, control of environmental variations, and control of tendencies to change the system.

  6. Structure of the General Action System • Adaptation: a system must cope with external situational exigencies. It must adapt to its environment and adapt the environment to its needs. • Goal attainment: a system must define and achieve its primary goals. • Integration: a system must regulate the interrelationship of its component parts. It also must manage the relationship among the other three functional imperatives • Latency (pattern maintenance): a system must furnish, maintain, and renew both the motivation of individuals and the cultural patterns that create and sustain that motivation.

  7. Society and its Subsystems • Adaptation: The economy is the subsystem that performs the function for society of adapting to the environment through labor, production, and allocation. • Goal attainment: The polity(or political system) performs the function of goal attainment by pursuing societal objectives and mobilizing actors and resources to that end. • Integration: The integration function is performed by the societal community (law), which coordinates the various components of society • Latency (pattern maintenance): The fiduciary system (schools, family) handles the latency function by transmitting culture to actors and allowing it to be internalized by them.

  8. Pattern Variables • Pattern variables are ''the principle tools of structural analysis outlining the derivation of these categories from the intrinsic logic of social action -- the inherent dilemmas of choice facing actors'' . Parsons argues that there are a strictly limited and defined set of alternatives or choices that can be made, and the relative primacies given to choices constitute the ''patterning of relational institutions.'' These choices or alternatives are called orientation-selection.

  9. Affectivity vs. Affective-neutrality • There are five pattern variables of role-definition that Parsons discusses, although he says that there are many more possibilities. The first is the gratification-discipline dilemma: affectivity vs. affective-neutrality. The dilemma here is in deciding whether one expresses their orientation in terms of immediate gratification (affectivity) or whether they renounce immediate gratification in favor of moral interests (affective-neutrality). parsons says, ''no actor can subsist without gratifications, while at the same time no action system can be organized or integrated without the renunciation of some gratifications which are available in the given situation'' .

  10. Self-orientation vs. Collectivity orientation. • The second set of pattern variables of role-definition are the private vs. collective interest dilemma: self-orientation vs. collectivity orientation. In this case, one's role orientation is either in terms of her private interests or in terms of the interests of the collectivity. Parsons explains, ''a role, then, may define certain areas of pursuit of private interests as legitimate, and in other areas obligate the actor to pursuit of the common interests of the collectivity. The primacy of the former alternative may be called ''self-orientation,'' that of the latter, ''collectivity-orientation'' .

  11. Universalism vs. Particularism • The third pair of pattern variables are the choice between types of value-orientation standard: universalism vs. particularism. Simply put, ''in the former case the standard is derived from the validity of a set of existential ideas, or the generality of a normative rule, in the latter from the particularity of ... an object or of the status of the object in a relational system'' . Example: the obligation to fulfill contractual agreements vs. helping someone because she is your friend.

  12. Achievement vs. Ascriptive role behavior • The fourth pair of pattern variables are achievement vs. ascriptive role behavior: the choice between modalities of the social object. Achievement-orientation roles are those which place an emphasis on the performances of the people, whereas ascribed roles, the qualities or attributes of people are emphasized independently of specific expected performances.

  13. Specificity vs. Diffuseness • The final pair of pattern variables are specificity vs. diffuseness: the definition of scope of interest in the object. If one adopts an orientation of specificity towards an object, it means that the definition of the role as orienting to the social object in specific terms. In contrast, in a diffuse orientation, the mode of orientation is outside the range of obligations defined by the role-expectation.

  14. Clarifying functional analysis • Merton argues that the central orientation of functionalism is in interpreting data by their consequences for larger structures in which they are implicated. Like Durkheim and Parsons he analyzes society with reference to whether cultural and social structures are well or badly integrated. Merton is also interested in the persistence of societies and defines functions that make for the adaptation of a given social system. Finally, Merton thinks that shared values are central in explaining how societies and institutions work , however he disagrees with Parsons on some issues.

  15. Clarifying functional analysis • Merton persisting talk about "functionalist theory" although the term is misleading and generally useless as a description of any concept school and direction. Merton generally presented a misconception of a nature of Parsons' theory, which he never fully understood or appreciate despite the intellectual influence in general. According to Merton's perception of "functionalism," the functional unity of society which states that all standardized social and cultural beliefs and practices are functional for both society as a whole as well as individuals in society. This outlook maintains that various parts of social systems must show a high level of integration, but Merton argues that a generalization like this cannot be extended to larger, more complex societies.

  16. Clarifying functional analysis • The second claim has to do with universal functionalism. This claim argues that all standardized social and cultural structures and forms have a positive function. Merton argues that this is a contradiction to what is seen in the real world; not every structure, idea, belief, etc, has positive functions. The third claim of functional analysis that Merton argues is that of indispensability. This claim states that the standardized parts of society have positive functions, and also represent indispensable parts of the working whole, which leads to that structures and functions are functionally necessary for society. Here, Merton argues people must be willing to admit that there exist various structural and functional alternatives within society

  17. Clarifying functional analysis • His belief in empirical testing led to the development of his "paradigm" of functional analysis.According to Merton, "paradigm," refers to "exemplars of codified basic and often tacit assumptions, problem sets, key concepts, logic of procedure, and selectively accumulated knowledge that guide [theoretical and empirical] inquiry in all scientific fields." In terms of structural functionalism, Merton felt that the focus should be on social functions rather than on individual motives

  18. Dysfunctions • Merton emphasizes the existence of dysfunctions. He thinks that some things may have consequences that are generally dysfunctional or which are dysfunctional for some and functional for others. On this point he approaches conflict theory, although he does believe that institutions and values can be functional for society as a whole. Merton states that only by recognizing the dysfunctional aspects of institutions, can we explain the development and persistence of alternatives. Merton’s concept of dysfunctions is also central to his argument that functionalism is not essentially conservative.

  19. Dysfunctions • In Merton's writing on dysfunctions, he highlighted problems that tend to keep social systems from meeting all of their functional requirements. In doing this, he was able to point out the details as well as the contradictions of the overall concept. One group's function could serve as another group's dysfunction, and a general incident could turn out to be both functional and dysfunctional for the same group. Merton clarified the concept by stating that a certain degree of social cohesion eases the productivity of a group and is therefore functional, but it can become dysfunctional when it surpasses a certain threshold, because then the members of the group may become equally indulgent and fail to hold each other to high performance standards.

  20. Dysfunctions • In order to help people determine whether positive functions outweigh dysfunctions, and vice versa, Merton developed the concept of net balance. Because the issues are complex and based on a lot of subjective judgement, they cannot be calculated and weighed easily. Therefore, positive functions and dysfunctions cannot be simply added up and objectively determine which outweighs the other. In order to deal with these issues, Merton believed that there must be levels of functional analysis. Rather than solely focusing on the analysis of society as a whole, Merton argued that analysis could and should also be done on an organization, institution or group

  21. The unanticipated consequences of social action • Some of the crucial innovations that Merton made to sociology include the description of the unanticipated consequences of social action, of latent functions vs. manifest functions, and, as previously mentioned, of dysfunctions. According to Merton, unanticipated consequences are actions that have both intended and unintended consequences. Everyone is aware of the intended consequences, but the unintended are more difficult to recognize, and therefore, sociological analysis is required to uncover what they may be. In his 1936 essay, "The Unanticipated Consequences of Social Action," Merton uncovered the wide field of human activity where things do not go as planned, and paradoxes and strange outcomes are seen. One of these outcomes is the "self-defeating prophecy," which through the very fact of its being publicized, is actually wrong. Merton was able to illustrate this by referencing Karl Marx's prediction that as societies become more modern, the wealth will be concentrated amongst fewer people, and the majority of society would suffer from poverty and misery. This prediction helped to stimulate the socialist movement, which in some countries slowed the development that Marx had predicted. The opposite of the "self-defeating prophecy" then, is the "self-fulfilling prophecy," when an originally unfounded prophecy turns out to be correct because it is believed and acted upon.

  22. Manifest functions vs. Latent functions • Manifest functionsare the consequences that people observe or expect, or what is intended; latent functionsare those that are neither recognized nor intended. In distinguishing between manifest and latent functions, Merton argued that must dig to discover latent functions. His example from his 1949 piece, "Manifest and Latent Functions," was an analysis of political machines. Merton began by describing the negative consequences of political machines, and then changed the angle and demonstrated how the people in charge of the machines, acting in their own interest, were meeting the social needs not met by government institutions.

  23. Unanticipated consequences and latent functions • Merton made it very clear however, that unanticipated consequences and latent functions are not the same. Latent functions are one type of unanticipated consequences; functional for the designated system. According to Merton, there are also two other types of unanticipated consequences: "those that are dysfunctional for a designated system, and these comprise the latent dysfunctions, and those which are irrelevant to the system which they affect neither functionally or dysfunctionally..non-functional consequences"

  24. Manifest functions and latent functions • Merton sees attention to latent functions as increasing the understanding of society: the distinction between manifest and latent forces the sociologist to go beyond the reasons individuals give for their actions or for the existence of customs and institutions; it makes them look for other social consequences that allow these practices’ survival and illuminate the way society works. • Dysfunctions can also be manifest or latent. Manifest dysfunctions of something like a festival include traffic jams, closed streets, piles of garbage, and a shortage of clean public toilets. Latent dysfunctions of the festival might include people missing work after the event to recover.

  25. Functional alternatives • Functionalistsbelieve societies must have certain characteristics in order to survive. Merton shares this view but stresses that at the same time particular institutions are not the only ones able to fulfill these functions; a wide range of functional alternatives may be able to perform the same task. This notion of functional alternative is important because it alerts sociologists to the similar functions different institutions may perform and it further reduces the tendency of functionalism to imply approval of the status quo.

  26. Topics for Class Presentation • Parsons: the unit act of action system; pattern variables • Merton: a structural functional model; manifest and latent functions • Dahrendorf: conflict theory • Criticisms on Parsons

  27. References • Yu Hai: Western Social Theory - Parsons: No. 22: The Unit Act of Action System; No. 23: Pattern Variables No. 24: Action Systems and Social Systems - Merton: No. 25: Manifest and Latent Functions - Coser: No. 26: The Functions of Social Conflict