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Talcott Parsons
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  1. Talcott Parsons

  2. Background • Born in 1902 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. • Youngest of five children. • He came from religious family that valued education. • His father was a congregational minister and professor at Colorado College. • His mother was a progressivist and a suffragist.

  3. Background • His father was dismissed from Colorado College, he moved family to New York City. • Parson spent his last two years of high school at the Horace Mann School for Boys. • Talcott was accepted into Amherst College. • Began his career as a biologist and later became interested in economics and sociology. • Talcott graduated from Amherst in 1924 and a year later entered the London School of Economic.

  4. Background • He studied with Bronislaw Malinowski, L.T. Hobhouse, and Morris Ginsberg. • Received scholarship from the University of Heidelberg, Where he first learned of the works of Max Weber. • He was greatly influenced by Weber. • He was teaching at Amherst and later on appointed as a nonfaculty instructor of economics at Harvard University. • Also he worked in the department of sociology.

  5. Background • After leaving the sociology department in 1945, Gordon Allport, Henry Murray, and Clyde Kluckhohn, joined Parsons in to establish the Department of Social Relations. • Department would become famous and Talcott worked as chair of the department for first ten years, remained active in the department until its dissolution in 1972. • A year later he retired as Emeritus Proffesor.

  6. Background • Parsons Work • The Structure of Social Action (1937) • The Social System and Toward a General Theory of Action (1951) • Essay in Sociological Theory (1949, 1954) • Working Papers in the Theory of Acton (1953) • Structure and Process in Modern Society (1960)

  7. Functionalism Background • In 1950s and 1960 Functionalism reigned as the dominant theoretical perspective in sociology. • Is often referred to as structural functionalism because of its dual focus on the structural forces that shape human behavior and the attention given to system needs.

  8. Functionalism Background • Two leading structural functionalist were Talcott Parsons (grand theory) and Robert Merton (middle range theory). • The most significant intellectual forerunners of functionalism were Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, And Max Weber.

  9. Intellectual Influences • American who studied in the United States and Europe • Americans concerned with specific/limited studies • Europeans focused on macroanalysis • Converted to social sciences at Amherst • Few references to American sociologists • Merton, Homans, Sorokin, Veblen • Mead and Cooley (American) • Insight about problems for intimate interaction • Criticizes their failed development of solid program of detailed research

  10. Intellectual Influences • London School of Economics • Hobhouse • Evolution of Morality • Ginsberg • Economic institutions of preliterate societies • Malinowski • Structural-functional analysis in anthropology • Parsons’ integration of all social sciences into one of human action • Strong European influence • Two particular influences • Max Weber • Emile Durkheim

  11. Intellectual InfluencesMax Weber • Greatest influence on Parsons • Dissertation, “Concept of Capitalism”, based primarily on Weber’s work • Marx’s Reductionist Approach • Tied strictly to economics • Overly simplistic and unrealistic • Favored Weber’s unwillingness to simplify complexity of the social system • First major link of value systems and social structures

  12. Intellectual Influences • Ideas” behind interpretation of “representations” • Form ultimate realities that are not themselves such realities • Behavior influenced by social system • Parsons concluded that social system is made from the interaction of humans • Affected by social environment • Wanted to describe logical types of social relations applicable to all groups (small and large) • System created based on social action • The Structure of Social Action (1937)

  13. Intellectual InfluencesEmile Durkheim • Parsons valued broad comparative studies • Study of suicide rates • Study of aboriginal Australian society • Suicide Rates Study • “intermediate between the broad comparative method and what might be called the ‘meticulous’ ideal of operational procedure” • Revealed suicide rates based on religions that held up cross-culturally • Parsons criticized the attempt at statistical method • Parsons appreciated variety of significant combinations of data

  14. Intellectual InfluencesEmile Durkheim • Aboriginal Australian Study • The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1915) • Documented “pan-religionism” of primitive societies • “Primitive societies are permeated with religious sentiments and activities ruled by the prominence of religio-magical belief systems and the prevalence of ritual activities” (Delaney, 238) • Sociocultural system linked to kinship system • Parsons saw validity in a structural, functioning system linked through kinship and working toward the greater good for the whole of society • Functionalism

  15. Intellectual Influencesof Functionalism • Max Weber and Emile Durkheim • Auguste Comte • Social statics and social dynamics • Society is changing, but change is subject to social laws • Evolutionary process • Herbert Spencer • Requisite Functionalism • Organic (individual) and Superorganic (society) must fulfill universal requisites to adapt to their environment • Differentiation • Increase in both Organic and social aggregates directly related to increase in complexity of their structure

  16. Philosophy- Talcott Parsons • Realism v. Idealism • Idealist - An act is always a process in time, and that the concept “end” always implies a future reference to a state or situation that does not exist yet • Realism v. Nominalism • Realism – The relations between actors are essentially the structure of the social system • Idealism v. Materialism • Materialist – Interrelated parts contribute to the functioning of the whole system

  17. Concepts and Contributions • Attempted to generate a “grand theory” of society that explained all social behavior, everywhere, throughout history and the end result was Structure Functionalism

  18. Functionalism • Views society as having interrelated parts that contribute to the functioning of the whole system • Macrosociological theory: focuses on large-scale social patterns and social systems

  19. Functionalism • Functionalism has two basic assumptions: 1- Interdependent parts: this is society’s institutions (religion, education, politics, etc.) that are all linked together. A change in one institution leads to a change in other parts. In order to function properly the system will seek equilibrium, or stability.

  20. Functionalism • 2- General Consensus on Values: members of society must have a general agreement on issues of right and wrong, basic values, and morality issues in order to function properly.

  21. Functionalism • Functionalism explains social change as a result of such variables as population growth and increased technology. • Rapid change within the system is not something the functionalist approach is geared to handle. • Society’s institutions then try to restore themselves to a state of equilibrium.

  22. Social Action Theory • Social Action Theory begins with a biological-sociological conceptualization of the basic unit of study as the “unit act”. • An “act” involves the following: • An agent or actor • Must have an end or goal • Must be in a situation which differs from state of affairs the action is oriented • There exists alternative meanings to the end

  23. Social Action Theory • An act is always a process in time. • “End” implies a future reference or state that does not exist yet. • Actions consist of structures and processes by which humans form meaningful intentions and implement them. • Social action is preformed by an actor either as an individual or a group

  24. Social Action Theory • Parsons theory had four steps: • Actors are motivated to action (education) • Actor must find the means to attain goal ($) • Actor must deal with hindering conditions (crisis) • Actor must work within the social system (rules)

  25. Social System • Parson’s described a system as a “complex unit of some kind with boundaries, within which parts are connected, and within which something takes place. • The social system is an arrangement between parts and elements that exist over time, even while some elements change.

  26. Social System • Parson’s general assumptions: • Systems are made of order and the interdependence of parts • The system, and all the sub-systems, strive for equilibrium • Systems are generally static, or move in a deliberate manner • A disruption in the normal flow of one subsystem can cause a disturbance throughout the whole system. • Systems have boundaries, which may involve actual physical space, or time and distance.

  27. Sociobiology • Differences between biological systems and social systems: • Growth: biologically an individual grows to a certain point and stops. A social system may be static for some time and then grow, or it may simply continue to grow • Spatial: Biological systems are bounded. Social systems boundaries are not as fixed or limited.

  28. Sociobiology • Time: A biological unit has limits, mortality. Social units can survive for centuries. • Parts/subparts: Biological systems are often specialized and dependent on the whole for its survival. Within social systems parts are easily replaceable and the systems moves on.

  29. Sociobiology • The roles of the actor allowed Parsons to create three distinct units within the social system • The act is a unit in the social system as it interacts with its author and other actors • Status roles are units of the social system. • The actor himself is a unit. It is the actor that holds a status and performs a role

  30. Systems Levels • Social systems must be structured in a way as not to impede the action • Parsons organized four distinct system levels: • Social Systems: interaction between actors • Personality Systems: optimization of gratification • Cultural Systems: value and meaning to actor • Behavioral Systems: physical aspect

  31. Pattern Variables • Categorize expectations and the structure of relationships • Allows for comparison between relationships • Three primary thoughts when developing these variables: • General enough to permit comparison • Should show relevance to action • Categorizations of decisions

  32. Pattern Variables • Affectivity-Affectivity Neutrality • Expectation of emotional component • Diffuseness- Specificity • Range of demands expected in a relationship • Universalism- Particularism • Fair Treatment or priority status?

  33. Pattern Variables • Achievement- Ascription • Interactions based in who they are or inborn quality • Collectivity- Self Orientation • Motivation: actions directed at a person or collectivity

  34. AGIL • Parsons’ hypothesis that process in any social system is subject to four independent functional imperatives or problems which must be met adequately if equilibrium or existence of the system is to be maitained

  35. AGIL • Adaptation: • Secure & distribute sufficient resources or adapt to changes • Goal Attainment: • Must establish clear goals. This is primary to political system

  36. AGIL • Integration: • Regulation and coordination of actors and systems • Latency: • Tension maintenance and pattern maintenance • Sufficient motivation for actors • Social institutions are key (family, peers, education)

  37. The Social Structure of Systems • The social system is a differentiated system in terms of roles and the distribution process. • Parsons classifications of internal differentiation of social systems: • Relational Institutions • Regulative Institutions • Cultural Institutions • Relational and Regulative Institutions

  38. Structure of Systems • Principle Types of Social Structure: • Universalistic- Achievement Patterns • Universalistic- Ascription Patterns • Participation- Achievement Patterns • Particularistic- Ascriptive Patterns

  39. Social Structure of Systems • Structural Components • Kinship systems • Instrumental Achievement Structures and Stratifications • Territoriality, Force, and the Integration of the Power System • Religion and Value-integration

  40. Organizations • Parsons defines the term as a broad type of collectivity which has assumed a particular important place in modern society • Goal attainment is the defining characteristic of and organization

  41. Organizations • Types of Organizations: • Oriented toward economic production • Business and production • Oriented toward political goals • Refers to government and banking • Integrative organizations • Legal system and courts, goal to ease conflicts • Pattern-maintenance organizations • Informing of basic moral beliefs

  42. Evolutionary Theory • Parsons model of evolutionary theory: • Differentiation • Many sub-systems • Change in one affects many others • New parts develop to take on those roles • Integration • Inclusion • Growing complexity demands larger supplies of people • Mobilization and coordination are critical • Value Generalization • Adaptation of value system

  43. Race, Class and Gender • Race: • Parsons suggested that the survival of the system was dependent on a new level of institutionalization of values of equality. • Class: • Parsons saw class inequality as failure of a social system to properly integrate all members. Class struggle creates motivation • Gender: • Traced differences in gender roles to the family • Predicted that the greater number of women seeking careers outside the family would alter the structure of the family

  44. Relevancy • Although Functionalism has come under attack it still remains in the “Big Three.” • Society and social systems are comprised of interdependent parts, a major failure or breakdown in one part can cause harm to the entire system. • Ex: Enron caused major effects throughout the financial industry. Thus the social system had to react to Enron to find equilibrium.

  45. Relevancy • 9-11 is another example • An example of Parsons Evolution Theory is the technological advancement of the cell phone. They change the aspects of everyday life and society has to adapt