Functionalism | Society and Culture | MCAT | Khan Academy

Functionalism | Society and Culture | MCAT | Khan Academy


Functionalism is a
system of thinking based on the ideas of
Emile Durkheim that looks at society from a
large scale perspective. It examines the
necessary structures that make up a society
and how each part helps to keep the
society stable. According to
functionalism, society is heading toward
an equilibrium. I know it sounds a bit
strange that a society can be at equilibrium, but consider
the changes many businesses have had to make in response
to companies like Amazon. Local businesses must
adapt to find a new way to cater to customers in
order to restore the balance. In the theory of
functionalism, society is made from a bunch of
connected structures. One structure is
institutions, which are structures that meet
the needs of the society, like education systems,
financial institutions, businesses and marriage,
laws, mass media, nongovernmental organizations,
medicine, religion, the military, police forces,
and lots of others, too. Another structure is what
Durkheim called social facts. Social facts are ways
of thinking and acting formed by the society that
existed before any one individual and will still exist
after any individual is dead. They are unique objects
that cannot be influenced by an individual. They have a coercive effect over
the individual that is usually only noticed when we
resist against them. So for example, one
social fact is the law. It is always there,
but we don’t notice it until we try and break
it or act against it. Some other examples are moral
regulations, religious faiths, and social currents like
suicide or birth rate. You might wonder how suicide
can be a social fact. Well, one person committing
suicide has no effect on the presence of
suicide in the society . Social facts are a facet
of the society itself and, according to Durkheim,
are a necessary structure. But society is more than
just the sum of its parts. It is dependent on the
structures that create it, just like a cell is dependent
on all the little parts that make it up. Every part of the cell has
a specific vital function that depends on other
parts of the cell. Without everything
working together smoothly, the cell would die. The same is true of a society. Every structure
has a function that meets a need of the society,
and all the structures work together to maintain
the social equilibrium. So for example,
you have schools, which educate students so
they can find good jobs and support the community. And businesses provide
specialized services. And laws maintain social order. These recognized and intended
consequences of institutions are known as manifest functions. But sometimes the institutions
have unintended consequences. Schools allow the
students and professors to make social connections,
and they expose the students to new activities
through extracurriculars. Businesses connect
people across societies. These unrecognized and
unintended consequences are called latent functions
and are often indirect effects of the institution. Now, Durkheim’s
main question was, what holds a society together? How can it remain
relatively stable even as traditions disappear
and customs change? He thought that small
societies were held together by their similarities, and the
individual was self-sufficient. But that only works
for small societies, and we all know societies
change and grow large. The small society
would eventually evolve into a large society
where the individual was interdependent on others. But what causes the evolution
of society to occur? The most basic factor
is population growth within a limited space. Suddenly there isn’t
enough land for everyone to own their own farm
and feed themselves. So just a few farmers
grow enough food for the entire community. But now the farmers
don’t have enough time for other necessities like
making clothes or teaching their kids. The people who no
longer have to grow food now take on different roles
like tailoring or education. And everyone becomes
dependent on one another for their
continued well being. People have become
specialized, which forces mutual interdependence. This interdependence
helps to ensure that the community
won’t fall apart. Now that people depend on
each other for the production of goods and services
there’s a need for a method of distribution and
a way to control and coordinate that production
and distribution. In functionalism, a change to
either production, distribution or coordination will force
the others to adapt in order to maintain a stable
state society. Social change is annoying
and upsets the equilibrium and threatens the mutual
interdependence of the people within that society. The institutions and
structures of the society adapt only just enough to
compensate for a change and maintain the stability
of mutual interdependence. Phew. All right, that just
about covers it. While functionalism
is a nice way to look at society with its
equilibrium of institutions all filling the needs of
the society they create, there are some
serious problems here. Functionalism focuses
completely on the institution with little regard for the
importance of the individual. The individual is acknowledged,
but nothing they do really affects the
structures of society. Functionalism is
also largely unable to explain social
change and conflict. We know it happens,
but functionalism is so focused on maintaining
the equilibrium of the society that little significant
change is modeled and no conflict can occur. The structures of a society
adapt only just enough to find stability again. Right, so, while there’s more
to understanding a society than just looking at the
stable state of its parts, functionalism is
helpful in understanding the workings of
society by examining the functions of its
integral structures.

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    Dr Apurva Popat

    It was better when these people made large videos than Small…difficult to digest small videos..

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    Sereen Hamawi

    Have you thought about doing the different views of Functionalism? Views of Malinowski and Radcliff-Brown for example.

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    Y.A.H

    Question why don't we focus more on maintaining a balanced structure instead of focusing on one side, i feel that if we eliminate money and adopt a utopian system were we must depend on each other just like functionalism but instead of going to work every day we can just work together to obtain certain materials to build houses and buildings we can all work with each other. trading food and clothes. even making them. instead of working for each other. everyone can be maintained under there current will to be maintained. so there is a balance of survival and growth. people can obtain whatever they please as long as they have the space to carry it.

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