The term Functionalism is derived from the argument that societies institutions and practices are performed in a manner geared towards ensuring that the survival of the whole society.
Merton (1957) suggested that every thing done in our society does not take place by chance there is a purpose for which it is designed to achieve. The human body consists of many organs each of them plays a vital role in order for the whole body system to function. Their roles are inextricably intertwined to the extent that failure of any the part leads to a failure in the whole system.Similarly, it is argued that the society consists of many parts that perform activities geared towards maintaining its well being . Failure in any of its institutions or structures, leads to a collapse of the whole society. Several scholars have attempted to address the origin of functionalism. Durkheim in his explanation laid emphasis on the social systems that are integrated and hold themselves together; however Talcott parsons (1951) believed that behavior was driven by efforts to conform to the moral codes of society.He further stated that the purpose for these codes was to regulate human behavior.
According to, him just as an organism needs to survive, so does the society. For the society to survive, its subsystems (the family and other institutions) must function in ways that promote its maintenance as a whole. The key to societal survival are the shared norms and values held by the individual members. Deviation from these norms, leads to disorganization that threatens the survival of the whole social system.
He further argues that the family is the key system in any given society.In line with this view, threats to the family such as divorce, teen rebellion, non-marital sex and single parenthood are a great danger to the society and need to be avoided. However, due to social upheavals that sprung up later in 1960s, this theory was criticized for several reasons. One of them was that functionalism was not able to account for social change or for the structural contradictions and conflict (Coser 1977:140). It is important to consider that this conclusion was as a result of the Second World War.
It led to the advancement of the consensus theory where all the tensions and conflicting factors were considered. Functionalism was accused of being static and not able to address the concept of change. However it important to note that in the presence of social disorder due to war and evils, one should recognize how social order was propounded in functionalism. This was reflected in Parsons tendency to promote equilibrium rather than change.
Change is inevitable in the current society. However all the factors that lead to change should be restricted to enhance order in the society.This is the reason that makes every person to be always concerned with any technological advancement that threatens the existence of social order i.
e. the atomic bombs through nuclear advancement has enlisted sharp criticism from all over the world. It is therefore apparent that social equilibrium is still valued in our society thus the relevance of functionalism.
Stronger criticism of functionalist theory was the epistemological argument that functionalism is teleological in the sense that it attempts to describe social institutions through their effects but does not explain the causes of those effects.However Durkheim made a clear distinction in historical and functional analysis in that we must seek the efficient cause it produces and its function. This means that we cannot have a general cause for all the issues but separating them, helps in elaborating the importance of functionalism. Other forms of criticism include, that which labels it as a theory that reduces human beings to puppets by acting as the roles require (Holmwood, 2005:107). This was the limitation put forward by Merton.
It was argued that functionalism does not explain the concept of deviance.There are no reasons given for individuals choosing either to obey or not to obey some norms. It also falls short of explaining in what circumstances individual choose to exercise agency. From a critical analysis of functionalism, it can be quite clear that pressure from the society will force one to act in an urgent manner so as to maintain the equilibrium. In order To understand the in depths of functionalism, it is important to address it application in the society.
One of the challenges that took the society by storm was the rise of feminism.This was one of the radical critism of the functionalist theory. Feminism is the belief that women should have equal political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic rights to men. Its theories and philosophies are concerned with gender differences and and campaign for women rights and interests.
Feminists argue that women have been neglected in rights such as property ownership, voting and contracts. They seek for protection from domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape. The themes explored from feminism include discrimination, stereotyping, sexual objectification, oppression and partiariachy.In response to this theory, it necessary for each of the evils against women to be critically analyzed.
Discrimination, stereotyping and oppression have caused tension in our society to date. Measures have been put in place to militate against such concerns. This means that the society is addressing the issues to forge equilibrium just as functionalism stated. Feminism does not negate Parsons school of thought but provides positive criticism, therefore promoting the continuity of the societal functions.With regard to sexual objectification, women engage these activities at will in some cases while in other cases, it occurs when a woman wants to meet her economic needs. This kind of urge forces them to pose as posters to market certain commodities or as sex objects.
By enhancing their economic advancement the women can be viewed as working towards the well being of the society hence maintaining its roles . Most societies have been patriarchal. The men were forced to meet the economic needs of their families as heads. However with the societal transformation several women have been economically empowered.They are now able to maintain their families as singles or as working class women living with unemployed husbands. The society has appreciated this fact since facilitates its stability. Although feminism posed a great challenge to functionalism it clear that the society has grown over time and embraced it. This means that in the long run feminism has positively contributed towards modernizing functionalism.
In relation to the nuclear family functionalism sought to outline it importance in the society. A nuclear family consists of a father mother and their children.In relation to functionalism, a family is at the heart of the society. Murdock (1949) claimed that the nuclear family is quite useful to the society and therefore inevitable and universal.
According to him, it is universal because it has the following essential functions for the society; it controls sexuality, therefore providing stability for adults. It provides for new members of the society through reproduction. It provides for daily needs of the members economically and socializes the young into society’s norms and values by educating them.Parsons (1902-79) categorized the families function into two.
The family conducts primary socialization through which children learn to accept the value and norms of the society. It also enables the stabilization of adult personalities by giving them emotional support necessary to cope with the stresses of life. In modern daily life, functionalism suggests that the family has taken a, different dimension. It has become socially isolated from the extended kin; more reliant on the welfare of the state and geographically separated from wider kin.This is because the family is self contained in nature with an inward looking with neighbors and community. Home leisure through T. V, video, internet have made it more home centered. Functionalism has been accused for several reasons concerning the family.
It idealized the family while ignoring the conflict and abuse within the members. It has also neglected gender inequalities among the members and the rising divorce rates. Functionalism is also accused of not addressing the growing family diversity.
It is argued that it neglected the suppression of women within the family structure our society (Holmwood, 2005:103).However Parsons the proponent of functionalism described the situations in which tensions and conflict existed. His focus was on the positive functions of the family for the society and not its negative impacts on women. If all the members of the society belonged to a nuclear family and adhered to it values and norms the social conflicts and evils witnessed to date could have been drastically reduced. Divorce, polygamy and prostitution can be firmly checked if the functions of the nuclear family are carried out in proper manner and envisaged in the society’s mainstream framework.Education is viewed as an important asset in any given society. It accomplishes several societal goals. This is why functionalism laid special emphasis on it as an integral component of the society.
According to Talcott Parsons, the school classroom should be viewed as a microcosm of the society (Talcott 1957). It acts as a bridge between the family and wider society. Education socializes young people for adult roles. This makes it to become a medium of social structures through interactions of individuals. This makes the youth to accept common standards of evaluation namely: moral standards or morals.
Through education individuals are socialized to conform. It is argued that there has to be a system that instills common beliefs and values for every member of the society. This is why school is important. Schooling causes children to internalize value and norms that at a level which the family alone cannot achieve. Education helps in supporting economic state of the society. This is achieved by in calculating certain technical skills and requirements through separation of potential workers for different points of entry at the labor market.
In explaining Parsons Theory, Davies Moore pointed out that education is the proving ground for ability and selective agency for placing people in different status according to their capacities. In our modern times, this is referred to as meritocracy. This is the process in the society where ability and effort count for more than privilege and inherited status (Hurn 1995:45) stated that the society needs the best and the brightest to function at the highest levels. This means that society function better economically when there is more education.This means that education is therefore viewed as an investment in a capitalist state (Hurn, 1995:48).
Critics however point out that there are pitfalls in functionalism and its application on education. The amount of skills that one learns from school is less important than the degree. The degree is valued than the people who get A’s and have nothing to show of it. The children with parents from high socio-economic status do better than those from lower one. Another short coming is that there is no way of closing the gap between the students from poorer schools with those of well funded schools.It is also argued that the goals and purposes of education are not agreed by professional and employers. The education system fails in adequately addressing the content of curriculum and teacher – pupil interaction in classroom.
Despite these criticism against functionalist view of education, it is evident that education is a vital component it the society. Every citizen has attached strong value to education. It is viewed as the only ladder to economic advancement in every society.Even the poor spend their merger resources in investing on education. The state has provided the support required and made it accessible to every member of the society through grants and sponsorship. There is clear evidence of people who have climbed through the social ladder to attain high economic status leading to better social status. Functionalism is therefore a relevant theory in our society and should be applied in every facet our lives despite the challenges. We should strive to tackle them rather disregarding functionalism.