Sociology is a broad discipline under which there are various concepts that help to understand the social order of people. Behind these concepts are great thinkers who worked around their concepts aiming to prove their applicability in the society. Among the known sociological concepts under this field of study include functionalism, Marxism, feminism, interactionism, as well as postmodernism. Functionalism looks at how the society works when institutions are separate and working as part of a whole (Ashworth and Long). Marxism is a concept that dwells on the basis of communist ideologies as an answer to the capitalistic society. Feminism, on its part, is a concept in which the rights of women and gender equality are encouraged with the view of dismantling the prevalent patriarchy in the society. Interactionism centers on the fact that an individual has two entities within them which are the body and the mind with these two able to influence each other. As for the concept of postmodernism, it looks at the self-conscious use of all the other concepts while remaining aware of their strengths and criticism. This essay will delve into the sociological concept of functionalism and how it can be applied in real life situations.
The sociological concept of functionalism seeks to interpret the individual parts of the society depending on how each of these parts makes a contribution to the overall stability of the society as a whole (Ashworth and Long). This is because the social setup is more that the aggregate of its parts since it opts to focus on the individual parts and how they play an instrumental role in ensuring the functional stability of the social order. The sociological concept of functionalism was proposed by the renowned sociologist Emile Durkheim, who equated the society to an organism in which there are different parts that make up a whole (Pope). The organism analogy also points towards a situation in which none of the parts can operate alone unless they are combined together to form the whole. If any of the parts experiences failure or is in a crisis, then it is up to the other body parts to rapidly adapt and fill the void left by the failed part (Kingsbury and Scanzoni).
At the heart of functionalism there are norms and values that help in establishing social order in the various parts that contribute to the overall social stability (Ashworth and Long). Norms are the typical patterns that are expected of both individuals and the institutions since they deal with the normal or expected behavior of such people or institutions. The normal behavioral patterns in the society are instrumental because they fit in a given social context or they play a specific social role. There are also values which are important in shaping the various social facets (Kingsbury and Scanzoni). Values entail the main ideologies and beliefs in the society that define the behavior that is acceptable or unacceptable. The values found in the society are nurtured in the various institutions within the society and it is these institutions that have the obligation of transferring the values to individuals in the society. The institutions that serve as sources of values include the family unit, political institutions, and religious entities.
Under the sociological concept of functionalism there is the important process of socialization. In essence, socialization refers to the process through which individuals in the society interact with others as well as the institutions within the social setup with the overall objective of learning the norms and values that govern the society (de Chazournes). In other words, the socialization process is instrumental because it helps people to acquire the norms and values of the society in which they live. This process is seen as a neutral one by the proponents and advocates of the sociological concept of functionalism. This view on the part of the functionalists is disputed and criticized by both the feminists and the Marxists in equal measure. The latter two sociological concepts look at the process of socialization as a means through which the powerful and elite members of the society benefit from the ideas they learn through socialization. It is the empowerment of the elite individuals that leads to the maintenance of social classes and the status quo.
Functionalism is a sociological concept in which there is value in consensus. This implies that the people and institutions in a functionalist society agree on the various values that they share. The thinking or thought process that is found under functionalism is generally the outcome of an effective socialization process where both the individuals and the institutions mingle to spread the norms and values of the society (de Chazournes). The value consensus that is found within a functionalist society as well as effective socialization processes are substantial and crucial in maintaining the orderliness of the society.
The functionalist concept as espoused in sociology is anchored on the effectiveness of social institutions. This sociological concept firmly believes that the society has institutions that work towards benefiting the society in general and the individuals in the society in particular. As already noted, the institutions in the society could be drawn from any facet of life that may include the political, educational, religious, or economic sector (Kingsbury and Scanzoni). Taking the nuclear family as an example, there is no denying the pivotal role that families play in ensuring that they provide a stable environment in which the offspring are brought up. The nuclear family unit also ensures that the environment is safe and secure for raising their children while imparting in them the necessary knowledge that is required to interact or socialize with others in the society due to the acquired social norms and values. This is also replicated in the educational institutions where the children attend school to learn vital concepts that prepare the learners for working and contributing positively to the society. Both of the family unit and the school are crucial institutions that work towards ensuring an advanced economic that works effectively for the benefit of all people in it.
Emile Durkheim, the proponent of the functionalism sociological concept, admits that it is hard for all the institutions within the society to be perfect or effective in their workings (Pope). There are some that have an adverse contribution to the society largely due to anomie. Anomie is a concept in which there is the absence of ethical standards, social norms, and values within the society in general by either an individual or a social group. The absence of social regulation contributes to this normlessness in the society because there are either few, no, or weak rules that govern the individual behavior of people. Anomie could also result because of a set of rules that are in contradiction to each other as espoused under the Merton's Strain Theory. The theory claims that there is a strain between what objectives that the individuals in the society want to pursue, what they can actually attain, and the means that they will use to attain their objectives. As per this theory, anomie is likely to come about as a result of materialism among individuals that makes people to disregard the established rules, social norms, and values in their relentlessly pursuit of riches. Durkheim opines that too much crime is detrimental to the social order, there is a need for some form of anomie as it helps trigger social change (Pope). However, there is a need to realize that too much anomie in any society is detrimental to its progress as it brings about danger and harm to individuals and institutions.
Emile Durkheim's functionalist perspective on society is not without its critics. This concept gets a backlash from numerous contemporary sociologists because it conveniently ignores the adverse impact that it has on social order. Just like the Marxists and feminists, there are sociologists who believe that the functionalist perspective to social order only serves to perpetuate the status quo and the process of cultural hegemony that helps in maintaining the status quo. Functionalist perspective is mainly looked down upon because it does not motivate individuals to be active in altering their social surroundings thus preferring to remain with the state of things as they are. People fail to become agents of change or even take up an active role in changing the course of their lives in the society even in the situations where this would benefit them. Instead, the functionalist perspective avoids the agitation for social changes because the different segments of the society will have to shift and compensate for the changes accordingly and this is a recipe for a myriad of social challenges (Pope).
One way through which the functional perspective in sociology has influenced my life is through the concept of work within the framework of an economy as a social institution. As a student, working part time in the economy has brought about a raft of benefits to my live as highlighted by the functionalism (de Chazournes). The institution that is the economy is integral to the society because it plays the crucial role of availing goods and services to the markets. This helps the society to progress with order because individuals like me who are end consumers will get the supply of the items that they need. The economy is also a huge facilitator for people who work. As a part-time working student, the economy has been of immense help in creating a job opportunity from which I can derive a source of income that helps in meeting financial obligations as they arise. The jobs that people do within an economy becomes part of their identity irrespective of the profession or discipline in which they work. The psychological benefits of a high self-esteem and self-fulfillment resulting from working help individuals in the society to enjoy their jobs. The other equally important role of the functionalist approach with regard to working in the economy is the creation of friendships. It has been identified that socialization is an integral process in the functionalist perspective and this can be found at the workplace (Pope). One makes friends and acquaintances at their places of work with whom they can discuss or dissect various social issues. These are clear examples of how the sociological perspective of functionalism can be applied in daily real life situations.
Ashworth, Lucian M, and David Long. New Perspectives on International Functionalism. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. Internet resource.
de Chazournes, Laurence Boisson. Functionalism! Functionalism! Do I Look Like Functionalism? European Journal of International Law, Volume 26, Issue 4, November ;82015, Pages 951-956. doi: 10.1093/ejil/chv065
Kingsbury, Nancy, and John Scanzoni. Structural-Functionalism. In: Boss P., Doherty W.J., LaRossa R., Schumm W.R., Steinmetz S.K. (eds) Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods. Springer, Boston, MA, 2009. Print.
Pope, Whitney. Durkheim as a Functionalist. The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 16, Issue No. 3, 1975, Pages 361-379. DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.1975.tb00954.x
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