Functionalism (sociology)

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Structural functionalism, or in many contexts simply functionalism, is a broad perspective in sociology and anthropology which sets out to interpret society as a structure with interrelated parts. Functionalism addresses society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions and institutions. A common analogy, popularized by Herbert Spencer, presents these parts of society as "organs" that work toward the proper functioning of the "body" as a whole.[1] In the most basic terms, it simply emphasises "the effort to impute, as rigorously as possible," For Talcott Parsons, "functionalism" came to describe a particular stage in the methodological development of social science, rather than a specific school of thought.[2]



The functionalist approach was implicit in the thought of the original sociological positivist, Auguste Comte, who stressed the need for cohesion after the social malaise of the French Revolution. It was later presented in the work of Émile Durkheim, who developed a full theory of organic solidarity, again informed by positivism, or the quest for "social facts". Functionalism shares a history and theoretical affinity with the empirical method. Latter sociological functionalists such as Niklas Luhmann and Talcott Parsons, however, can be viewed as at least partially antipositivist.[3] Whilst one may regard functionalism as a logical extension of the organic analogies for society presented by political philosophers such as Rousseau, sociology draws firmer attention to those institutions unique to industrialised capitalist society (or modernity). Functionalism also has an anthropological basis in the work of theorists such as Marcel Mauss, Bronisław Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown. It is in Radcliffe-Brown's specific usage that the prefix 'structural' emerged.[4]

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