I. Major Perspectives
A. Structural-functionalism (Founders> Spencer, Durkheim, Parsons)
The guiding question of this theory is "How is social order maintained?"
-- Functionalist theorists look at society as an organism comprised of different, interrelated
parts. Functionalists refer to these parts as subsystems or institutions (e.g., economy,
government, religion, education and the family). They believe that each subsystem has a
function -- subsystems are also mutually interdependent and reinforcing and this contributes to
the stability of the larger social system. E.g., the family serves various economic and emotional
functions (reproduction, replacement, socialization and care of the young).
-- Functions can be manifest or latent in nature (e.g., "the hidden curriculum")
Emphases: Stability - Evaluate patterns in terms of whether they contribute to the maintenance
of society... Functional patterns have positive consequences while dysfunctional patterns have
negative consequences... (E.g., reliance on cars has led to environmental problems and
weakened family and community ties)
Harmony - Assume parts of society (like parts of an "organism") work together for the good of
the whole and are characterized by harmony...
Evolution - Change occurs through evolution -- adaptation of subsystems or institutions to new
needs and demands... Also proposes that changes in one subsytem will likely lead to changes
Key Problems of this theory: (1) functionalism has a conservative bias - e.g., it assumes that a
society is geared toward maintaining equilibrium or harmony. It tends to overlook divisions
based on race, class, and gender and how these divisions lead to conflict and tension. (2) S-f is
also unclear at times about what function an institution or subsystem serves (note overlap of