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Structural Functionalism
Cris A. Capilayan, MA. Ed.
Structural Functionalism
Work of Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, their students and their followers, was for many
years the dominant sociological theory However, in the last three decades, it has
declined dramatically in importance and, in at least some senses, has receded into the
recent history of sociological theory.
Parsons’ structural functionalism has 4 functional imperatives for all “action” systems,
embodied in his famous AGIL scheme.
Talcott Parsons
Parsons designed the AGIL scheme to be used at all levels in
this theoretical system.
The behavioral organism is the action system that handles
the adaptation function by adjusting to and transforming the
external world.
Action system
Behavioral system that handles the adaptation function by adjusting to and
transforming the external world.
Personality system
Performs the goal-attainment function by defining system goals and mobilizing
resources to attain them.
Social system
Copes with the integration function by controlling its
component parts.
Cultural system
Performs the latency function by providing actors with the
norms and values that motivate them for action.
Parson’s 4 action systems are shown:
In his analysis of the social system, Parsons was primarily
interested in his structural components. In addition to a
concern with the status role, he was interested in such largescale components of social systems such as collectives,
norms and values
He was not simply a structuralist but also a functionalist.
Functionalist perspective
Functional requisites of a social system (Talcott Parsons)
1. Social system must have structured so that they operate
compatibly with other systems
2. To survive, the social system must have the requisite from
other systems.
3. The system must meet a significant proportion of the needs of
its actors.
4. The system must elicit adequate participation from its
5. It must have at least a minimum of control over potentially
disruptive behavior.
6. If conflict becomes sufficiently disruptive, it must be controlled.
7. Finally, a social system requires a language in order to survive.
Functionalist perspective
It is primarily concerned with why a society assumes a particular form. This
perspective assumes that any society takes its particular form because that form
works well for the society given its particular situation.
Societies exist under a wide range of environmental situations.
Such societies have highly advanced technologies and they also differ in terms of
their interactions with other societies. Thus what works for one society cannot be
expected to work for another.
In any society, the functionalist perspective makes one basic
argument. Whatever are the characteristics of a society,
those characteristics developed because they met the needs
of that society in particular situation.
Key principles of the functionalist perspective
1. Interdependency.
One of the most important principles of functionalist theory is that society
is made up of interdependent parts.
It means that every part of the society is dependent to some extent on other parts
of society, so that what happens at one place in society has important effects
Ex. a class requires a faculty member to teach a subject and the stsudents to
learn it.
2. Function of Social structure and culture
Closely related to interdependency is the idea that each part of the social exists
because it serves some function.
This principle is applied by functionalists to both social structure and culture.
Social structure- refers to the organization of society , including its institutions,
its social positions, and its distribution of resources.
Culture- refers to a set of beliefs , language, rules, values, and knowledge, held
in common by members of a society.
We all believe in the principles of democracy & freedom.
Societies tend toward consensus in order to achieve cooperation.
Functionalists believe that inability to cooperate will paralyze the society,
and people will devote more and more effort to fighting one another
rather than getting anything done.
This view holds that once a society has achieved the form that is best adapted to
its situation , it has reached a state of balance or equilibrium, and it will remain in
that condition until it was forced to change by some new condition.
Ex. new technology, change in climate, a contact with an outside society are all
conditions to which society might have to adapt.
When such conditions occur, social change will take place. Society will change
just to adapt a new situation.
However, once that adaptation has been made, the society has attained a new
state of balance or equilibrium with its environment, and it will not change gain
until new situation requires further adaptation.
Structural-functional model (Ritzer, 2000)
Social structures provide
preset patterns which
evolve to meet human
Stability, order, and
Maintenance of society
The structural functional model addresses the question of
social organization and how it is maintained
It has roots in natural sciences and the analogy between a
society and an organization.
In the analysis of living organism, the scientist’s task is
to identify the various parts (structures) and determine
how they work(function).
In the study of society, a sociologist with this perspective tries
to identify the structures of society and how they function;
hence the name structural functionalism
Components of a social structure
Functionalist sociologists begin with a picture of society that
stresses the interdependence of the social system; these
researchers often examine how well parts are integrated with
each other.
They view society as a kind of machine, where one part
articulates with another to produce dynamic energy required
to make society work.
Functionalists stresses the process that maintain social order
by stressing consensus and agreement.
They understand that Change is inevitable.
They underscore the evolutionary nature of change.
Functionalists argue that without a common bond to unite
groups, society will disintegrate.
Structural functionalism - puts emphasis on social order and
social stability not on conflict.
It claims that society is made up of different institutions or
organizations that work together in cooperation.
Parsons believes that education is a vital part of a modern society, a
society differs considerably from all previous societies.
Schooling performs an important function in the development and
maintenance of a modern, democratic society, especially with regard
to equality of opportunity for all citizens.
In a meritocratic society , education plays a significant function in
the maintenance of the democratic and technocratic society.
In political democracy, schools provide citizens with knowledge
and dispositions to participate actively in civic life.
In every increasingly technical society, schools provide students
with skills and dispositions to work in such society.
Meritocratic - a system in which such persons are rewarded and advanced