Points of View:

Points of View:
Structural Functionalism
Again, the name tells you a lot. First, sociologists who analyze human behavior from
this perspective concentrate on social structures. Now, what is a “social structure?”
“Social” means it has something to do with human interaction. “Structure” refers to a
pattern (any pattern) of human interaction that is relatively stable, fixed, predictable.
We live our lives in a set of such patterns. We live our lives in a set of social structures.
Think about it . . . how much of what we do fits into a pattern and really is the same day
after day, time after time. These patterns stable, fixed, and behavior within them is
OK, some examples . . . When you go to your church does not the same thing take place
every time you attend. Now, I am a Methodist, and I also attend the local Roman
Catholic church with my wife and daughter. I can tell you that every Sunday, Sunday
after Sunday, basically the same thing happens at the 11:00 a.m. The Sunday service is
highly structured, i.e. what happens is stable, fixed, and predictable.
What about your
church service?
Another example: if you attend class on campus at Shelton State, doesn’t the same thing
happen everyday. Don’t the students come in and sit down and turn their attention to the
instructor who comes in and goes to the front of the room to start lecturing/discussion,
etc. If you really want to see how structured this is, try to imagine what would happen if
the structure was disrupted, if the pattern was broken. Just a little change. . . what if the
instructor came in and stood on the table or just moved to the back of the room. Students
would all think him (or her) to be “crazy,” or, at least, unusual.
Another example: if you are not married, you can predict—to a reasonable degree of
certainty—just who you will marry. Now, you may not be able to know her (or his)
name, but you already know a lot about them. How? Well, just look in the mirror.
Chances are, the person you marry will be very much like you. So the characteristics
that describe you will also describe your future mate. That is one of the pattern of
human behavior (one of the social structures) that sociologists have identified.
It doesn’t happen that way every time, but it does happen that way most of the time.
There are exceptions, to be sure, but the exceptions just serve to demonstrate what really
happens the rest of the time. The exceptions “prove the rule.”
When you look around, you find all sorts of structures that influence your behavior.
Look carefully and you will find yourself moving from one structure to another as you go
through the day.
So, sociologists who operate from the structural-functionalist perspective seek to find,
describe, and explain the social structures that make up human interaction, that make up
human life.
Next, sociologists who operate from the structural-functionalist perspective seek to find
the consequences of these structures; they describe, analyze, explain the consequences of
human behavior. The word for such consequences is “function.” So, sociologists who
operate from the structural functionalist perspective seek to analyze patterns of behavior
and their consequences. They look at social structures and their functions.
Quickly, functions can be “manifest” and “latent”
What is the difference?
What happens when a pattern of behavior is “dysfunctional?”
How does this differ from symbolic-interactionism? Structural-functionalists look less at
individual behavior and more at systems of behavior. Where symbolic-interactionists
look at how individuals make meaning of their interaction, structural functionalists deal
with how the patterns of behavior themselves influence, control, and direct human
behavior itself. Structural functionalism operates more at the macro level of analysis.
And, what does this mean?