Structural functionalism

Structural functionalism
The basics
• Social systems theory
• Anthropology
– Radcliffe-Brown
– Malinowski
• Chicago School
– Organic analogy
– Mass society theory
• Formal structural functionalism
– Parsons
• Functional prerequisites
• Patterned role expectations
– Merton
• Dysfunctions
• Manifest and latent functions
• Functional alternatives
Structural functionalism
• Heavy use of analogy
– Organic
– Mechanistic
Structural functionalism
• A form of systems theory
– Looks at systems and subsystems
– Interrelations among parts
– Processes
• Maintenance, equilibrium
• Adaptation and change
Structural functionalism
• Structures
– Repetitive behaviors
• Functions
– Implications for system maintenance
• Early, conservative S—F assumed
maintenance was the main (positive) goal
Structural functional analysis
• Identifies the structures of a system
• Defines the part played by such structures
• Examines the consequences of social
phenomena for the systems of which they
are a part, and
• Examines how new structures emerge
• Assumptions: The conceptual assumptions underlying the
approach can be divided into two basic areas:
– the social system is the prior causal reality and the system parts are
functionally interrelated,
– all social phenomena have functions for the larger social system.
Concerning these functions:
• they may be functional for the whole system or only part of it,
• there may be functional alternatives,
• there may be multiple consequences from particular phenomena, and
• dysfunctions account for tension and change in the system.
• The approach assumes that systems can be identified and
specified, that the boundaries are measurable.
Structural functional explanation
• Recurring behaviors (structures) are thought to
exist because they in some way contribute to
system maintenance (function)
• The identification of structures and the ways that
they contribute are major goals
• Society is thought to maintain an equilibrium state
(organic analogy) and if forced out of that state
will adjust in ways that tend to reinstate
equilibrium (though not necessarily the original
Structural functional explanation
• Certain functions are required for the
existence of the system (society)
– Functional prerequisites
• In some cases, more than one structure can
provide the same function
– Functional alternatives
Okay, maybe, but systems
• Change is generated mainly from outside
the system, as the system will normally
maintain its status quo
• A second source of change is the existence
of dysfunctions (actions that break down the
– Implications of a structure for different
subsystems may conflict
Manifest v. latent (Merton)
• Manifest functions are commonly
• Latent functions are not commonly
– Often they are still the reason for structures to
• May be the “real” reason
• Basis for consensus
– Main means of integration of parts (communication)
• Consensus brings pressure to bear on “deviates” in
order to maintain equilibrium
– Deviation considered a problem to be dealt with
– The role of social control is to maintain system
• (in the interest of the population overall)
– Source of deviance unclear
• Socialization through a wide array of social
institutions, including the media
Advantages of structural
• Provides a wide-ranging explanation for
many social phenomena
• Has guided a great deal of valuable research
• Latter models allow not only for stability,
but also for conflict, social change, and
power relationships
• Has contributed useful concepts to the field
Disadvantages of structural
• An ideal model of society rather than an
empirically derived one
– Operational definitions are hard to come by
• At its outset had a tendency to value
stability, consensus
• Cannot explain the existence of societies in
the first place
Structural functionalism
• Cannot easily explain rapid social change or
breakdown of societies
– Social change and social conflict became
significant topics in the latter period of
functionalist dominance
• Rests on assumptions that are hard (perhaps
impossible) to test
• Explanations can be tautological
Lasswell’s functions
“The communication process in society
performs three functions: (a) surveillance of
the environment, disclosing threats and
opportunities affecting the value position of
the community and of the component parts
within it; (b) correlation of the components
of society in making a response to the
environment; (c) transmission of the social
Lazarsfeld and Merton
• “Increasingly, the chief power groups, among
which organized business occupies the most
spectacular place, have come to adopt techniques
for manipulating mass publics through
propaganda in place of more direct means of
• “these media have taken on the job of rendering
mass publics conformative to the social and
economic status quo”
• Fear that mass media lower the ‘esthetic tastes’
of their audiences
Status conferral function
• “The mass media confer status on public
issues, persons, organizations and social
“Recognition by the press or radio or magazines
or newsreels testifies that one has arrived, that
one is important enough to have been singled
out from the large anonymous masses, that
one’s behavior and opinions are significant
enough to require public notice.”
Enforcement of social norms
• “The mass media may initiate organized
social action by “exposing” conditions
which are at variance with public
– Publicity closes the gap between “private
attitudes” and “public morality.”
Narcotizing dysfunction
• “this vast supply of communications may elicit only a
superficial concern with the problems of society, and this
superficiality often cloaks mass apathy.”
• “As an increasing meed of time is devoted to reading and
listening, a decreasing share is available for organized
action. The individual reads accounts of issues and
problems and may even discuss alternative lines of action.
But this rather intellectualized, rather remote connection
with organized social action is not activated. The
interested and informed citizen can congratulate himself on
his lofty state of interest and information and neglect to see
that he has abstained from decision and action.
• “In short, he takes his secondary contact with the world of
political reality, his reading and listening and thinking, as a
vicarious performance. He comes to mistake knowing
about problems of the day for doing something about them.
His social conscience remains spotlessly clean. He is
concerned. He is informed. And he has all sorts of ideas
as to what should be done. But, after he has gotten through
his dinner and after he has listened to his favored radio
programs and after he has read his second newspaper of
the day, it is really time for bed.
Social conformism
• “Since the mass media are supported by great
business concerned geared into the current social
and economic system, the media contribute to the
maintenance of the system.”
– Advertisement of products
– Stories contain some element of approval of current
structure of society
– Fail to raise essential questions about the structure of
Esthetic tastes
• Hard to determine overall effect
• Widening of audience for higher arts
– Accessibility vastly increased
Conditions for media effects
• Monopolization
– Little or no opposition in media to the diffusion of
values, policies or public images
• Canalization
– Rather than attempting to change or create attitudes or
behavior, directing pre-existing behaviors and attitudes
in the direction you want
• Supplementation of media presentation with
interpersonal communication
The Field
• Lasswell’s classic definition of the field:
Who Says
In Which Channel
To Whom
With What Effect?
• Often cited (and used as a model) in
subsequent research
• The “transmission” view of communication