The Key Role of Functionalism in a Societal Equilibrium

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Functionalism emphasizes a societal equilibrium. To put it into perspective if something happens to disrupt the order and the flow of the system, a set of interconnected parts which together form a whole, society must adjust to achieve a stable state. Functionalism is a top down theory which works to help simply better our understanding of the world. By processing information from the top-down allows us to make sense of information that has already been brought in by the senses, working downward from initial impressions down to lower-level senses. Individuals are born into society and become the product of all the social influences around them as they are socialized by various institutions such as the family, education, media, and religion. There is a relationship between all these parts and agents of socialization and together they all contribute to the maintenance of society as a whole, like said before. Social consensus, order, and integration are key beliefs of functionalism as this allows society to continue and progress because there are shared norms and values that mean all individuals have a common goal and have a vested interest in conforming and thus conflict is minimal. Functionalists believe that society is based around a value consensus and social solidarity, which is achieved by socialization and social control. “The primary concepts within functionalism are collective conscience, value consensus, social order, education, family, crime and deviance and the media”. (Trueman)

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Functionalists also use the terms functional and dysfunctional to describe the effects of social elements on society. This is because functional contributes to social stability and dysfunctional contributes to the disruption of social stability. An example of this would be, crime is dysfunctional in that it is associated with physical violence, loss of property, and fear. But according to Durkheim, who we’ll get to later on, and other functionalists, crime is also functional for society, this is because it leads to heightened awareness of shared moral bonds and increased social cohesion. For societies understanding of functionalism an example would be the increase in single parent families that has contributed to the number of children who are failing in school because parents have become less available to supervise their children’s homework. Another example is “as a result of changes in technology, colleges are offering more technical programs, and many adults are returning to school to learn new skills that are required in the workplace. The increasing number of women in the workforce has contributed to the formulation of policies against sexual harassment and job discrimination”. (Mooney, Knox, and Schach)

An individual who was a top contributor to this theory was Emile Durkheim. Durkheim was born April 15, 1858, in Épinal, France—died November 15, 1917, in Paris. “He was a French social scientist who developed a rigorous methodology combining empirical research with sociological theory. He is widely regarded as the founder of the French school of sociology”.(Peyre) Durkheim believed that sociology is a science. He is a structuralist and positivist and disagrees with empathy, meanings, and the social action theory. Durkheim came up with organic analogy (or biological analogy), specifically to bring out the distinction between two of his theories, mechanical and organic solidarity. Mechanical solidarity is a society that has people involved in similar roles so labor division is simple. Meaning a similar lifestyle is lived with common shared norms and values and beliefs. They also have a consensus of opinion on moral issues giving society a social solidarity to guide behavior to form a whole. As there is a societal agreement, there is pressure to follow the value consensus, so most do acting as a bandwagon appeal. Whereas organic solidarity is industrialisation which meant population grew rapidly with urbanisation occurring. As society develops, a division of labour occurs. This is when work becomes separate from the home, and the state organises the education, health care and criminal justice systems.

Durkheim also attributes to this that education helps match people to careers suited for them as well as trains them for their future endeavours. Reasoning for this is because he believes that education transmits society’s norms and values. He feels that education brings a mass and changes them into a whole, which eventually leads into social solidarity over time. Supporting this is that schools back then and today instil the value of equal achievement and opportunities.

Nowadays the way the funtionalism is portrayed in life now is in media. The media operates in the public interest by reflecting the interests of the audience. It portrays the public opinions by atrracting what the viewers want to see. In other words the media undetsnads that society today has a wide diversity of culture and different views on things and this is shown by all the different topics being covered to attain to these things. All in all functionalism plays a key role in society today. It’s a main factor that makes society the way it is today and how it forms as a whole for social solidarity. Social solidarity is good to have becuase without it, we would have no sense of what is morally acceptable.

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