What is Functionalism?

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Functionalism is a consensus theory that believes society achieves harmony as the structural system we have enforces order. It is based on agreement between different institutions. As individuals, we learn norms and values (what we deem as appropriate behaviour) by primary socialisation (performed by family) and secondary socialisation (performed by other institutions). In general, people in a society learn the same norms and values and tend to agree with the guidelines for desired behaviour and following the rules (value consensus) – they are taught by parents and reinforced by institutions. Institutions are the structures in society that fabricate the Organic Analogy. The idea is that our institutions – family, religion, education, media etc – are all interlinked, like parts of the body, and would not work successfully without each other. If the parts don’t work together, it would dysfunction.

We achieve social solidarity (everyone working together) because we all have a common goal and strive toward this. However, within institutions there will be people more successful than others, often based on life-chances determined throughout one’s life. In a structural society, therefore, there are hierarchies with institutions and society as a whole; this breeds inequality as some have more authority, power, money etc than others. An example of this would be the owner of a company and the workers. We expect that the owner has the most power and also earns the most money, yet it may be an inequality as he may not work as hard as some of his employees, who have less power and less money. This explains the division of labour: the idea that, in order for society to work, all jobs must be satisfied as they are all important for society to run smoothly, whether it be teachers or MPs.

In order for society to work, there are pre-requisites that must be met. These can be found in the form of institutions but, most importantly, sub-systems. There are four sub-systems that can be found in society. The first is the cultural sub-system, which is made by institutions (media, family, religion etc). The second is family, in which parenthood and marriage are important in order for Nuclear families to be achieved. The third is a political sub-system in which we find MPs, government and laws etc and the final sub-system is economy, including factories and farms. These sub-systems form the foundations of society.

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