Functionalism: The Backbone of Sociological Theories

Functionalism: The Backbone of Sociological Theories Aug, 18 2023

Breaking Down Functionalism

Don't you just love it when a theory makes the pieces of a puzzle fit together? That's what functionalism does. It's a methodology gracing the pages of sociological textbooks and academic journals alike since the time of Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist. While tickling Snowball's tummy the other night, I found myself drawing parallels between sociology and my yarn-loving Siamese. Yes, Donovan, my hubby, did give me a sidelong glance, but stay with me here. Just as each purr, tail twitch, and ear flick is an interdependent part of my feline's behavioral symphony, functionalism views society as a complex system of interdependent parts working together towards a common goal: social stability. What a purr-fect observation, don't you think?

The Functionalists' Approach

Functionalism was an approach pioneered by Durkheim. He likened the intricacies of societal interactions to the inner workings of biological organisms. Every societal aspect, from the educational system to mundane morning greetings, has a specific function catering to society's overall stability. Reflecting on it, I ponder whether my daily "G'day mate" to our postie is aiding in the societal stability here in Adelaide. Trust me, unravelling the threads of functionalism can lead you down all sorts of rabbit holes!

Universality of Functions

Every unit in society, according to functionalist theory, possesses a universal function. Schools, for instance, mould young minds while workplaces contribute to economic prosperity. The sewage system, call it the unsung hero, ensures cleanliness and health. Each part, big or small, holds its weight. Donovan calls it the ‘paprika in the goulash' - just a small amount, but take it out, and you've lost a vital flavour. So, hats off to you, sewage system!

Collective Conscience

Ever wondered about shared beliefs or moral attitudes in society? That's what Durkheim dubbed as 'collective conscience'. It is this collective conscience that regulates individual actions, ensuring social harmony. Similar to how Snowball quickly learned not to claw our antique coffee table (the one that Donovan's Mam left us in her will)! A well-functioning society, like Snowball, heeds this collective conscience.

The Stability of Change

Now, we all know nothing remains stagnant. Change is an inevitable part of every society. Functionalists view this change as a regulated process where a society evolves organically, maintaining relative stability. Kind of like a steady trot rather than a maddening gallop. It's a comforting view, if you ask me - like knowing there's always a jar of Vegemite stashed somewhere in the kitchen cupboards.

Social Order and Equilibrium

Just as a well-baked pavlova stands tall without flopping - yes, I threw in a baking analogy! - a stable society too maintains an equilibrium of sorts. For functionalists, each social structure contributes to this balance, ensuring that society doesn't crumble like a poor underbaked pav! So, let's all strive to be quality pavlova ingredients, contributing to the society's sweet stability.

The Critiques: Breaking the Functionalist Monolith

Of course, any theory, however comprehensive, will have its detractors. For functionalists, criticism comes from their perceived downplay of individual agency and the power dynamics innate in societies. Critics argue that this view downplays conflict and inequality, casting society in a naively harmonious light. Not that Adelaide doesn't have its charming moments, but it's not all sunshine and roses either!

Functionalism as a Guiding Tool

Functionalism isn't the be-all and end-all of sociological theories, there are others, like conflict theory or symbolic interactionism. But despite its critics, functionalism provides a valuable lens to understand societal gears and mechanisms. It's a hefty toolbox helping us knit together our diverse social experiences into a seamless pattern.

Just like how I make sense of my Adelaide life, functionalism enlightens our understanding of societal behavior. Except when it comes to Snowball's obsession with wool balls - that's a mystery Durkheim himself would probably struggle to solve!