Structural Functionalism

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What Is Structural Functionalism?

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Theory based using the skeleton of a complex system whose parts function together in array to support firmness and unity is known as Structural functionalism. It observes society on a macro-level direction focusing on the skeleton on which the society is based upon which means it looks upon both, the social functionality and the structure. The main focus in a society as a whole is on institutions, customs, norms and traditions. Herbert Spencer, a popular anthropologist refers the parts of the society as the organs that work together for proper functioning of a body.

Structural Functionalism and Uni-Lineal Descent

The parenting acknowledgement to claim rights or ties to one another is known as descent. If it weren’t for this decent then it would be very difficult to recognize the next of kin because everyone would possibly be related to everyone. Yet after this common limitation special impositions are done in common ancestry. With the kinship or decent comes special rights such as successions, or inheritances. Kinship or descent can be limitized through one parent relationship system. This unilineal descent system and they are of two types – patrilineal and matrilineal. Patrilineal descent is recognized through the father and matri-lineal by the mother. Some society works on the basis of descent groups say for example an institution hires people of the same descent provides membership to a particular descent. Analyzing these institutions or groups, help in a better understanding of which descent has played a pivotal role in the development.


There have been various criticisms for structural functionalism. According to the consensus theory social change cannot be accounted for or even matter of fact for certain conflicts. None the less it does not consider race, gender, class and is static. Unlike Consensus theory, Parson’s theory allows change and emphasizes on balance. Society was in upheaval and fear abounded. At the time social order was crucial, and this is reflected in Parsons’ tendency to promote equilibrium and social order rather than social change. It was also strongly criticized that it considers only development of social institutions.

Influential Theorists

There are some very influential theorists. One of the prominent names is Auguste Comte. He is called the ‘Father of Positivism’. His theory suggests three stage sociology. Other name in the list is Herbert Spencer, a functionalist, and a famous British philosopher applied the theory of natural selection. Yet another name is Talcott Parsons who focused on system theoretical concept and methodological principle of voluntary action. Then is Kingsley Davis and Wilbert E. Moore (1945) who argued the influence of high income being a motivational factor on people. Robert K. Merton fundamentally agreed with Parsons’ theory but contradicted that there were problems. Merton tended to emphasize middle range theory rather than a grand theory. And lastly are the political scientists Gabriel Almond and Bingham Powell who introduced functionalism approach comparing political systems, in the 70s.


There are many ways of functionalism analysis though it is not clear how useful they are. However, a sociologist needs to understand the reasons of social action and its effects. And if this can be done then there is no use of a functional analysis. Most of the theories are stand alone theories. If there is so many ways of analyzing function, it is not clear that the concept of function is very useful. What is important for a sociologist is to attempt to understand the reasons for social action and the effects of such social action. If a sociologist can do this, then it is not clear that there is any purpose in adding function to this analysis. In addition, much of the sociological analysis of Parsons appears capable of standing alone, without reference to function.

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Structural Functionalism, Seekyt
General Contributor
Janice is a writer from Chicago, IL. She created the "simple living as told by me" newsletter with more than 12,000 subscribers about Living Better and is a founder of Seekyt.