Evaluate the Functionalists' Contribution to the Study of Society

1300 Words May 13th, 2014 6 Pages
Evaluate the Functionalist contribution to our understanding of society. (33)
Functionalism is one of the earliest sociological theories; it was a development from the first sociological theories developed by Auguste Comte in the early part of the 19thC. Comte developed sociology as ‘the Queen of the Sciences’ in order to use a scientific approach to understanding society. In addition to this scientific approach, he believed that society had a structure and each element of the structure played a particular role in the functioning of society. Emile Durkheim developed these ideas into a sociological perspective which we now call Functionalism. This perspective continued to be modified and developed until the middle of the 20thC when
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By this he means that society’s members agree about what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is worth striving for. Value consensus means that conflict, which could disrupt society, is avoided. Like Comte before him stated that society needed stability in order to function.

Parsons, who was greatly influenced by the work of Durkheim, shares his ideas. He claims that one of the functions of the family is to socialise children into the shared norms and values of society and this function is shared by agencies such as education, religion and the media. Value consensus is important if the equilibrium of society is to be maintained and conflict is to be avoided. Members must learn what is right and fair and the difference between right and wrong. Value consensus integrates members of society.
Parsons is often criticised for over emphasising value consensus. Merton for instance is also influenced by the work of Durkheim but he argues that Parsons misses the idea that people can be motivated by material interests, not by value consensus. He believes that people may accept the goals of society but may achieve them in ways which deviate from the values of society. In his theory of ‘anomie’, or strain theory, he explains how people respond in five different ways to the goals set by society. For instance a person may accept the goal of materialism but may achieve it by committing a crime. Merton’s theory suggests

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