Structural functionalism

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Structural functionalism, or simply functionalism, is "a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability".[1]

This approach looks at society through a macro-level orientation, which is a broad focus on the social structures that shape society as a whole,[1] and believes that society has evolved like organisms.[2] This approach looks at both social structure and social functions. Functionalism addresses society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions, and institutions.

A common analogy, popularized by Herbert Spencer, presents these parts of society as "organs" that work toward the proper functioning of the "body" as a whole.[3] In the most basic terms, it simply emphasizes "the effort to impute, as rigorously as possible, to each feature, custom, or practice, its effect on the functioning of a supposedly stable, cohesive system". For Talcott Parsons, "structural-functionalism" came to describe a particular stage in the methodological development of social science, rather than a specific school of thought.[4][5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Macionis, John (1944–2011). Sociology. Gerber, Linda Marie (7th ed.). Toronto, Canada: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 9780137001613. OCLC 652430995. 
  2. DeRosso, Deb. "The Structural-Functional Theoretical Approach" (in en). 
  3. Urry, John (2000). "Metaphors". Sociology beyond societies: mobilities for the twenty-first century. Routledge. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-415-19089-3. 
  4. 1902-1979., Parsons, Talcott (1977). Social systems and the evolution of action theory. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0029248003. OCLC 2968515. 
  5. François., Bourricaud (1981). The sociology of Talcott Parsons (Pbk. ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226067568. OCLC 35778236.