Assess the contribution of functionalism to our understanding of society. (33)
Functionalism is a consensus theory. It sees society as based on agreement among people about values, goals and rules in society. The job of the family is primary socialization. The family introduces norms and values to children, who carry these on to later years, where they are reinforced by religion and education. These norms and values allow people to move up the social hierarchy. For example, children are taught to conform by the family and education, which allows them to conform to the rules of wider society and become aware of what, is socially acceptable. Education also trains by teaching the skills needed for later life, for example punctuality, and interview skills. Unlike conflict structuralism, functionalists believe that society is based on merit, and those who ...view middle of the document...
A key functionalist is Talcott Parsons; he saw society as working like a human body, arguing that institutions in society were like organs in the body – each performing specific functions that were necessary to the maintenance of the whole. Parsons argued that parts of society should be understood in terms of what they contribute to the maintenance of the whole. This is known as ‘organic analogy’. One of the most important functions of social institutions is the creation of value consensus – which is agreement around shared values. Parsons argued that commitment to common values is the basis for order in society. Two of the most important shared values include a belief in the work ethic and a belief in meritocracy. Parsons argued these were both vital to modern society because a work ethic ensures people value working rather than lazing about and meritocracy means people believe that hard work should be rewarded. Education integrates individuals into wider society – providing individuals with a sense of belonging and identity to the wider society. Parsons argued, for example, that education does this through teaching us a shared history and language.
However there are many criticisms of the functionalist perspective, Marxists argue that the modern family is organised to support and benefit the ruling class and the capitalist economy, rather than benefiting all of society. In particular, they accuse functionalists
for ignoring the fact that power is not equally distributed in society. Some groups have more wealth and power than others and may be able to impose their norms and values on less powerful groups.
Functionalists have been criticized by feminists for reifying, rather than reflecting, gender roles. While gender roles, according to the functionalist perspective, are beneficial in that they contribute to stable social relations, many argue that gender roles are discriminatory and should not be upheld. They strongly oppose the view that there should be a dominant breadwinner and a caregiver in order for the family to function.