Functionalism Functionalism is perhaps the oldest, and still dominant theoretical perspective in sociology. This paradigm is based upon two related emphases: application of the scientific method to the objective social world, and use of analogy between the individual organism and society. The perspective was developed by Emile Durkheim, and expanded by Talcott Parsons in the 1950s.
The perspective assumes: 1) that the application of the scientific method extends to the social world, 2) values provide general guidelines for behavior in terms of roles and norms, 3) institutions are generally composed of interrelated roles and norms, and 4) the society is a functioning organism composed of functioning institutions.
Functionalists perceive the social world as objectively real – observable with methods such as surveys and interviews. Rules and regulations assist in the organization of relationships between members of the social body. These institutions of society such as the family, religion, the political system, even the economy are interwoven. They function congruent to social needs and aspirations. They are directed to the attainment of social objectives.
Functionalism has the following assumptions: 1) the interrelatedness of institutions, roles, and norms is congruent with social needs; 2) social need is not necessarily physiological in orientation (it can be in the form of status acquisition); 3) gradual change is the main motor of social change (abrupt change is seen as something unnecessary and leading to social dislocation of actors); 4) objectivity is the primary qualification of social research (functionalism, later structural functionalism is highly correlated with the empiricist approach to social research); 5) the social world is generally governed by social actors.
Functionalism addresses the following issues: 1) the evolution of roles and norms in a particular social setting, 2) the development of interrelated institutions, 3) the efficacy of long-term change, 4) the cohesive functioning entity, and 5) the importance of role-making and empiricist research. From the five sociological paradigms discussed, conflict theory seemed to be the least useful because:
1) It fails to answer the evolution of roles and norms in the society (it views morality as something created by power politics); 2) While it explains the efficacy of short term (abrupt) change, it fails to fully substantiate the saliency of long-term (gradual) social change; 3) It saw conflict as the only effective means of altering social arrangements, roles, and norms of the society – here, conflict is seen as a positive force of social change (the word ‘positive’ here is morally neutral).