Structural-functionalism theory is an approach to sociology that emphasizes the importance of social structures, such as households and families, in which members have certain defined tasks or functions.
It is one of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology and can be contrasted with conflict theory-which suggests that society is a battleground between competing interests-and symbolic interactionism-which emphasizes the ways in which individuals develop subjective meanings from their interactions with others.
In this post we’re going to discuss what structural functionalism means as well as some of it’s key points and how it has greatly determined our social roles and functions.
What is structural functionalism?
Structural functionalism is a theory that was used by Talcott Parsons and his students to explain the social roles, duties and place that certain structures in society play.
The theory was developed between the 1940’s-1960’s and centered around ideas of “the social system” (a set of social roles or functions that each member plays within a community) and “the structure of the system” (the rules or traditions that govern what parts people play).
The theory was based on the idea that people have certain skills and abilities, which they bring to their everyday lives, which then contribute to what type of place they live in.
We can easily see this in real life, look at social expectations as an example. A doctor is expected to give people medical advice, a teacher is expected to teach and a parent is expected to raise children.
These social roles are dependent on the skills and abilities that each person brings to them. Just like how if you have the skills necessary for the job you are more likely to be able to perform it well.
The structural-functionalist perspective argues that our culture consists of systems of roles, rules and norms that function together for an overall benefit for “society”, which could be defined as the group of people within a given territory who are considered under one political system. So in other words, their focus was on the interactions between parts of society, not individuals.
How does structural-functionalism theory explain our social roles and functions?
The structural-functionalist perspective assumes that the needs and goals of a particular community (such as those within a certain territory) are paramount. In this context, social roles have three basic functions:
1) to ensure the smooth operation of this system or
2) to fulfill expectations and aspirations or
3) to enable combined activities for survival/enhancement. These three functions are related and interdependent with each other.
The first function is linked to the second in that role performance will be effective only if it fulfills expectations of people who are involved in it.