There are three guiding assumptions of functionalism:


[1] societies are complex systems.

[2] the “parts” of society  work  together in a “normal” manner

[3] when the parts work together, they promote  stability. This stability is a sort of social equilibrium or healthy state.

There are two components to functional analysis:       


[1]social structure: in short, social structure are stable patterns of social behavior. These can be examined on three levels. The largest or broadest level is the MACRO level. Examples of the macro level analysis are countries, nation states, cities. The next level is the middle-range or MEZO level of analysis. Examples of mezo level analysis are the family, schools, or a sporting event. The lowest level of analysis is the MICRO level. Examples of this type of analysis are face-to-face interaction such as dating, small group interaction etc.

[2]social functions are linked to social structure.These social functions have consequences for the whole. That is, actions by social “parts” contribute to the “healthy” functioning of the whole.



Comte (photo)

Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte (19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857), (France)

Comte coins the term “sociology” which he takes to mean the “science of society.” Thus, he is generally considered to be the founder of the discipline of sociology. Comte borrowed terms from the highly respected biological sciences in order to legitimize the newly emerging “sociology.” Comte felt that since sociology was the MOST relevant discipline (that is, everyone was affected by it,) he felt that sociology would be the ultimate field of study. Where Comte lost his credibility was when he thought to have himself as the “high priest” of the respected discipline.


Herbert Spencer (27 April 1820 – 8 December 1903) (British)

Spencer studied biology (mainly the human body) Spencer also studied society and was one of the first to draw the analogy of comparing the social system to an organism. This paradigm is know as ORGANICISM. Spencer believed that both had “parts” (e.g. skeleton, muscles, various internal organs) and that these parts were interdependent upon each other for survival of the whole. According to Spencer, the “job” of sociology was to identify the “social”  parts and then investigate the contribution(s) of each.


David Émile Durkheim  (April 15, 1858 – November 15, 1917) (France)

Durkheim wanted to show that sociology, although conneceted to personal “acts”, was divorced analytically from psychology and philosophy. Durkheim showed that suicides, although a persoanl act, could show the rate of social cohesion or social glue by looking how people from different religions affected their religious group’s aggregate suicide “rate”. These suicide rates were independent of any specific individual and thus the social world had a life of its own aside from the “parts” of which it was comprised. This life of  its own Durkheim called “social facts” or sui generis. Durkheim also gave analytical priority to the social whole rather than the parts of which it was comprised. He also commented how a “functioning” society was either “Normal” versus “Pathological”.  Durkheim sought to exp[lain also how society, when functioning properly was in a state of “natural” equilibrium.

The other great contribution of his study of sociology was the idea that societies divided their functions or “tasks” into a Division of labor . This division of labor also served as the  social glue which held the PARTS togehter (or failed to do so).


Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown (17 January 1881 – 24 October 1955) (British)

[1] minimal integration

[2] functions maintain minimal integration

[3] structural features =necessary solidarity


Bronisław Kasper Malinowski (7 April 1884– 16 May 1942) (British)

[1] focused upon institutions

  • Notion of system level
  • multiple systems on each level

[2] 3 levels of functional analysis

[1]   (top)       cultural

[2]   (middle)    social (structural)

[3]   (bottom)    biological


Talcott Parsons (December 13, 1902 – May 8, 1979)  (American)

[1]   “systems analysis”

[2]    major social functions needed to survive

[3]    how systems accomplish them (eg A.G.I.L reasoning)


Robert King Merton (July 4, 1910 – February 23, 2003) (American)

[1] “empirical-functionalism”

[2] “theories of the middle range”

[3] social patterns =

  • functions
  • dysfunctions

– manifest =intended

– latent =unintended

– functionality depends upon the point of view of specific categories of people

Merton, Robert K. (1968-08-01). Social Theory and Social Structure (1968 enlarged ed.). New York, NY, US: Free Press. ISBN 0029211301.




A general critique of FUNCTIONALISM entails the following four points:

[1] Until the 1970’s, functionalism was the dominant paradigm in sociology.  But rather than look at anything critical, functionalism sought merely to “explain” social phenomenon. (neutral isn’t critical)  Thus, it basically “explained” the status quo.

[2]  Functionalism also put too much focus on “natural” functioning and failed to address the manipulative aspects of social life.

[3] Functionalism ignored coercive social arrangements and thus

[4] only emphasized social integration: and thus had a definite conservative character.



During the First Gulf War of 1990-1991, General Powell stated a goal of the coalition forces. The coalition was intent on destroying the Iraqi forces using a “kill box” logic. Powell said, “First we are going to cut it off, and them we are going to kill it.” 

Collin Powell (Des Storm)

Collin Powell (Des Storm)

In order for Powell and his troops to accomplish this task, they devised the following plan. First they divided the macro-level map of Iraq into individual kill boxes.

colorado grid map

 Map style kill box


Detailed kill box



An M-16 rifle has three small gas bolt gas rings about the size of a dime each (circled in yellow). These rings cost roughly fifty cents, yet if these are faulty, the weapon will malfunction. So, a $2000 weapon depends on a trio of 50 cent bolt gas rings to FUNCTION.


Only Essential Jobs (edit)

Due to a major blizzard that hit Washington D.C. in early 1994, the Federal Government knew how risky it would be for all their employees to use the surface streets. Thus, the government issued a blizzard warning. The phrase, “Only essential personnel need to come to work” with the hope that it would discourage workers from exposing themselves to the dangers of the blizzard. The plan backfired! During this time, the US economy was struggling, and many Federal workers felt that their jobs may be in jeopardy. Thus, most federal workers showed up to work. A kind of collective consciousness befell the city as EVERYONE felt that they were “essential personnel.” If these workers didn’t appear as “essential,” they felt they may be perceived as NON-essential and subject to layoffs. The government didn’t repeat this mistake! Now they have a “crawl”on the bottom of the TV screen that usually lists the closed schools, businesses etc.


paper article


This article caught my attention because of the words used to describe the “leak.” In the eyes of the whistleblowers, the “system” wasn’t working, or was in fact CORRUPT. So, to work within the system wouldn’t have been an option.



Water Cycle System


Even the water cycle follows a “system.” 


Water Drainage Systems



Commo Systems (edit)




Wallace, Ruth A. and Alison Wolf. 1980 Contemporary Sociological Theory. Englewoods Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.


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