Assess the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Functionalist Approach to Society

1172 Words Apr 14th, 2012 5 Pages
Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the functionalist approach to society (33 marks)

Functionalism is seen as a macro-scale approach to society; it sees society as a whole rather than looking at parts of it. Due to this, functionalism sees society as a body (organic analogy), all the institutions work together to make society. This is particularly useful when observing society in order to understand the way in which it functions and the way in which all the institutions (organic analogy: organs within the body) work together to sustain society as a whole. Functionalism being a macro-scale approach is therefore seen as a strength as it allows functionalist sociologists to observe society, and its institutions, as a whole.
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Parsons also identified four needs of society and how they are met. He claimed that society needs adaptation, this is where the material needs of society are met; for example, individuals within society work in order to gain their wages which in turn provides for their material needs. He also argued that society needs goal attainment - society needs to set goals and achieve them; this need is met via the political – political leaders set goals for society to achieve and these goals help to improve society. Integration is another need which Parsons identified, this is where cohesion between the different institutions, such as the family and education system, is promoted; this is done to avoid chaos and conflict. Latency is also needed by society, this refers to the way in which individuals cope with problems in society - they may turn to religion to reduce the strain which has been put on them by society. These needs which Parsons identified can be seen as a strength of society as they help sociologists to understand what society needs in order to function adequately.

However, functionalist sociologist, Merton disagreed with the needs which Parsons identified. Merton claims that Parsons ignored the fact that there are institutions within society that can be dysfunctional, for example, religion can form cohesion but can also cause divisions within society. According to Merton, Parsons failed to acknowledge

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