Functionalism is a scientific paradigm that seeks to understand a society based on its operating rules and the different functions performed in it. Functionalism definition
According to functionalist theorists, every individual in a society plays a role, and the set of all roles allows for the harmonious functioning of society.
Functionalist studies of social groups seek to analyze their institutions and rules, such as family, religion, beliefs, modes of production and education.
Functionalism had its origins in anthropology and sociology, but it is also applied in other areas of the human sciences, such as psychology and philosophy.
The greatest exponents of this trend are the sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858 – 1917) and the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 – 1942). Functionalism definition
Functionalism in Sociology
Functionalism in sociology is first discussed by Émile Durkheim , who was the founder of sociology as a scientific discipline.
Durkheim drew on principles of biology to explain the workings of societies. He compared them to a living organism, in which each organ has a specific function.
For officialdom, each individual in a society has his role and, in the performance of his functions, the collectivity would guarantee the survival of the entire structure.
For the author, the interpretation of societies is related to social facts , which are cultural values and norms, such as language, architecture, money, customs and social roles. Functionalism definition
For every social fact, there are rules in a society, and it is from the social facts that Durkheim believes that collective consciousness is constructed.
Social facts, according to Durkheim, have three characteristics:
- Social: apply to all or the majority of society;
- Exterior: the social fact exists independently of the will of individuals;
- Coercive: social facts are binding and if individuals do not follow them, they suffer punishment.
One of the examples of social fact in our society is education. Education is social because it applies to everyone, it is external because it is independent of an individual’s will, and it is coercive because it is imposed.
Learn about sociology and understand the meaning of coercion . Functionalism definition
Functionalism in Anthropology
In anthropology, functionalism was initiated by Bronislaw Malinowiski , an anthropologist who had a great contribution to the creation of the ethnographic method .
Malinowiski studied the Trobriand peoples of New Guinea from field research – until then, anthropologists studied the different peoples from an external perspective.
In field work, the researcher must be with the studied group for a prolonged period of time and must participate in the collective life of that society.
Malinowiski’s objective was to understand the worldview and way of thinking of individuals in that group, based on the way they were organized in society, their daily lives and their beliefs.
The researcher observed that each institution created was aimed at satisfying a human need. The family, for example, sought to satisfy the need for reproduction and religion, the need for transcendence.
In the Trobriand Islands, Malinowiski became aware of the kula , a trading system. When poring over this system, the anthropologist realized that the exchanges were not only economic, but also exercised social, political and religious functions. Functionalism definition
According to Malinowiski, societies have 4 cultural needs: economy , social control , education and political organization . For each of these institutions, rules and statutes are created.
Learn more about anthropology and understand what an ethnography is .
Functionalist structural theory bears many similarities and some differences from functionalism. The creator of this strand was the anthropologist Alfred R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881 – 1955).
Radcliffe-Brown studied the peoples of the Andaman Islands, also using field research. Its aim was to analyze the relationship between social structures and social activities.
Like functionalism, structural functionalism understands that the social organization of a group is based on functions and that the whole allows the system to continue. Functionalism definition
However, the functionalist structural aspect does not only study the functioning of society, but the way in which structures are related to the maintenance of the system.
For Radcliffe-Brown, society is an organic system maintained by relationships that feed back and institutions are independent of the individual.
Both theories lost strength from the 1960s onwards for reasons such as:
- They were concerned with the effects of sociocultural phenomena but did not explain their causes;
- They did not respond to how the same human needs led to the creation of different institutions in different societies; Functionalism definition
- A society was seen as a harmonious and balanced system and conflicts were the exception;
- They used a super socialized concept of the human being and ignored their capacity for individual action.