Medicine & USMLE

Structural Functionalism

Social Structure
  1. Conflict Theory
  2. (Social) Constructionism
  3. (Social) Exchange Theory
  4. Structural Functionalism
  5. Symbolic Interactionism


The Theory of Structural Functionalism, also simply called Functionalism, is a macrosociological theory that sees society as a system of interconnected parts. These parts are separate, but work together to maintain the homeostasis of society as a whole--comparable to how an organism’s organs work together to maintain homeostasis. There are two types of functions: manifest and latent. Manifest functions are the intended functions of a social system, while latent functions are unintended functions.

Key Points

  • (Structural) Functionalism
    • Society functions like an organism
      • Parts of society form a balance to maintain equilibrium/homeostasis
    • Social activities have two types of functions:
      • Manifest functions
        • intended functions of a system
      • Latent functions
        • unintended functions of a system
    • Key Theorists were Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons


Social systems and societies are created by the balancing of different groups. Take the principals, teachers, lunch ladies, and students in a school. They each serve different functions, but come together to create a stable equilibrium. The created school system has the manifest or intended function of educating students, but also has the latent or unintended function of serving as free babysitting for parents.