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Theories of Social Structure

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Structural Functionalism

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Summary

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


Example

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.