What is functionalism?

Essay by aalim3University, Bachelor's April 2004

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Functionalism is a macro approach that sees society working in consensus. Society has functional pre-requisites that need to be met in order for society to work in a unified harmonious way. This is achieve through social institutions, such as the family and education, that all work together in moulding the individual through socialisation, therefore integrating them into the common value consensus that everyone shares. It follows, therefore, that everything in society must be functional and serving the functional pre-requisites or else it wouldn't exist. This is true of the apparently destructive appearance of crime and deviance and functionalists have tried to describe its role in terms of benefiting the whole of society.

The orthodox functionalist approach focuses on Durkheim's attempts to explain the purpose of crime and deviance. He said that deviance is functional and only becomes dysfunctional if the crime rates are too high or too low. It performs several key tasks in society.

Deviance sets boundaries in society. It does this by influencing the 'Collective Sentiment'. The 'Collective Sentiment' is the shared norms and values of a society. If the crime rate of society is too high this produces a state of 'anomie' where people don't know the norms and therefore society can't function. By certain acts being labelled as deviant and made against the law the boundaries are constantly reasserted when people break the law. They go against the 'Collective Sentiment' and therefore alert society to the boundaries of it. Deviance also establishes new norms for the collective sentiment. When a new law is made someone has to be tried and found innocent or guilty to show the 'Collective Sentiment' the new boundaries.

Deviance also stimulates change in society. It keeps the law changing so it reflects the 'Collective Sentiment' and also stimulates more radical changes such...