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Functionalism and the Roots of Sociology




Slide 1

Functionalism and the Roots of Sociology

Functionalism and the Roots of Sociology

The historical background to Sociology. What were the circumstances surrounding the rise of Sociology in the 19th century?

What was their starting point? In other words, what did they perceive as the main problems facing the new industrial societies?

What is the term Functionalists use to describe society’s basic needs?

What institutions or ‘agencies,’ did the early Sociologists identify as shouldering the biggest responsibility in meeting those needs?

What analogy do Functionalists use for human society?

Slide 2

‘Functional Requirements’

‘Functional Requirements’

Functionalists prioritise the following, and look for ‘socialising agencies’ (all of which ought to work in tandem, hence the term ‘interdependence of institutions’) to assert these values;

Social order/stability

Value consensus



Slide 3

Functionalist Theorists

Functionalist Theorists

Functionalism has been out of fashion within Sociological circles since the 1960s. Can you recall why this perspective may of appeared inappropriate at this particular time?

Nevertheless, this theory provides many of the ‘building blocks’ of the discipline, and its concerns (deviance, conformity, social group behaviours, class, gender etc) remain sociology’s main areas of enquiry.

What might the American Sociologist Talcott Parsons say about the education system? What might Emile Durkheim a contemporary hot potato like ‘integration?’

Slide 4

Murdock and the Nuclear Family

Murdock and the Nuclear Family

‘A people whose marriages and families are weak can have no solid institutions.’

Michael Novak

For Functionalists such as Murdock, the Nuclear Family is a universal feature of human societies the world over. After carrying our case studies into 250 human societies for his anthropological work ‘Social Structure,’ he proposed that this family type is

biologically ‘natural.’

Slide 5



Parsons argued that the Family acts as a ‘bridge’ between the individual and wider society.

Within the family we gain ‘ascribed’ status- we are judged in terms of our status as brother, sister, daughter etc…

Education provides Secondary socialisation – now we are judged on ‘achieved’ status. Our conduct is measured against universal values.

Schools must operate on meritocratic principles. For Parsons, Ability + Effort = Merit.

Slide 6

Education and ‘Role Allocation’

Education and ‘Role Allocation’

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