What are the Principles, Strengths and Weaknesses of Structural Functionalism?

What are the Principles, Strengths and Weaknesses of Structural Functionalism?

Structural Functionalism consists of (a) socialization, (b) social integration, (c) social placement, and (d) social and cultural innovation. This theory focuses on socialization to fulfill society’s several needs. It deals with teaching the values, norms, and beliefs to children.

Socializing is crucial for the existence of society. There would be no society without socialization. For society to exist, socialization is necessary. It enables individuals to play their roles in society. Socialization helps in the transfer of knowledge, values, culture, expected behaviour to the next generation and so on. It is also crucial in the development of an individual’s personality.

Strength: The functionalist approach illustrates how a social institution can work at two different levels – both fulfilling the needs of each individual and meeting the needs of the whole society at the same time

Weakness: The functionalist approach is too optimistic. It suggests that family life is always good and happy. Cheal (2002) claims that functional relationships can easily slip into damaging relationships. Child abuse is a major social problem in the UK – 1 in 14 children have been physically abused, according to NSPCC in 2011.

Principles of Structural Functionalism 

  • i). Make humans understand the societal norms and be aware of society’s expectations from them. 
  • ii). Transmit knowledge, values, culture, traditions, etc to the next generation and so on. 
  • iii). Help individuals to realize their interests, strengths, weaknesses and work towards it.
  • iv). Foster moral and ethical values in the children for the welfare of the society. 
  • v). Help individuals in understanding their roles and responsibilities in the society. 
  • vi). Enable individuals to take risks, make decisions and solve problems on their own.

Strengths of Structural Functionalism 

  • i). Meets both the individual and societal needs.
  • ii). It stresses on the importance of family in society. 
  • iii). It is a macro level structural theory. 
  • iv). Spreads values and norms to younger generations and so on. 
  • v). It shows that conflicts in society are minimized by socialization and social order.
  • Functionalists show how each of the parts of society are interrelated, each contributing to the well-being of society.
  • It provides a very harmonious view of society and the family.
  • This approach stresses the great importance of the family, as it is a basic building block of society.
  • The family is seen as very important in passing on the shared norms and values which are universal in society.

Weaknesses of Structural Functionalism 

  • i). It stresses only on the nuclear family and ignores other family structures. 
  • ii). The approach is too optimistic as it looks at family as always happy and harmonious. 
  • iii). It only focuses on the positive side of society and not the negative aspects.
  • This perspective tends to ignore the conflict and exploitation stressed by Marxists.
  • By stressing the idea that the nuclear family is universal, this approach ignores other types of Family and household and seems to assume that they are inadequate, such as, lone-parent families and matrifocal families. However, many people still have a desire to live in the kind of nuclear households outlined by Murdock and Parsons. Also many social policy initiatives stemming from conservative politicians have their origin in functionalist theories.
  • It does not consider the ways in which functions may be performed by other institutions, such as the education system rather than by the family. Fletcher (1988) argues that Parsons was wrong to suggest that the family had lost its functions during industrialisation, as it still continues to provide social, economic and educational support.
  • Feminists are critical of this approach because it assumes that gender roles are fixed, ignoring the changes that have taken place.

Socializing instills discipline, obedience, and responsibility in people. It allows one to know another person better as well as himself/herself. Through interacting with others one will realise what their interests are and work towards it. Individuals will put efforts in improving themselves which as a result will be beneficial for both the person and the society. Socializing will bring a sense of happiness in people and improve their well-being. People will understand societal norms and be aware of society’s expectations from them. Socialization will help society and people in the development of each other.

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