Structural Funcionalism, Conflict Theory, And Symbolic Interactionism

1640 words - 7 pages

In this paper, I will discuss three different schools of thought that, while they may seem to explain the inner workings of society, by themselves they fail to satisfy completely. For each theory, I will discuss the basics and cover the main tenants of each. Then, I will discuss the ambiguities, inadequacies and irrelevance to reality based on our current understanding of modern society.
Structural Functionalism
In the Functionalist School of Thought, society is viewed as being a complex structure of inter-related parts, analogous to a living being, with many different organs contributing to the daily functioning and health of the entire organism. From evolving societies still going through the processes of differentiation of social classes, or to complex societies that have reached near perfect homogeneity, these social systems play a comparative role in the super-organism known as society, as lungs and kidneys play in a simple organism such as a rat. For example, in the human body, the defense against hostile invaders and interceptors of “criminal” cells is the immune system. In society, the analogue to this would be police and military. They serve the same function, defense from the hostile outside world, and the policing of errant variables inside the social organism.
So what are these structures? Well, according to a good majority of functionalist theorists (primarily Talcott Parsons), these structures are social institutions such as schools, post delivery systems, economy and governments. Each of these individual institutions are vital to the functions of society, no matter how far removed the processes of one were from another. If one falters, the rest will feel repercussions leading to a stacking effect that would inevitably have noticeable effects on society as a whole, whether it’s the complete crashing of an economy, or a slight delay in post. The analogy of biological functionalism popularized by Herbert Spencer achieves its goal of explaining how societies rely on interdependence of different subsystems (social institutions) to obtain social structure and order.
Functionalism is not perfect, however. It relies heavily on analogous biological systems to explain the differentiation, evolution, success and failure of social systems. Although this theory succeeds in describing the basic functioning and evolution of a society from its infancy to modern times, that is all it accomplishes. Firstly, functionalism is unable to account for social change or structural conflict that has been observed in the development and histories of modern day societies. Along with this, functionalism completely ignores many inequalities that cause conflict and tension seen in all modern in societies, including race, gender, class and age. Due to these shortcomings, the main claim made by functionalism that society is based on a static, structured, and orderly platform is inherently inaccurate. Even modified theories by theorists such as Talcot Parsons’...

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