Functionalism Essay Example

Functionalism is a revolutionary sociological theory since it has paved the way for sociology to grow and adapt to what it is today. The functionalist perspective looks at the social world by focusing on the concept of sui generis. The idea of sui generis is that by looking at the group or society you can start to understand the individual, even though this theory does not look at the individual since they are considered passive. In general sui generis is how we “see the social world as an entity in and of itself” (Olson 9/9/19). By looking at society in a sui generis way and at a macro view we can make inferences about the individuals in our social world. 

Macro View of Social World

When talking about the macro view of our social world it is important to discuss some key aspects since they will be referenced often throughout this paper. The first aspect that is important for us is to define what a society is. Though this term might seem unambiguous to define, it is an imperative stepping stone in the world of sociology. Society for our purposes is a variety of organizations or parts working together in unison. The next aspect is to understand what makes up the macro view in our social world. Within the macro view, there are world systems, nation-states, institutions and organizations or groups.

Functionalists use these aspects to determine how order is maintained within a society. Also, they look at how institution or group cohesion, consensus and solidarity helps to maintain societal equilibrium. These three elements are the fundamental aspects of this theory since they show the interrelatedness of the societal parts, depict a sense of normalness and how the system can reorganize to keep the status quo. All of these aspects of the functionalist theory can be seen in a variety of social organizations or institutions since they all have some sort of impact on one another. 

The Education System

The education system, for example, plays an influential role in the judicial system and vice versa. Both of these are social institutions that are apparent in our society and are impacted by the functionalist theory. The primary purpose of the education system is to educate the individuals in society and since functionalists don’t focus on individuals we look at the system to explain the actions of the individual. With the education that is given, individuals learn how they are supposed to behave and act within a society. In essence, they are taught right from wrong which helps benefit the judicial system.

If individuals know right from wrong then the judicial system will not have a lot of delinquents to deal with. Doing all of this creates a sense of social cohesion and equilibrium due to everyone knowing the rules of the society and it creates balance within it. This concept also works the other way around because the judicial system can also influence the education system. For instance, if there is a delinquent in society for something like numerous traffic violations then the judicial system might say that they need more education and insist that they take a drivers education course. This is a prime example of how the parts in a society can reorganize to regain a sense of balance. Also, this is a good way to see the concept of sui generis at work since it focuses on the social world alone with no influences from individuals. 

Sui Generis Concept

Furthermore, this concept of sui generis can also be seen in lower scaled institutions such as social media and families. In modern society, there are a lot of families that rely on the use of social media to keep in touch with other family members that might live around the country or world. Through doing this we are constantly reminded of our family values and we might even be more cautious about our actions. That is due to our family members being able to see everything we do while we are online which in a way helps maintain the social order of things.

Once again this can be seen working in the other direction in a slightly different way. Social media uses families to grow their business and get their names out there. In addition, it can influence the family and thus its members to see society in a specific way. These influences often go hand in hand with family values and can enhance the family dynamic. Even though these institutions are less structurally influential they are still important in maintaining social cohesion and cohesion in a society, all of which is very important to this specific theory.  

Although functionalism seems to fit fairly well into our society it does have its faults. One of the main drawbacks of this theory is that it ignores the concept of change, which as we know is always an invasive factor in society. Functionalists ignore this concept for a variety of reasons, one of which being that it is not an accurate representation of society. If society is always changing then there is no consistency which plays into another aspect of why it is ignored within this theory. Change does not play into the concept of maintaining equilibrium or maintaining the status quo which is the foundation of the theory.

Whether the change that is occurring is a good thing or a bad thing, functionalists will always see it in a negative light which is a big drawback of the theory. Change is always going to occur regardless of your view on it and ignoring it won't help anything. Another drawback of this theory is that it was composed based on the top-down theory. The top-down theory is, in essence, a way in which people see the world based on their status in society. This theory, however, looks specifically from the top 1 percent’s perspective of the society or the rich and well off individuals view on the society. It is not very inclusive of the working classes views on society. If it was focused on the lower classes perspective change would not be ignored rather highly encouraged. The working class wants change to occur, more often than not, since it will enable them to have better access to societal means such as education and opportunities that will enhance their quality of life. 

Overall the functionalist theory does, in a broad sense, work within our current society. This is due to the concept of sui generis being seen at the macro-level of society and seeing how cohesion, consensus, and solidarity work within and between institutions. With this theory focusing on maintaining the status quo, the perspective of the majority of citizens it not portrayed. Lastly ignoring the concept of change entirely will not help us grow as a society, which for the functionalist theory is the point. They want things to stay the same so they ignore all the impurities in the world, which for a while was the center of sociology.



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