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Structural Functionalism

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Presentation on theme: "Structural Functionalism"— Presentation transcript:

1 Structural Functionalism
Talcott Parsons and the structure-agency debate

2 Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) US sociologist who attempted to integrate all the social sciences into a science of human action. Parson’s ‘voluntaristic theory’ of social action Social agency is not reducible to arbitrary actions or total free will, but is … framed within the patterned structure of relationships which are reproduced in… social order and norms Thus, Parsons has a notion of individual agency but this is NOT reducible to biological or psychological factors but involves A synthesis between individual actions and social systems

3 Structural Functionalism (SF)
Parsons a structural functionalist. Functionalism originally attempted to explain social institutions as collective means to fulfil social needs, especially social solidarity social institutions are functionally integrated to form a stable system SF develops from this to hold that society consists of various institutions, e.g. police, hospitals, schools, etc., each of which has its own function.

4 Parson’s contribution to SF
Parsons argued that the crucial feature of societies is homeostasis (maintaining a stable state) ("The Social System" 1951). He believed in the interconnectedness of different elements of society This supported individual integration into social structures. His great achievement was to construct a system or general theory of social action to include all its aspects, drawing on several disciplines and reinterpreting previous theories ("The Structure of Social Action" 1937). Structural determinist I.e. emphasis the power of the social system to shape the behaviour of individuals.

5 How did Parsons see the Structure-Agency problem?
Voluntaristic theory of action acknowledged an individual's capacity to 'act on the basis of their own decisions, desires and choices and not on the requirements enforced by the brute workings of an economic system that thrived on the inequalities of wealth and power' (Layder, 1994: 15). (contra Marxism) The successful functioning of society required altruism, or collectivism, as opposed to the notion of instrumental rational action. (contra individualism) opposed to positivist social science (biological determinism) as this overlooks the purposeful character of human action Q: ‘How can society persist given that each of its members pursues his or her own goals?’ (Parsons, ). A: ‘people are both goal-oriented and constrained' (Baert, 1998: 48).

6 Social order and norms 'Order', he argued, was the result of the influence of certain values in society rather than in structure such as the economic system (capitalism). counter to Weber, who noted the experiences of alienation and anomie in modern, industrial societies. Closer to Durkheim, who suggested that societies are reflections of the 'collective consciousness', in which people internalise the shared norms and standards of society. Link between 'values' and 'norms' he argued ,was to be found in the fact that the core values of individuals and groups found expression in norms. 'Order' thus amounts to a reflection of the general values of a society

7 Social order and norms (2)
“ the problem of order, and thus of the nature of stable systems of social interaction that is, of social structure, thus focuses on the integration of the motivation of the actors with the normative cultural standards which integrate the action system, in our context, interpersonally” (Parsons, 1951: 36-7). Order = successful integration of individuals + normative standards + uphold social structures Q: Is Parsons making any assumptions here?

8 How do these processes of integration take place?
four levels at which the individual is socialised into society. Each level represents a separate category with its own dynamics but TOGETHER they underpin the social system.

9 Integration 1 – Physiological
System of Level Aspects of Experience Physiological system The basic ‘organic’ level of social interaction Role of the body in social reproduction: the human body is a precondition for the development of individual psychology. Body is container of different drives (essentialist)

10 Integration 2 – Personality system
System or level Aspect of experience Personality system individual's biographical blueprint of the attitudes, beliefs derived from early socialisation Concerned with internalisation of values. Individual psychology + engaging with social structures at the level of our desires, drives, unconscious reflexes and inhibitions. Very influenced by Freud.

11 Integration 3 –social system
System or level Aspect of Experience The social system as an entity ('structure') The social system as processes (how social interactions are shaped by, and in turn, shape, social structures). The family is the primary agent of socialisation We derive status and roles from position in family. The functions of the family mirror those of society Function of the family: the primary socialisation of children and the stabilisation of adult personalities

12 Integration – social system (2)
Parsons on social systems “Social systems emerge from interactions which are repeated over time and which produce durable expectations about the behaviour of those involvedm, In a fully developed social system such as modern societym these expectations become ‘institutionalised’. That im they become part ocf the accepted fabric of soceity which people have to take into acount when formulating their behaviour” (Layder, 1994: 17). Parsons on individual units of society such as the family: “It is because the human personality is not "born" but must be "made" through the socialisation process that in the first instance families are necessary. They are factories which produce human personalities” (Parsons, 1955: 16)

13 Integration 4 – Cultural System
System or Level Aspect of Experience The cultural system - human interaction over time creates a store of knowledge & tradition The cultural system contains the core values and beliefs of a given society, and enables these values to be passed down. ls how a society reproduces itself culturally. Education a bridge between the Family and wider society Preparing us for our adult roles in society. Education is the main secondary agent of socialisation. In advanced industrial society we are judged in terms of achieved status and universalistic values

14 Integration 4 – Cultural System (2)
Schools are examples of the meritocratic principles of society This means that everyone is treated in the same way and that everyone has the same chances to succeed. Therefore those that achieve the most in school do so on merit. Talent will naturally rise to the top: Ability + Effort = Merit. Schools ensure that the best people will perform the most important jobs - and this will benefit society as a whole.

15 Universalistic values
a) The value of achievement by rewarding those who achieve through exam success. b) The value of equality of opportunity by offering everyone an equal chance to succeed. c) role allocation by testing and evaluating students, schools match the students' talents and capacities to the jobs they are best suited for. Does your school or college actually do this in practise? Does this happen in the world of work - the economy?

16 Structural Functionalism 2
Talcott Parsons

17 Roles and Norms P interested in the external forces that shaped individual motivations and interests individuals adapted their choices they made (roles) to the 'norms' of society There is a correspondence between the roles taken by individuals in society and the prevailing norms of a society Meritocracy was a successful way of allocating roles in ways that ensured the ultimate wellbeing or stability of the social system. Social stratification, he suggested was an outcome of the role allocation which created the "differential ranking of human individuals who compose a given social system and their treatment as superior or inferior relative to one another in certain socially important respects" (Parsons, Analytical Approach to Social Stratification, 69)

18 Fundamental Axes of Stratification:
Ascription vs. Achievement - Ascribed Status and Achieved status Moral Evaluation defined by: Membership in kinship unit (by birth, marriage) Personal qualities (sex, age, personal beauty, intelligence strength) Achievements (result of individual's actions) Possessions (material & non-material things belonging to an individual and transferable) Authority ("institutionally recognized right to influence actions of others", p. 76; resides in position or office) Power (ability to influence others and secure possessions)

19 Stratification (class or status differences)
"the class status of an individual is that rank in the system of stratification which can be ascribed to him (sic) by virtue of those of his (sic) kinship ties which bind him to a unit in the class structure" (Parsons Analytical Approach to Social Stratification, 77-8) Stratification (in USA): Occupation: universalistic criteria; achieved status; not determined at birth; equality of opportunity Kinship: ascribed status determined at birth Contradictions women not allowed to compete on an equal footing for the jobs of men otherwise, this would threaten the stability of the family, and hence of society.

20 Stratification and gender roles
Separation of sex roles to prevent competition: Exclusion of Women's Independent Status "The separation of the sex roles in our society is such as, for the most part, to remove women from the kind of occupational status which is important for the determination of the status of a family" (Parson, 80) Instrumental Roles = men = outside family; occupational world; adaptation of society Expressive Roles = women = inside family; tension management in family; socialization of children Q: In the light of this account, is stratification and the social organisation of gender roles a social fact? Or a social construct?

21 Pattern variables & the social system
P retained an idea of ‘voluntarism', i.e. that we exercise some degree of freedom or agency in taking different courses of action. He also argued that individuals confronted a range of options or choices (PVs) refer to the concrete opportunities in which we make decision which reflect general social parameters of social behaviour. While we have freedom to make choices, the choices and decisions we do make are generally shaped by existing social values and conventions.

22 Pattern Variables –influences on our choices/agency
Particularism vs universalism. In some contexts we related to people according to the rules or standards that we apply generally (universalism), in other cases we apply qualifications or exceptions so that we favour or discriminate against them (particularism). Performance vs quality; related to the scenario above, whereby we alter our attitudes or treatment of others according to who they are rather than what they might achieve (e.g Black boys in the education system)  Affective neutrality vs affectivity: refers to the degree of investment we have in engaging with different groups. We distinguish between certain intimate or open relations (affectivity) vs more 'business-like' or transactional relations (aff. Neutrality).  Specificity vs neutrality: some interactions are very basic/instrumental or transactive (i.e. buying an item/booking a hotel room), others are more complex and involve different layers of common interests, so diffuse (relationship with partner).

23 Social system in fulfilling the functional needs of society
A successful society must meet the needs of its members in order to reproduce itself Through meeting these needs societies establish an equilibrium Allocation of resources - material, human, cultural (money and distribution systems). Defining and sustaining the pursuit of certain fundamental goals (political and decision-making or executive systems) Maintaining solidarity (the management of conflict. Sustaining the motivations of its actors (socialisation, reproduction of values and norms).

24 Adaptation/ Goal Attainment/ Integretion/ Latency
Parsons - the relationship between people and society is a mutual one because certain human responses or adaptations are required in order to ensure that the four 'needs' of the system are met. These are: Adaptation - both agents and structures need to relate appropriately or adapt to the environment and resources available Goal attainment - the decision-making or political systems and structures must appropriately motivate social actors Integration - appropriate structures and mechanisms must be constructed in order to maintain order Latency – the maintenance of the cultural and socialising structures and mechanisms.

25 Critiques of Parsonianism
Cold War ideological and political concern propagates the superiority of capitalism and western liberal democracy. Universalistic - assumes a normative model of human relations, uniform cultural and social values Individual vs society - little or no sense of mediating group structures such as classes, regional or national or ethnic categories Mechanistic view of socialisation (4 levels)

26 Critiques of Parsonianism (2)
Assumes normative values - no sense of resistance to 'mainstream' values, or of difference or dissent, or of the marginalisation or suppression Insufficient attention paid to social conflict. No sense of power; assumes that all actors have equal access to social goods and services As with any other sociological theorist, he cannot establish a precise correspondence between action theory (agency) and system theory (structure), so the dilemma persists.

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