chapter  2
24 Pages

Functionalism

In its simplest terms, a functionalist perspective on society begins with a metaphor – that society is a system. We will discuss what this means in greater depth below. Suffi ce to say at this point that a system is a whole which is comprised of various parts but more than just the sum of them. To study society as a functionalist would, then, is to see it in its entirety, as a ‘thing in itself’, but also to see how its various component parts work (how they ‘function’) in relation to this greater whole. This way of looking at society owes much to the natural sciences, and in particular to biology. Consider the way one might approach studying the human body. It is a complex thing which is comprised of multiple organs and the like, and each of these has its own role to play to help keep the body ‘healthy’. So, one needs to understand its structure – how it is constituted as a whole – and also the particular functions performed by its component parts.