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Functionalism Essay, Research Paper

Functionalism is a system used by cultures which concentrates

on and emphasises the functional interactions of cultures and

societies, i.e. why and how certain rituals, daily chores etc.

are performed within societies. It makes "law-like"

generalisations which are employed to explain and predict social

phenomena. The first main idea is that each culture or society can be

viewed as a system that consists of many similar elements that

function either separately or together. It is also believed that

if one of these elements was altered or removed, then this would

affect the other elements and the system as a whole. The other main idea, the Malinowskian view,? is that all of

the aspects, such as rituals, ceremonies etc. of a society or

culture are performed because they are required to fulfil the

biological and/or psychological needs of the individuals of that

society. For example, hunting and gathering is performed in some

cultures to fulfil the biological need of eating for the

individuals of that society. The theory of cultural relativism can be used to explain why

the functionalist theory is applied to certain societies- the

activities that they perform are done so because they are

regarded as important and necessary according to the different

values of each society. If we combine these two ideas, we are

able to see that both the Functionalist and cultural relativist

theories centred around the fact that the people of societies

perform their activities and behave in the ways that they do

because these actions and thoughts correspond and are considered

to be right and acceptable in terms of the values of the

society. Functionalism says that: – All elements within a society interconnect and work


- If one dynamic is changed, it will alter the whole of


- Society will change to accommodate this change.

- Everything has a specific function in society

- Society will always function in harmony, as it will accommodate

change, by changing itself. Problems with Functionalism – Not all elements within a society interconnect.

- Because it argues that society itself changes to accommodate

new dynamics, it fails to provide an explanation for wars and

conflicts that may arise in particular societies.

- It disregards the immediate causes and motivations which are

necessary in order to give rise to a phenomenon (i.e. some

behaviours and phenomenon can not be accounted for, even by those

individuals themselves who perform that behaviour, like mental

illness or criminal behaviour, what function do they


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