Functionalism Essay, Research Paper
Functionalism is the sociological theory which holds that each part of society is necessary for the functioning of the social organism. There are several elements in the functionalist paradigm which explain how society functions to maintain the social organism and keep it alive. These elements, or tenets of functionalism are cohesion, integration, solidarity, and equilibrium. These elements explain how society is divided into it s different functional parts, with each part dependent on the other, and the amassed parts adding up to the structural whole of society.
According to Emile Durkheim there are two kinds of societies with one being simple and mechanic and the other being complex and organic. Of course there isn t a fine line between the two categories, there is a progression from one to the other. As society becomes increasingly organic there is more differentiation between members of that society since not everyone can have the same role. In mechanic societies there is a high solidarity among all members of that society: they have the same beliefs, religion, and means of survival. In organic societies there is a differentiation between different groups which function as subsets of the societal organism. These subsets are the different organs and tissues of the societal organism.
According to Durkheim these subsets still hold some consciousness common to the whole societal organism otherwise these parts wouldn t be held together and certain factions would separate from others. Cohesion is the tenet that maintains that a collective consciousness holds all of these subsets or organs together and in turn maintains these organs within the social organism.
In Durkheim s book On The Division of Labor Durkheim explained that punishing heinous crimes such as murder invokes a certain cohesion among the members of the society. Also events such as war function to demonstrate the cohesiveness and solidarity of society. For example in World War II each person had common nationalistic sentiments which helped to cement soldiers as well as civilians. This collective consciouse was so powerful that it caused people to see Japanese Americans as potential spies since one of the enemies of WW2 were the japanese. The U.S. government deterred these citizens in camps, separated many familes, took away property, and basically took the rights away from citizens of the United States who just happened to be of Japanese heritage. Since the collective consciousness against Japanese was so great at this time no one questioned what the government was doing.
Talcott Parsons explained integration as the mutual adjustments of subsystems from the point of view of their contributions to the effective functioning of the social organism. Each part of society must feel that society in large benefits them and that they are a vital part of society. This also applied to the individual level. Each member of a subsystem must feel that they benfit from the subsystem and that they also are a benefit to that subsystem. Integration would not exist if everyone felt isolated from others and the society at large. Indivduals become integrated into society through the process of socialization which helps to shape and mold an individual to share rules and practices of a subset and the social organism at large. When a group is at full integration there is a strong cohesion and solidarity among it s members. Cohesion is the glue that cements the bonds while solidarity are the sentiments common to all within the cohesive group. Solidarity is like a common gene sequence which is repeated from one member to another.
All of these componets common to the structural-functionalist paradigm explain how society functions as a social organism. Cohesion is the idea that each major structure of society whether it be education, government, religion, or the economic system work together as separate but interdependent organs in order to keep the social organism alive. Each vital organ of society is pertinent to the functioning of the other vital organs. Solidarity is important in holding each individual organ together otherwise the whole of the social organism might die. For example if the heart failed all of the other major organs would die along with the organism. Each part can not function without the other parts. Integration is important so that each individual would chose to become part of one of the vital organs of society. The individuals are the cells that make up the vital organs, without the individuals the organs would eventually die, and the whole social organism would collapse. Equilibrium needs to be maintained in order for the social organism to be healthy, if one part becomes too strong or too weak the other parts must compensate in order to return to equlibrium.
Society evolves just like any organism would. Over time certain vital organs of society will become divided up into further specializations or they may become obsolete. Some of the members of society may lose function as society replaces certain parts of itself with cyborg parts. These cyborg parts would be highly specialized and may in fact improve the overall functioning of the social organism as long as the cells of the social organism don t reject the cyborg implant. Society evolves and changes but these changes ultimately depend on every aspect of that society down to the individual or cellular level.