1. Major theoretical Perspectives
A perspective is a brand assumption about society and social behavior that provides a point of
view for the study of specific problems. There are four of these general perspectives in modern
sociology, evolutionary, functionalist, conflict and the integrationist perspective most of the
sociologists are guided in their work by a major theoretical perspective.
Ken Brown has given the example to understand the perspective. For example, imagine there are
five people looking at the same busy shopping street – a pickpocket, a police officer, a road
sweeper, a shopper and the shopkeeper. The pickpocket sees wallets sticking out of pocket or
bags, and an opportunity to steal. The police officer sees potential crime and disorder. The road
sweeper litter and garbage left by everyone else. The shopper might see windows full of
desirable consumer goods to buy, and the shopkeeper might sees only potential customers. All
are viewing the same street, but are looking at different aspects of that street.
What they see will depend on their ‘Perspective’- what they are looking for. They might all be
seeing different things, but you cannot really say any of their views is more correct than others
though you might think some views provide a more truthful, rounded and full description of the
street than others do.
The Functionalist or order Perspective
According to Maccionis : “ Functionalist perspective is a frame work for building theory that
sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability”.
The functionalist perspective in sociology is a view of society that focuses on the way various
parts of a society have functions, or positive effects, that maintain the stability of the whole.
The perspective draws its original inspiration from the work of Herbert Spencer and Emile
Durkheim. Spencer compared societies to living organisms. Any organism has a structure- that
is, a set of interrelated components, such as a head, limbs, a heart, and so on. Each of these parts
has a function-that is, a positive consequence for the whole system, in this case a living
organism. In the same way, Spencer argued, a society has a structure. Its interrelated parts are the
social institutions i.e. Family, religion, the military, and so on. Ideally, each of these components
also has a function that contributes to the overall stability of the social system. Modern structural
functionalism does not press the analogy between a society and an organism. but it does retain
the same general idea of society as a system of interrelated parts. (Taga)
2. Functionalist theory implies that society tends to be an organized, stable, and well-integrated
system in which most members agrees on basic values. Under normal conditions, all the
elements in social systems – such as the schools, the family, and the state – tends to “fit
together,” with each element helping to maintain overall stability.
In the functionalist view, a society has an underlying tendency to be in equilibrium, or balance.
Social change is therefore likely to be disruptive unless if takes place relatively slowly, because
changes in one part of the system usually provoke changes elsewhere in the system. Sudden and
rapid changes caused social disruption in society.
Main focus of the functionalist is on social order, stability and equilibrium in society. They
believe that whenever something becomes absolutely dysfunction, automatically removed by the
society. If something exists in society, no matter how negative it is, it will definitely be
functional for society. (Taga)
According to the functionalist perspective of sociology, each aspect of society is interdependent
and contributes to society's stability and functioning as a whole. For example, the government
provides education for the children of the family, which in turn pays taxes on which the state
depends to keep itself running. That is, the family is dependent upon the school to help children
grow up to have good jobs so that they can raise and support their own families. In the process,
the children become law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, who in turn support the state.
If all goes well, the parts of society produce order, stability, and productivity. If all does not go
well, the parts of society then must adapt to recapture a new order, stability, and productivity.
For example, during a financial recession with its high rates of unemployment and inflation,
social programs are trimmed or cut. Schools offer fewer programs. Families tighten their
budgets. And a new social order, stability, and productivity occur.
Functionalists believe that society is held together by social consensus, in which members of the
society agree upon, and work together to achieve, what is best for society as a whole. This stands
apart from the other two main sociological perspectives: symbolic interactionalism, which
focuses on how people act according to their interpretations of the meaning of their world,
and conflict theory, which focuses on the negative, conflicted, ever-changing nature of society.
Functionalism has received criticism for neglecting the negative functions of an event, such as
divorce. Critics also claim that the perspective justifies the status quo and complacency on the
part of society's members. Functionalism does not encourage people to take an active role in
changing their social environment, even when such change may benefit them. Instead,
functionalism sees active social change as undesirable because the various parts of society will
3. compensate naturally for any problems that may arise.
Spencer is one of the top three sociologists who influenced the thinking of the structural-
functional perspective. This influence is placed right alongside those of Auguste Comte, the
founder of sociology, and Emile Durkheim.
In helping to explain the structural-functional perspective, which simply believes that society is
made up of various structures (or parts) and that each has a function (or a job) to perform, we see
that when all the structures are performing their functions correctly, then society as a whole runs
stable and smooth.
Spencer equated this perspective to the human body: the body is made up of the structural parts
like the skeleton, muscles and internal organs. Each of these structures serves a function, and the
body runs smoothly if all functions are running correctly.
However, have one structure not functioning correctly, and the body as a whole becomes
The functionalist perspective attempts to explain social institutions as collective means to meet
individual and social needs. It is sometimes called structural-functionalism because it often
focuses on the ways social structures (e.g., social institutions) meet social needs.
Functionalism draws its inspiration from the ideas of Emile Durkheim. Durkheim was concerned
with the question of how societies maintain internal stability and survive over time. He sought to
explain social stability through the concept of solidarity, and differentiated between
the mechanical solidarityof primitive societies and the organic solidarity of complex modern
societies. According to Durkheim, more primitive or traditional societies were held together by
mechanical solidarity; members of society lived in relatively small and undifferentiated groups,
where they shared strong family ties and performed similar daily tasks. Such societies were held
together by shared values and common symbols. By contrast, he observed that, in modern
societies, traditional family bonds are weaker; modern societies also exhibit a complex division
of labor, where members perform very different daily tasks. Durkheim argued that modern
industrial society would destroy the traditional mechanical solidarity that held primitive societies
together. Modern societies however, do not fall apart. Instead, modern societies rely on organic
4. solidarity; because of the extensive division of labor, members of society are forced to interact
and exchange with one another to provide the things they need.
The functionalist perspective continues to try and explain how societies maintained the stability
and internal cohesion necessary to ensure their continued existence over time. In the functionalist
perspective, societies are thought to function like organisms, with various social institutions
working together like organs to maintain and reproduce them. The various parts of society are
assumed to work together naturally and automatically to maintain overall social equilibrium.
Because social institutions are functionally integrated to form a stable system, a change in one
institution will precipitate a change in other institutions. Dysfunctional institutions, which do not
contribute to the overall maintenance of a society, will cease to exist.
In the 1950s, Robert Merton elaborated the functionalist perspective by proposing a distinction
between manifest and latent functions. Manifest functions are the intended functions of an
institution or a phenomenon in a social system. Latent functions are its unintended functions.
Latent functions may be undesirable, but unintended consequences, or manifestly dysfunctional
institutions may have latent functions that explain their persistence. For example, crime seems
difficult to explain from the functionalist perspective; it seems to play little role in maintaining
social stability. Crime, however, may have the latent function of providing examples that
demonstrate the boundaries of acceptable behavior and the function of these boundaries to
maintain social norms.