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Giddens Functionalism Notes

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Anthony Giddens - Studies in Social and Political Theory Chapter Two: Functionalism

Functionalism has its origins in a marriage between social sciences (esp. sociology) and biology (specifically evolutionary theory) After being exported to the USA, 'function' and 'structure' were conjoined to generate structuralfunctionalism

Merton: functionalism systematized
* Merton sought a codification of the variety of methods of functional analysis, and recognized the following deficiencies/clarifications required:
* the meaning of the term function
# social function refers to observable objective consequences, not to subjective dispositions (aims, motives etc)
* clearly there is a distinction between the two - outcomes and intentions don't always coincide
* ideas that have to be rejected:
# the assumption of functional unity, the implicit harmony of society (conservative)
# the idea that all social practices have functions
# the indispensability of social functions has to be questioned - is religion necessary to society, or are the functions that religion fulfils?
* functionalism isn't inherently conservative
* Merton made these revisions:
* functions are the observed consequences of practices/items which allow for the adaptation/adjustment of the system
# dysfunction refers to phenomena that act against such adaptation and adjustment
* functional analysis = assessment of a net balance of an aggregate of consequences
# a practice may be functional in some respects and dysfunctional in others
* manifest functions = objective consequences that contribute towards adjustment/adaptation that are intended and recognized by participants in the system
# latent functions = not intended and recognized
* analysis of the functional requirements of social systems should recognize that there is a variation of functional alternatives
# possibilities of change are limited by structural constraints deriving from the interdependence of the elements of a social structure Nagel: a critical emendation
* Nagel recognizes the presence of functional notions in biology but not in other sciences
* this is because the entities of biology (organisms) are self-regulating with respect to environmental changes
# functionalism cannot apply to entities which lack self-regulating capabilities
* Why draw Merton's distinction between manifest and latent functions?
* if subjective orientations are not a special variable, then the distinction is unnecessary, and if they are a systemic variable, then they are different items rather than different functions
* if we treat subjective states as functional variables then we can recognize the difference

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