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Critiques of Functionalism

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There are many criticisms of functionalism and their theories:

Ø Functionalist ideas almost portray humans as being autonomous and
that only socialisation determines our lives. They do not really see
humans as the unpredictable creatures they are, not possible to stray
away from the predictable ideas that functionalists have of people.
Too much stress is placed on harmony and the potential for conflict
and its affects are generally ignored.

Ø There is no recognition of difference by class, region or ethnic
group. The functionalist picture is simply reflective of happy
middle-class American families.

Ø In particular with Durkheim’s work, it is too optimistic and
maintains the idea of social solidarity as the main theme, and simply
believes pathologies can be solved through simple social reform,
ignoring any problems or conflict and the affects.

Ø Marxists argue that the modern family is organised to support and
benefit the ruling class and the capitalist economy, rather than
benefiting all of society. In particular, they accuse functionalists
for ignoring the fact that power is not equally distributed in
society. Some groups have more wealth and power than others and may be
able to impose their norms and values as less powerful groups.

Ø Feminists also criticise functionalists for ignoring male dominance
that often is present in society. Furthermore, the sexual division of
labour it describes is not universal, with the relative roles of women
and men in modern families can be seen to be gradually changing.

Ø Many functionalists concentrate primarily on the universal nuclear
family in modern societies, with the growing diversity of family types
is not considered.

Ø Functionalists have a problem explaining social change. This is
because of the emphasis their perspective puts on a value consensus
created through the socialisation process. Also the idea of
revolutions contradicts the idea of social conflict.

Ø There is an over-emphasis upon the "beneficial" aspects of various
institutional arrangements in society. Do Functionalists tend to see
only the benefits that various institutional relationships bring to
"society"? Institutions can sometimes exploit people and
persecute/become corrupt.

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