Functionalism from Classical to Contemporary Theory

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Functionalism is a social theory that has its foundations in the birth of the discipline called sociology (Adams & Sydie, 2002 p.05). Angste Comte, considered the founder of sociology, believed that sociological matters should be explained through scientific study. Functionalism is a method of study based primary on facts, objectively measured, essentially applying the scientific method to the study of society, social actions and interactions. Functionalism is interested in the relationships between systems within society. Functionalism is a top down theory that looks for grand scale explanations to society. As a sociological theory, Functionalism sees social structure or the organization of society as more important than the individual. Classical functionalism in the 1800’s was led by notable sociologists such as Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim. Contemporary theory, through the works of Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, and Anthony Giddens has built on the classical functionalist theories of Spencer and Durkheim. The first major shift for functionalist social theory was a move from Europe to the United States. After the upheaval in Europe post WWI and Stalin’s revolution positivist social theories such as functionalism became more popular in the United States than Europe (Adams & Sydie, 2002 p.05). In the mid 1900’s contributions to sociology by American born sociologists such as Talcott Parson and Robert Merton began to be influential in the field of sociology (Adams & Sydie, 2002 p.10). Parsons was a Grand Theorist he felt that there could be a single sociological theory that could explain any society (Adams & Sydie, 2002 p.12). Parsons was a positivist and thought society was similar to a biological organism; meaning any one... ... middle of paper ... ...ons with each other. Therefore society and the individual must both continually assess and adapt themselves in reaction to others and to new information or situations. Another way that Giddens works to bring the person back into sociology is through his concept of structuration which argues that to be able to understand society; individuals cannot simply look at the actions of individuals or only the social forces that maintain the society. Rather, it is both individual actions and social forces that shape our social world. Giddens contends that even though people are not completely free to choose their own actions, and they may only possess limited knowledge, they are still responsible for reproducing the social structure they are a part of. Works Cited Adams, B. N., & Sydie, R. A. (2002). Contemporary sociological theory. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Pine Forge Press.
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