Structural Functionalism And The Human Condition Essay

Structural Functionalism And The Human Condition Essay

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Numerous social theories emerged to explain the relationship between societal function and the human condition during the 19th and 20th centuries. Deeply embedded within the social experiences and predicaments of prominent theorists, the perspectives and priorities understood to be significant indications of society’s inner workings varied tremendously. These theories developed a specific view point on the importance of ideals such as culture, production, structure, language, and individualism within society. The role of the individual, in particular, sparked disagreement between many of the theories. Are individual agents bound by the circumstances and functional needs previously set and inherently understood to continue the equilibrium of the society? And if they are not, should the individual’s unique thoughts and perspectives be considered the first step to analyzing any part of the society? To delve deeper into the debates, three social theories – structural functionalism, Marxism, and existentialism – will be dissected in regards to their appreciation, or lack thereof, towards the individual.
Structural functionalism developed from the initial foundation of Emile Durkheim in the late 19th century and expanded upon fully by A.R. Radcliffe-Brown. In looking for the reason a society is held together, Durkheim focused on social ‘facts’ – the facets of society such as customs and values that dictated the operation of the overall system in meeting individual’s social needs. These facts are not derived from studying the individual, but instead are “features of collective existence … which are not reducible to features of the atoms, individuals, which make it up" (Hadden, 1997). This constitutes a macro-social view with the unders...


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... is this pre-determined mindset a product of structure?
In understanding social construction in terms of individual agency, these two theories fundamentally vary only in nuances relating to the potential of human kind. Structural functionalists all but ignore the capacity of the agent to ascend beyond their required role, for it is the individual’s performance in his or her interchangeable position that continues society’s tranquil operation. Unequal hierarchies set the conforming factors that emphasize the superiority of the society over its individual parts. For Marxists, while observing that the society does rule over the interactions between individuals due to an enveloping capitalist economy, there is in some conceivable manner the ability for each person to self-actualize his or her own work potential if the existing market collapses to welcome a free exchange.

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