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May 28, 2013 / C H Thompson

Functionalism continued

Talcott Parsons developed Durkheim’s ideas in his publications during the 1940s and 1950s looking at how the maintenance of social order is possible. The function of social order is best understood through functional prerequisites, social equilibrium and value consensus. Parsons argued these three concepts are useful in understanding how social order is maintained because they explain how society shares a commitment to common values. In Parsons and Durkheim’s view people obey social rules because they believe it’s the right thing to do – a moral commitment.

Value consensus describes this moral commitment. Being committed to sharing the same values helps establish a common identity. Having a common identity helps with build mutual cooperation, unity and social goals. Social goals give direction to any shared values. For example the shared value of children being brought up in a family with two parents is justified by the goal of such a social structure providing long term stability. Keeping with the family, each parent has a unique role, with each role putting values and goals into action. These roles establish norms which establish how normal patterns of behaviour are standardised, replicated and natural. As we can see norms, roles and goals establish a value consensus, which in turn provides the foundation for social order.

Parsons sought to analyse how values become woven into the fabric of society, passed on from one generation to the next – a process known as institutionalised (a well-established pattern of behaviour or of relationships which is accepted as a fundamental part of that culture such as the family).

Socialisation is the term Parsons turned to. Socialisation is the mechanism through which society’s values are transmitted from one generation to the next – visit the family page for primary socialisation and education page for secondary socialisation. These two institutions (family and education) socialise individuals, but they also act as agents of social control by guiding individuals away from deviance. Together these institutions use socialisation and social control as a means of providing social equilibrium (stability) to the social system (society).

It’s important to remember Parsons viewed society as a system (social system); any system is dependent on each component functioning correctly. For example the institution of the family provides children with the correct value consensus to attend school helping the social system to continue functioning. Such basic needs are known as functional prerequisites.

Numerous functionalists have sought to identify common characteristics different societies have in order to identify a key ingredient – prerequisite. Continuing with the family, George Murdock research found the family unit is a common denominator in all societies while Davis and Moore claimed all societies are stratified.

Parsons argued any successful social system has four functional prerequisites – adaptation; goal attainment; integration and pattern maintenance. These functional prerequisites are explained in further detail on the following page.


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