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Functionalist Perspective

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Definition: The functionalist perspective can be traced back to Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons and has its roots in anthropology. This perspective focuses on social systems as a whole, how they operate, how they change, and the social consequences they produce. In trying to explain an aspect of a social system, functionalism asks several basic questions:
  • How is this aspect related to other aspects of the system?
  • What is its place in the overall operation of the social system?
  • What kinds of consequences result from this?
  • How do these consequences contribute or interfere with the operation of the cultural values and the realization of the cultural values on which the system is based?

This perspective enables us to see how even the most undesirable aspects of social life, such as war, racism, sexism, etc., are bound up with otherwise normal functioning of societies and their institutions. These insights are especially crucial for those wanting to bring about change.

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