Structuralism is the umbrella over our two main theories of functionalism and Marxism. That means that the fundamentals of structuralism is what both are built on. It really is just one takes the conflict route and the other takes the consensus root. But what both have in common is that they are both concerned with social structures in society and the way social institutions act as constraints on individuals and society.

So what Functionalism and Marxists have in common is that

1. Behaviour and values of people are determined by external forces (determinism). 

2. That the main purpose of sociology as a social science is to study the overall structure but also to observe and measure the effect of institutions on society. It takes a Macro approach, this means it focuses on the big stuff not the individuals and there interpretation (which makes scientific sense as it should be  more objective).

3. Both take a positivist stance, that a a scientific, quantitative research base is the only way to understand, help and predict societies behaviour.

We will firstly consider functionlism – our consensus theory.

Functionalism is a modernist structuralist consensus theory, this means it uses macro approaches and views society as stable, harmonious social system with social order and consensus maintained through concord. Three significant functionalist we need to be aware of our, Durkheim, Parsons & Merton.

The functionalist main idea is that society works together and each institute or part of society effects and influences other connected parts. Parsons (1951) identified what he called functional prerequisites, that is just like the human body any society has basic, essential needs that must be meet in order to maintain maximum health and benefit society as a whole. 6FD64940-7A39-4760-8B75-4EFA51C8747E

Deviance in society is a sign of disorder or ill health in society. It points to an institution note working as it should. This means that institution needs reviewing in order to return society to its harmensous state. Occasional reminders through deviance reinforces values in society.

Parsons devised the GAIL model based on two sets of problems society could face, instrumental and expressive problems.



Functionlaist see change as a slow process, of gradual shifts from view points in society. This slow pace allows people adjustment time to help firm their commitment to a new way of society operating. Parsons explains change using structural differentiation this refers to the way new institutions emerge to take over functions  that were once performed by one or more other institution in society. For example the the shift of education within the family to the National education system.

Merton introduces the idea of dysfunction into understanding society, unlike Parsons and Durkheim he did not have an always positive perception of society, he saw that some parts didn’t work or benefit people. He identified that sometimes dysfunction in one institution could spill out and effect other institutions and therefore society would not run smoothly. Merton identified two aspects of institutions, the manifest function that is the intended action or outcome and latent functions, these are the unrecognised or unintended outcomes from the actions of individuals or institutions.

Functionalist theory is often associated with the New Right, a political ideology. This is mainly associated with conservative government beliefs and actions in the  period between 1979-1997. It wanted to see a return to the traditional values in society, for example were family supports each other rather than relying on the welfare state.

Key words

Structuralism.    Consensus.    Positivism.    Macro approach.    Durkheim.    Parson.    Merton.    Functional prerequisite.    GAIL.    Collective conscience.    Structural differentiation.    Dysfunction.    Manifest function.    Latent function.    New Right.    Dependency culture.