Assess the contribution of functionalist theory to our understanding of society
Functionalism sees society as a system, that it is a set of interconnected parts which can work together in unison to form a whole. The early functionalists drew an analogy between society and an organism, i.e, the human body. They said that an understanding of an organ of the body involves understanding its relationship with every other organ and its contribution to the organism as a whole; therefore they said that this could also describe society, that every part requires its own analysis to see what it contributes to the society as whole. Functionalists have also continued this argument to say that just like an organ has simple basic needs to survive, so does society, and that if one part fails it will all diminish. Thus social institutions such as the family and religion are analysed as a part of the social order rather than isolated units.
Functionalist analysis has focused on the question of how social systems are maintained. With the functionalist concern for investigating on how functional prerequisites (basic needs or necessities of existence) are met. This emphasis has resulted in many institutions being seen as beneficial and useful to society. But this view has led critics to argue that functionalism has a built-in conservative bias which supports the status quo.
Durkheim believes that the institutions of society, such as religion, the education system and the family, all work together to create social equilibrium. Durkheim has a “homo-duplex” view of human nature. That is, he sees humans as possessing a good, conforming side and a bad, impulsive side. If society is to exist without chaos, then this good side needs to be “brought out”, whilst the impulsive side needs to be restrained. To achieve this, Durkheim claimed that socialisation into a value consensus is necessary. For example, in his study of Aboriginal tribes, he discovered that the worships of sacred totems...