Structural functionism is the theoretical position held within cultural anthropology that attempts to understand the relationship between the individual and society and in particular the conditions that place individuals in social roles (Barnard, 2000, p.61). It looks at the structural systems in place and the interaction between individuals due to these systems.
Key Concepts and Terminology
Structural functionalism is based primarily on the principles of universal function and functional unity (Ferraro & Andreatta, 2010, p.75). In simplistic terms this equates to every part of a culture having its own unique function and that every functional part of society can affect other parts as they are all interconnected. For example, one function of wood is to build houses, and the primary function of money is to act as a universal medium of exchange in a commodity market. If for instance, market prices drive the price of wood up in a given society, wood may acquire less of a function in building houses.
In structural functionalism the key question asked is how societies can remain stable and cohesive over time and what is needed for that to work (Harris, 2001, pp.521-523). To answer this, social systems become the focal point of study. In particular the social institutions, norms, roles and statuses of individuals become the reflection upon which to examine cultural and society more in depth, and just as the function of material commodities complement each other within society, social roles affect each other in fulfilling functions for society.
One way structural functionalists look at the integration of social systems is through the model of organic analogy (Barnard, 2000, p.63). Just as the human body can be divided into different compartments, such as Digestive, Muscular, Skeletal, and Endocrine systems, so too can the systems of society. They have been divided into four primary components; Kinship, Religion, Economics, and Politics. These four parts are interlinked and form the basis of society. They are also supposed to be governed by a natural order, similar to that of the organism. For instance, there is the strong inclination towards homeostasis, that is, the balancing of the system as a whole. Just as there are feedback loops within the body, there are also ‘functional’ responses towards all social changes.
- Quote paper
- Lee Hooper (Author), 2012, Structural Functionalism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/262255