Structural-Functional Analysis

Structural-Functional Analysis


a system of analysis of social phenomena and processes viewed as parts of a structurally stratified whole, where each structural element has a definite function or purpose.

Marxist sociology singles out the following structural forms of social organization: socioeconomic formation, material and intellectual production, the base and the superstructure, economic, social, and political relations, and socioeconomic, political, cultural, and other institutions. In this approach, the term “function” is used in two senses: (1) the purpose of an element of the social system or the service it performs with respect to another element or to the system as a whole (for instance, the functions of the state, the law, art, and education), and (2) dependence within a given system, whereby change in one of its parts is the result of, that is, a function of, change in another part (for instance, a change in the relationship between urban and rural population as a function of work content). In this sense, functional dependence may be considered a type of determinism. The study of both types of function—functional relations and functional dependence—is one of the objects of special sociological theories based on a synthesis of theoretical analysis and empirical research.

In Marxist sociology, structural-functional analysis is organically related to historicism, to socioeconomic determinism, to analysis of the internal contradictions of phenomena, and to other analytical principles, all of which constitute the dialectical materialist methodology for the study of social phenomena.

In contemporary bourgeois sociology, the structural-functional approach is based on a juxtaposition of functionalism and historicism. Sociologists of this orientation, such as T. Parsons, have developed an abstract theory of social systems that have four basic functions: adaptation, goal attainment, integration, and maintenance of latent social patterns. For these sociologists, the basic structures of a social system are not socioeconomic structures but values and norms. The chief mechanism for ensuring the normal functioning of a system, according to this school, is socialization—a process in which the individual internalizes the norms and values prevailing in a society—while deviant behavior is regulated through the process of social control. Such an approach ignores the contradictory nature of society, as well as class differentiation and the class struggle. Contemporary bourgeois sociologists of the structural-functionalist orientation place major emphasis on stability and equilibrium in society, exaggerating the role of values and norms as regulators of human behavior and concentrating on the study of mechanisms that bring about social consensus. Ideologically such conceptions are direct or indirect apologias for bourgeois social relations.


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Other sections cover Marx and Engels, Durkheim, Weber, self and society, critical theory, and structural-functional analysis. A second volume covers contemporary sociological theory.