functional prerequisites

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functional prerequisites

the provisions that all societies are required to make in order for any society to come into existence or to survive. The identification of functional prerequisites – also known as functional imperatives - is controversial.

As formulated by Aberle et al. (1950) – who first defined 'S ociety’ as ‘a group of human beings sharing a self-sufficient system of action which is capable of existing longer than the life span of an individual, the group being recruited at least in part by sexual reproduction of the members’ – nine functional prerequisites can be identified:

  1. ‘provision for adequate relationship to the environment and for sexual recruitment’;
  2. ‘role differentiation and role assignment’;
  3. ‘communication’;
  4. ‘shared cognitive organization’;
  5. ‘a shared articulation of goals’;
  6. ‘the normative regulation of means’;
  7. ‘the regulation of affective expression’;
  8. 'S ocialization’;
  9. ‘effective control of disruptive forms of behaviour’.

A rather different formulation of functional prerequisites is the four-fold set of functional ‘problems’ identified by PARSONS (1983) (see SUBSYSTEMS MODEL).

Apart from the functionalist bias towards ‘normative integration’ in all such proposals of functional prerequisites (see OVERSOCIALIZED CONCEPTION OF MAN), a general problem is in reaching agreement on the exact number and detailed specification of prerequisites. GIDDENS (1976b), for example, points out that Aberle et al.'s identification of ‘functional prerequisites’ involve either ‘tautologies’ and simply follow logically from these authors’ initial definition of society or else they involve assumptions about ‘adaptive capacity’ which are contentious and are arguably misplaced in sociology.


Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
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