12 October 2011
Functionalism is a sociological theory which suffers from deficiencies and can provide an underpinning for conservative world views.
Functionalism (and its resultant method of research, which leads to the comparison of institutions in different societies) is far from useless. Postulating that in order to exist an institution has to do X, Y and Z and then asking how it does it raises key questions for investigation and analysis.
The problems lie in what is NOT asked in the functionalist paradigm.
History: in Society A a function is fulfilled by activity P. In Society B the same function is fulfilled by activity Q. But why the difference? It has to be explained by the different histories of societies A and B, and not by the comparison between them.
The functionalist paradigm also ignores what political actors themselves think they are doing.