What is functionalism?

It is a theoretical current that emerged in England in the early twentieth century in the social sciences, mainly inSocial AnthropologyandSociology.

From the sociological perspective, functionalist theory proposed that thesocial structure of a system is built from the optimal functioning ofall the structures that integrate it(1), based on the proposal of the “Systems Theory”. (2)

From this point of view, within this system there must be a subsystem that regulates this optimal functioning, and according to some authors, this function is heldby the media as a member of said system, with the function of maintaining socialization through communication.

Important: In practical terms, functionalism studies society only in its present as it stands, without taking into consideration its past or history.

What is the object of study of functionalism?

At this point, the object of study of functionalism is based on the perspective of the researcher and the discipline he is focusing, so we will show the object of study according to the previous considerations:

  • For psychology, the object of study of functionalism is themind as a functional, essentially useful part of the human organism.
  • For sociology, the object of study of functionalism is society as a system and tries to explain the needs of the different social structures and their functions, as observed in the present.

From these points of view, it follows that what matters to functionalism is the way things work.

You should know: Unlike functionalism, Behaviorism as its object of study the stimulus-response relationship and its incidence on human behavior.

What are the main contributions of functionalism?

The field of functionalism spread to many disciplines , however, we will mention below its most relevant contributions:

1. He focused on the organization of society

From a psychological perspective, functionalism is based on Systems Theory and assumes that the organization of society is based on a system.

From this point of view, you need to attend to aspects related to the control of tensions , adaptation to an environment, the search for a common goal and the integration of the different social classes.

To highlight: Both functionalismStructuralism propose the synchronous study of social reality.

2. He emphasized the study of consciousness and behavior

and, with singular importance, on the survival of the individual.

Note: In this aspect it differs from the school of psychoanalysis , since it proposes the  of the unconscious of people .

3. He highlighted thinking as an adaptation tool

Thought is an integral part of the cognitive processes of the human being , and functionalism proposes that the mind is a functional part of human beings , essentially useful for the processes of adaptation to the environment.

In this sense, the mind is capable of rationalizing, planning and guiding the physiological and psychological functions of the individual, with the purpose of guaranteeing the survival of the species in the face of any event that may threaten its stability.

To highlight: This position represented a break with the introspective methods used by the first psychologists of the nineteenth century.

4. Contributed to the development of scientific anthropology

Anthropology expanded its field of research by adding more elements to its object of study, such as

This is how functionalism uses fieldwork as a research tool, thus opening the way to Scientific Anthropology in the United States.

Who are the representatives of functionalism?

(4), who among his contributions to functionalism, made the

Another of the representatives of functionalism was the British anthropologist and ethnologist of Polish origin Bronislaw Malinowskitag. which considered society as a system, attempting to analyze social institutions in terms of collective satisfaction of needs.

On the other hand, Robert Merton (6) is another sociologist considered as an exponent of functionalism, who considered that social Social facts and their functions should be considered as subsystems of the social whole.

Note: From a psychological perspective we can mention the American philosopher, pedagogue and psychologist John Dewey (7) He proposed the need to study psychic phenomena based on the functions they perform and not on their structure.

Key Findings

  • Functionalism proposes that the social structure of a system is built from the optimal functioning of the structures that integrate it.
  • Functionalism studies society only in its present as it is.
  • The object of study of functionalism is society as a system and from a psychological perspective it is the mind as a functional part.
  • From its psychological perspective, functionalism focused on how cognitive processes please adaptation to the environment .

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