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Structural Functional Theory

Jeffrey W. Lucas

Subject Sociology » Sociological and Social Theory

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Structural functional theory holds that society is best understood as a complex system with various interdependent parts that work together to increase stability. For most of the twentieth century the structural functional perspective (also called functionalism) was the dominant sociological approach in the US and Western Europe. Although the label structural functional theory has subsumed multiple perspectives, there are a few basic elements that generally hold for all functionalist approaches in sociology: social systems are composed of interconnected parts; the parts of a system can be understood in terms of how each contributes to meeting the needs of the whole; and social systems tend to remain in equilibrium, with change in one part of the system leading to (generally adverse) changes in other parts of the system. An irony in the development of structural functional theory as a perspective that essentially came to define the discipline of sociology is that the theory in large part arose out of a nineteenth-century effort to link the emerging field of sociology with other more established disciplines. Comte, the social theorist first to use the term sociology, attempted to gain legitimacy for his emerging field by linking it with the biological sciences. Comte's social theory largely grew out of his vision of a good or correct society. In his view, society had in many ways ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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