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Functional Analysis

Michael Kunczik


Functionalism regards society as an interdependent and self-regulating social system tending toward equilibrium. The goal of functional analysis is to establish to what extent the parts (subsystems) contribute to the functioning of the system as a whole (→  Systems Theory ). With functionalism, the theoretical emphasis moves from causes to consequences. No effort is made to derive a given social phenomenon from specific causes. Instead, the question becomes which functions have to be fulfilled, through particular social actions, so as to guarantee the maintenance of the system. The results of actions, thus, are interpreted teleologically in terms of their contribution to the stability of the system. According to Robert K. Merton (1968 , 84), the theoretical framework of functional analysis requires a specification of the units for which a given social or cultural item – e.g., mass-mediated messages – may be functional, allowing for diverse consequences – functional and dysfunctional – for individuals, sub-groups, and the social structure and culture as a whole. Functional analysis, further, focuses attention on a causal loop through which the results of specific courses of action act back on the items and units under study, bringing about persistence or modification ( Coser 1976 , 146). The origins of functional analysis can be traced back to the ideas of Herbert Spencer and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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