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Functionalism or structural functionalism is the sociological theory that society seeks stability and says that most aspects of society are beneficial to those in it. The theory was first developed by Auguste Comte, considered the father of sociology. Functionalism is essentially the exact opposite of conflict theory, which was contributed to by the works of Karl Marx.


Functionalism states that the elements often considered to make up the base of society by sociologists (norms, traditions, customs, and institutions) are all building blocks that function in a particular way for society. An analogy that can be used to make sense of this could be that the aforementioned elements are like organs, while society as a whole is the body containing these organs. With one of these elements removed, society or the body will not function properly.

Additionally, functionalism states that while norms, traditions, customs, etc. may change within a society, these elements will not be removed and society's structure will remain the same. According to this theory, society's structure is maintained through mutual agreement and cooperation, unlike conflict theory's idea that society is maintained by coercion and control.

In regards to socialization (learning the attitudes, norms, and behaviors of culture while growing), the functionalist perspective is that socialization helps people fit in, ensuring social stability. Of course, this is not always true. In reality, socialization can both perpetuate the status quo, as conflict theory suggests, and actually help people fit in. It depends on the way they are socialized, as does behavior for the most part. Its perspective on deviance is similar to this, saying that it can strengthen unity and remind people why norms exist in the first place. Of course, sometimes people need a little jolt once in a while. For altruistic deviance, like peaceful protests, it can promote needed social change, and sometimes even hateful deviance can promote this needed change, like the realization that racial hatred was way too extreme in Germany after WWII ended.

See also[edit]