functionalism (in anthropology and sociology)

functionalism, in anthropology and sociology, a theory stressing the importance of interdependence among all behavior patterns and institutions within a social system to its long-term survival. It was supported by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in the late 19th cent., a reaction against the evolutionary speculations of such theorists as E. B. Tylor. Durkheim sought to comprehend the utility of social and cultural traits by explaining them in terms of their contribution to the operation of an overall system. Functionalism was promoted in England by B. Malinowski, who argued that cultural practices had psychological and physiological functions, such as the reduction of fear and anxiety, and the satisfaction of desires; and by A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, whose theoretical work contended that all instituted practices ultimately contribute to the maintenance, and hence the survival, of the entire social system. Functionalism was supported in the United States by sociologist Talcott Parsons, who introduced the notion that there were stable structural categories that made up the interdependent system of a society, and that functioned in such a way as to perpetuate a society. The functionalist approach has been criticized as an ideology that celebrates the status quo. Its detractors charge that it pays little attention to conflict and change as essential features of social life, and simplifies the relationship between individual agency and the structures of social action.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Functionalism: Selected full-text books and articles

Human Society
Kingsley Davis.
Macmillan, 1949
Progress in Modern Psychology: The Legacy of American Functionalism
D. Alfred Owens; Mark Wagner.
Praeger Publishers, 1992
Comparative Functionalism: An Essay in Anthropological Theory
Walter Goldschmidt.
University of California Press, 1966
Darwinian Functionalism: A Cognitive Science Paradigm
Knight, Mike.
The Psychological Record, Vol. 44, No. 2, Spring 1994
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Philosophy of Mind
Jaegwon Kim.
Westview Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Mind as a Computer: Machine Functionalism" and Chap. 5 "Mind as a Causal Structure: Causal-Theoretical Functionalism"
Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction
John Heil.
Routledge, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Functionalism and the Representational Theory of Mind"
The Sociology of Progress
Leslie Sklair.
Routledge, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Malinowski and the Functional Theory of Basic Needs" begins on p. 165
History and Theory in Anthropology
Alan Barnard.
Cambridge University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Functionalism and Structural Functionalism"
The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology
Alvin W. Gouldner.
Basic Books, 1970
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "The Moralistics of Talcott Parsons: Religion, Piety, and the Quest for Order in Functionalism"
What Functions Explain: Functional Explanation and Self-Reproducing Systems
Peter McLaughlin.
Cambridge University Press, 2001
A Functional Theory of Cognition
Norman H. Anderson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Private Dwelling: Speculations on the Use of Housing
Peter King.
Routledge, 2004
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