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© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Functionalism: Selected full-text books and articles

Human Society By Kingsley Davis Macmillan, 1949
Comparative Functionalism: An Essay in Anthropological Theory By Walter Goldschmidt University of California Press, 1966
Darwinian Functionalism: A Cognitive Science Paradigm By 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 By 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 By John Heil Routledge, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Functionalism and the Representational Theory of Mind"
The Sociology of Progress By Leslie Sklair Routledge, 1998
Librarian's tip: "Malinowski and the Functional Theory of Basic Needs" begins on p. 165
History and Theory in Anthropology By Alan Barnard Cambridge University Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Functionalism and Structural Functionalism"
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.