The functionalist approach is a perspective in sociology that views society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. It asserts that lives are guided by social structures, which are relatively stable patterns of social behavior. Social structures shape, for example, families, the community, and religious organizations.
Each social structure has social functions or consequences for the functioning of society. Education, for example, has several important social functions, such as socialization and learning. Functionalism also asserts that society is like an organism, made up of different parts working together. Therefore, one of the key ideas in functionalism is that society comprises groups or institutions, which are cohesive, share common norms, and have a definite culture.
Robert K. Merton argued that functionalism is about society’s more static or concrete aspects, such as government or religion. Functionalism explains how society is organized most naturally and efficiently to organize itself.
Another key feature of functionalism is that it sees society as constantly striving to be in equilibrium, suggesting an inherent drive within human societies to cohere or hold together. Societies strive for balance, not through the dictatorial mandate of societal leaders but because societies’ social structure encourages equilibrium Burawoy, M. This is known as the cohesion problem.
Functionalism does much to explain why certain aspects of society continue as they always have, even though some phenomena are less beneficial to society. However, functionalism falls short in explaining opposition to social institutions and structure by those who are being oppressed.