Structural functionalism and social change

Structural functionalism and social change
2 mn read

Structural functionalism or simply “functionalism”, is an ancient sociological theory that assumes the society is in a stable state of equilibrium and that it changes only tardily and gradationally with an effect on various experiences and preferences (Delaney, 2016). Functionalists hypothecate the change in society as if the primaeval evolution of organism step by step, that is, from a microbe to a whole organism. It defines societal sections that depend on each other such as family, economy, education etc. Hence, dishevelment in these sects, through deviant behavior, directs societal change to regain stability.

Symbolic interactionism and social change

Symbolic interactionism is a microcosm theory that centres on the communication between human beings in a society. Erving Goffman (1922-1982) introduced a terminology called “dramaturgical analysis”, which demonstrates the constantly evolving nature of human beings, as said by him that a person has to improvise his or her role according to the change in the situation he is facing. So, according to the interactionist, the evolvement of humans depends upon the change in their environments that lead them to change in their behavior and communication level (Scheibe & Barrett, 2017).

Conflict theory and social change

Conflict theorists believe in a quick fixes. They propose that change in society is as necessary as living in it and the only way this is possible is by instantly engaging in reform activities such as protests and rallies. It opposes the concept of normalcy and designates colonial amends to change the infirmities of society with force and active engagement (König et al., 2017). Fighting for feminism and anti-racial campaigns such as “Black Lives Matter” are all examples of the implementation of conflict-based societal change.

Social change in perspective of the three major theories

Structural functionalism sees social change as a deliberate act that starts slowly over a period of time, whereas interactionism espy the change from the lens of objectivity in a more abyssal and profound manner. Take an example of clothing from a functionalist’s point of view and observe how it has changed over time from simple hand-woven fabrics to high-quality merchandise. Whereas, an interactionist would dig deeper into the matter and observe how people wear clothes on different occasions and what it matters to them in terms of their values and cultural norms. Clothes worn on happy and sad occasions describe the emotional expressions they convey to each other. Albeit, on the other hand, conflict theorists might be intrigued by the prerogative discrimination seen in the clothing industry and how the government intercedes in it.

Strength and weaknesses of theories w.r.t. social change

The macro-level functionalist’s theory overlooks the negative intimations of society. Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci points out that this theory does not aspire people to play a functional role in societal change. However, it depicts a more eurythmic side of society where every person is interrelated and working towards the betterment (Knox, 2019). Symbolic interactionism provides in-depth visualization of micro-level human interactions and considers human beings as an engaging and productive asset toward societal change. Whereas it has its weaknesses as well. It overrates the ability of humans to construct self-reality, negating the fact that not everything inhabited by humans is self-made (Jacobsen, 2017). The conflict theory, on the other hand, liberates humanity from the false pretensions of coequality in society. It promotes striving towards a better world by inducing change via active participation. Divulging the annihilating camouflage is one of the salient features of this theory. Howbeit, it can only be applied to certain situations like societal inequality, while incorporating it into the family dynamics would be impractical (Simon, 2016).

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