Theory of Functionalism By ÉMILE DURKHEIM (1858–1917)

Theory of Functionalism By ÉMILE DURKHEIM (1858–1917) Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) was a prominent French sociologist who developed the theory of functionalism. This theory views society as a complex system of interrelated parts that work together to maintain social stability and order. Durkheim emphasized the importance of social cohesion and believed that social institutions, such as religion, education, and the economy, serve specific functions in maintaining social integration. He argued that these institutions provide social norms, values, and collective consciousness that guide individuals’ behavior and contribute to the overall functioning and well-being of society. Durkheim’s functionalist perspective continues to be influential in the field of sociology and provides a framework for understanding the interplay between social structures and individual actions.

The significance of the theory of functionalism

Each sociological perspective contains ideas about how people behave, how society is organized, and how institutions like the criminal justice system, education, and religion operate. Functionalism is a significant viewpoint in sociology; it holds that a society’s ideas, behaviors, and social structure are interconnected and serve as a method to accomplish its mutual goals. Functionalism is a widely accepted philosophy that emphasizes the concept that societies function best when their members coincide on basic tenets of how society should be organized and share common thoughts, values, and norms.

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History of ÉMILE DURKHEIM

Theory of Functionalism By ÉMILE DURKHEIM (1858–1917) Émile Durkheim, who was born in Épinal, in eastern France, defied family customs by quitting rabbinical school to pursue a career in the secular sector. After reading Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, he developed an interest in social science while studying at Paris-based École Normale Supérieure and completing his philosophy degree there in 1882.

In order to study sociology, Durkheim relocated to Germany. He went back to France in 1887 and established the first French social science publication while also teaching the country’s first sociology course at Bordeaux University.

He received a position at the Sorbonne in 1902, and he remained there until the end of his life, rising to the rank of full-time professor in 1906. After the death of his son André in 1916, his health declined, and he passed away from a stroke in 1917. He felt more isolated by the emergence of right-wing nationalist movements during World War I.

Background

Theory of Functionalism By ÉMILE DURKHEIM (1858–1917) Émile Durkheim was one of many who had studied philosophy but had been drawn to the new field of study. He thought sociology should be less of a theoretical framework and more of a method that could be used in various ways to examine the evolution of modern society. 

Durkheim adopted Spencer’s functional theory that each component has a purpose and the belief that society is bigger than the sum of its parts. Additionally, Auguste Comte’s “positivism” (the conviction that only scientific investigation can provide genuine knowledge) influenced the scientific approach that Emile Durkheim believed would make clear how contemporary society functioned.

Instead of focusing on the motives and behaviors of people within society, Durkheim concentrated on society as a whole and its institutions; In addition, he was interested in the factors that bind society together and uphold social order. He claimed that “social facts” or “realities external to the individual” that can be experimentally confirmed should serve as the foundation for sociological inquiry.

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Theory of functionalism (SOCIETY, LIKE THE HUMAN BODY, HAS INTERRELATED PARTS, NEEDS, AND FUNCTIONS)

Functionalism investigates the idea that society functions as a single entity made up of smaller, interconnected elements. As a result, society does not consist of a large number of uniform institutions or organizations that all serve the same social purpose.

The foundation of Durkheim’s sociology is functionalism. Like other functionalists, he concentrated on the issue of order and the advantages of social institutions, justifying their existence in terms of the contributions they make that are functionally required.

The individual is shaped by society

According to Durkheim, society has its own reality apart from the reality of the individuals who make it up. Members of society are restricted by “social facts,” or habits, attitudes, and feelings that are external to the person and have the capacity to influence him, and as a result, they are in control of him.

Social facts are things that people who make up a society share and pass down from one generation to the next, such as beliefs, moral standards, and fundamental norms and values.

The common ideas and feelings that shape a person’s consciousness, rather than that person’s awareness itself, determine how they behave. That’s way, Durkheim state that the individual is shaped by society.

Division of labors

Durkheim made an effort to comprehend and explain the numerous “modernity”-related processes that have shaped contemporary society. Durkheim linked the emergence of modern society to industrialization, particularly with the division of labor.

According to Durkheim, the necessity for cooperation and the ability to do a range of jobs so that industrial society may continue to exist are the root reasons for the division of labor.

According to Durkheim, Division of labor is good for the social structure of society. The division of labor results from the avoidance of conflict, therefore people agree to take on specialized roles in order to avoid competing with other people in order to live.

A functional organism

According to Durkheim, a fundamental shift in the nature of social cohesiveness separates contemporary societies from traditional ones; the rise of industrialization has led to the emergence of a new kind of solidarity.

In a doctorate thesis, “The Division of Social Labor,” Durkheim established his idea of the many forms of social solidarity.

Social solidarity

Although each member of hunter-gatherer tribes, for example, might be self-sufficient, society is bound together by a sense of shared experience and purpose, as well as widely shared ideas and values. Such a society’s unity is based on what Durkheim called “collective consciousness,” which is fostered by the resemblance of its members.

Types of social solidarity

  1. Mechanical solidarity: In mechanical solidarity, social cohesiveness and integration take place as a result of the commonality or homogeneity of the people, i.e., because people think they have things in common such as comparable jobs, belief systems, families, relatives, and religion. A word used to describe tiny, illiterate cultures that have limited social positions, a simple hierarchy of employment, no functional expertise, and little tolerance for individualism.
  2. Organic solidarity: People started learning increasingly specialized skills as societies developed in size and complexity, and dependency began to take the place of independence. As an example, the farmer relies on the blacksmith to shoe his horses, and the blacksmith relies on the farmer to give him food. As Durkheim describes it, “mechanical solidarity,” is replaced by the “organic solidarity” that is founded on the enhancing diversity of its members rather than their resemblance.

Functionalism

When society has developed into a complex “organism” in which individual components perform specific activities, each of which is crucial to the wellbeing of the whole, industrialization is when this division of labor achieves its height. The concept that society is structured like a biological entity made of different sections with specialized purposes became a key approach to sociology known as functionalism.

The increase in “dynamic density,” or population growth and concentration, is what Durkheim names the “social fact”—by which he understood a reality that exists without being subject to any individual will—that drives this transition from mechanical to organic solidarity.

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Competition for resources intensifies, yet as population density rises, there may be more opportunities for social contact within the population, leading to a division of labor that can better meet the people’s demands.

Individuals’ organic connection is the foundation of social cohesiveness in modern society. However, Durkheim recognized that the division of labor that followed rapid industrialization also brought about social issues. Organic solidarity replaces the collective consciousness of a society (the shared ideas and ideals that generate cohesiveness) exactly because it is based on the enhancing variations between people. This causes a focus to shift from the group to the individual.

Anomie

According to Durkheim, the division of labor was imposed on contemporary society at such a rapid rate by industrialization that social interaction was unable to catch up to the declining level of collective awareness. People began to feel increasingly cut off from society, especially from the moral direction that mechanical solidarity had previously provided for them.

This erosion of societal norms and values and the ensuing demoralization of people, as a result, was described by Durkheim as anomie. He demonstrated the significance of anomie in the desperation that drives someone to take their own life, through research on suicide patterns in various locations. Suicide rates were lower in areas where communal ideals were strong, such as among Catholics, proving to Durkheim the importance of solidarity to a society’s well-being.

Criticism

Functionalism disregards the fact that different cultures have unique characteristics; no two societies are alike. Depending on the society, there are several approaches to labor. Functionalism ignores individuals who are exploited or lose out as a result of the labor process since it views labor as a positive thing.

However, Durkheim’s positivist methodology encountered controversy. Marx and other sociological theorists rejected the notion that human society is consistent with science because it is so complicated and unpredictable. By focusing on society as a whole rather than the experiences of the individual, which was the foundation of Max Weber’s methodology, Durkheim also rejected the intellectual trend of the day.

The views of Marx and Weber were challenged by Durkheim’s explanations of solidarity, but functionalism didn’t reach its zenith until the 1960s. Although Durkheim’s positivism has since lost popularity, ideas he proposed, such as anomie and collective consciousness, nevertheless have a place in modern sociology.

Summary

Theory of Functionalism By ÉMILE DURKHEIM (1858–1917), Durkheim’s theory represents that from developing small uniform groups to creating vast, complicated nations, humanity has developed. Religion and culture produced a collective ideology that fostered cohesion in traditional society. The division of labor in modern society has led to more specialization and a greater emphasis on the individual than the group and the interdependence of people with specific roles also drives solidarity.

Durkheim founded his theories on in-depth analysis of actual data, including case studies and statistics. His main contribution was the development of sociology as a field of study.

According to Durkheim, society is like a human body which has interrelated parts, functions and necessities. As Durkheim’s description of society as being made up of many but interconnected pieces, each serving a certain purpose, contributed to the development of functionalism as a significant sociological framework, having an impact on thinkers like Talcott Parsons and Robert K. Merton.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are few questions related to Theory of Functionalism By ÉMILE DURKHEIM (1858–1917);

What was the theory of Émile Durkheim?

According to Durkheim, society has a significant impact on people. A collective consciousness, or common understanding and behavior in the world, is made up of customs, beliefs, and values held by individuals. Individuals are linked together through collective consciousness, which fosters social cohesion.

Is functionalist theory approach macro or micro?

A macro theory called structural functionalism examines how each structure or institution in society interacts with one another. Education, healthcare, families, the legal system, the economy, and religion are a few examples of social structures or institutions.

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What is the idea behind Durkheim’s functionalism theory

Functionalism investigates the idea that society functions as a single entity made up of smaller, interconnected elements. As a result, society does not consist of a large number of uniform organizations or institutions that all serve the same social purpose.

The social structure, according to Durkheim, is believed to be exists above the level of the individual for what reason?

The social order, according to Durkheim, is composed of norms and ideals. Because the individual is born into the society and its norms and values. That’s way social structure exists above the level of the individual.

What is social solidarity?

Social cohesiveness and social solidarity are closely connected concepts, and social solidarity refers to the idea of a fully integrated society with common rules and values that have been socialized by all of its members.

What does Durkheim define as social solidarity?

Social order and stability are ensured by the cohesiveness of its members, which is known as social solidarity. It emphasizes the interconnectedness of people in a community, giving them the impression that they can better the lives of others. According to Durkheim, there are two different sorts of social solidarity: which keeps society together and that which binds a person to the community.

What do Marx and Durkheim describe as the division of labor?

According to Durkheim, the necessity of cooperation and the requirement for people to perform a range of activities in order for industrial society to succeed are the root causes of the division of labor. Marx argues that employees are forced into a division of labor so that capitalists can profit.

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