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Meet the Perspectives: Functionalism (Part 2)

Sarah Best

15th November 2016

The Organic Or Biological Analogy

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) developed the body analogy (also known as the organic analogy) to describe how society works. The various parts are interrelated and also interdependent and are comprised of different institutions such as the education system, religion and the family.

Spencer and particularly Durkheim’s ideas grew in popularity during the 1950s and 1960s, partly due to the resurgence in conservative values in the USA and were developed by an American called Talcott Parsons (1902-79).

Developing the body/organic analogy, Parsons believed that a biological or organic analogy was appropriate to describe society because although the parts are joined, they all have separate and important roles. For example, the different parts of an organism could be represented by the family, the court system and so on. Functionalists believe like any biological organism; it has basic needs that need satisfying for it to survive. So, like an organism needs nutrition, in society, people must be socialised correctly for society to function (hence where the term ‘functionalism’ originates).

Parsons also believed that there are two mechanisms for ensuring that individuals conform to shared norms of society:

  • Socialisation: individuals in society are taught society’s norms and values through the various agencies of socialisation, such as the family the education system and the mass media.
  • Social control: if people are rewarded for good behaviour then they are likely to continue and conform to the social norms of society. And those who fail to adhere are stigmatised.

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Sarah Best

Sarah is a passionate full-time Head of Sociology and Psychology and has worked in a variety in schools in the UK, and she is currently working in a British international school. She is keen to develop and boost the profile of both subjects.

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