Functionalism is a viewpoint in sociology that is slowly losing credibility. Wrapped up in the thoughts that items like classism, sexism, homophobia, racism, and other versions of inequality serve as a necessary evil to hold up other institutions of society, it’s no wonder this doctrine is slowly biting the dust to history.
Functionalism is the principal that all elements of society exist for a specific reason. Simply put, they have a function. If they didn’t have a function, why would they exist? The reasons why specific elements of society exist are trapped by the perils of biological functionalism. The radicals in this paradigm or those who cling on are likely to try to claim that inequality exists not because society holds prejudice, but because inequality exists as an unchangeable inevitability. That inequality is in fact genetically based or based in the realms of biological determinism. For anyone unfamiliar, here are a few nasty examples that give way to what some functionalist aligned sociologist may believe.
People in poverty must remain in poverty because A, they probably don’t have the competence to achieve greater status as they inherited poor traits and B, that there is never enough room in a society to sustain everyone and therefore classism must exist as a way for other segments of society to maintain their statuses.
Another example may include race. This perspective may state that people of a separate race or ethnicity inherited inabilities through genetics that keep them in underprivileged statuses. It must stay this way as it must exist as a “natural” function to society. It is unchangeable. And unfortunate.
Want another one? Women are naturally, or “more functional” to society when they cook clean and care for children. This is because the woman is naturally inclined by her biology to do so. A woman’s position in society is determined by the perceived functionality of her body in society. That role being the natural one which includes care taking, cooking, cleaning, empathizing, and the rest.
As these examples illustrate, functionalism is a very old and scary paradigm. Though this doesn’t fully cover all functionalistic thought, it sums up the biological determinism associated with the once perceived “functionality” of blatant stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Knowing that these things can change through education, new wave feminists are taking charge by screaming social construction while demolishing the remnants of the archaic doctrine in sociology once called functionalism. As social construction, or the idea that our roles in society are dictated to us not by biology, but by the social rules inflicted upon us as we age, takes the cutting edge of sociological thought, functionalism will fade far away.