Functionalism: Society as a System

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Functionalism describes society as a system; It is a sociological theory that defines individuals, institutions and thoughts as compatible parts within this system. Although it is mentioned together with Talcott Parsons, Emile Durkheim originally invented this concept for the first time. The effects of this theory which emerged in the 19th century is still continuing today.

 Although this theory proceeds similarly to positivism, it is mainly built on the basis of capitalism and liberalism. It states that every element that has somehow taken place in society has a function. The theory argues that in order for the system to survive without difficulty, all elements must fulfil their functions completely. These functions are one of the conditions for the society to remain together. According to the theory, even if the elements change, the system can survive as long as the functions are performed.

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When explaining functionalism, the metaphor of the functioning of a biological body can be utilized. If any of the organs does not fulfil its duty, it will adversely affect all other organs and consequently the body, i.e. society or system, will fail. The critical point is that each element performs its own task, with no privileges. This self-governing system has no leader. The destroyed element is replaced by a new one, and the new element continues the same task as the old element. The functionists state that this described system represents the capitalist system.

In functionalism society is regarded as system. Each individual, institution and thought is an complementary part of this system. These elements must fulfil their duties to maintain the system together. These duties help the community stay together. According to functionalism, this situation is permanent. Even if the elements change, the system will always survive. Functionalism was shaped in the 19th century, when sociology emerged along with a historical background from philosophy. System is a whole. In functionalism, an individual or institution has no significant power. The only thing that matters is its mission. A “company is insignificant within an individual system. Nobody’s in charge of the system. The system is self-sustaining.

On the other hand, neoliberalism is one of the global integration concepts. It is the concept that best describes the European Union’s integration process. Because of attempts to establish political unions, inter-state integration often resulted in unsucceed until the 1950s. According to this principle, Inter-state integration, however, should go step by step. The most important rule is that integration has to commence in a sector of the economy first and then expand to other sectors of the economy. 

When economic integration is achieved, it will increase inter-societal communication and paves the way for widespread integration under the domino effect in other sectors (culture, cultural union, monetary union, etc.). Ultimately, political harmony will be established. First, the European Union started the integration in the iron and steel market, extended to the European economic system and other economic sectors, extended with a single European act to non-economic regions, and joined monetary union with the Maastrich Agreement. From now on, all that remains is political unity.

There are criticisms of functionalism. One of them is that what is beneficial for the whole society may not be correct. Also, there cannot be any universal correct. A thought that is beneficial to one community may not be beneficial to another. Or a concept that is mandatory for a society may change with time. Even if it’s functional, concepts cannot be endless…

One of the misconceptions in the system is in harmony. In this idea, everything is on the line. There is no place in society for different thoughts and events. However, it is a fact that conflict will bring different views and advances to society. Different thoughts bring benefits, not harm. According to the functionalists, being in perfect harmony also supported the dominant ideology of the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, many functionalists are closely linked to the liberal capitalist system. The importance of individuals for the system has been neglected. However, the importance of the existence of individuals who are contributing to society is increasing.

Instead of defining the integration of neofunctionalism as a process that is constantly spreading and automatically leading to political integration which goes on a more realistic basis. Dependence and non-states in the international economy since 1970s. The increasing role of the actors has increased the capacity of liberal institutionalist approaches to explain the international goal.

Within the theories of European integration, functionalism and neo-functionalism have made great contributions to explaining European integration. In particular, the temporal coherence of neo-functionalism coincided with the emergence of the ECSC and the EEC as an institutional structure. Functionalism, on the other hand, has taken the ideal ideas of European integration as its basis and their contribution to the determination of the problems in the international system, in particular the European Union, in general, cannot be denied. However, like other integration theories, functionalism and neo-functionalism have deficiencies in explaining the system and integration. These deficiencies will be the source of studies to continue the debate in the spirit of social sciences.

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