British Structural Functionalism

One theory that I am still a little confused on is British Structural Functionalism. I have mixed thoughts about this theory, too. I found it interesting to learn about the ideas of structure and agency. Looking at it through the example of criminals, I found this to be an easier thing for me to understand. I believe people are not born bad (agency) but are products of their society (structure). We live in a society that still blames certain people for the negative events that occur. I believe people develop the way they do based on the environment they grow up in. This point of view can be a little problematic, though. Just because one person from a society grows up to be bad, does not mean every other person from that society is bad. Poverty stricken societies tend to have this connotation that they are frilled with crime and people who do bad things just to do bad things. People in richer communities are just as likely to develop into “good” or “bad” people as someone in a lower income community. I believe social structure has a lot to do with how people develop, but it is not the only factor in what makes people who they are.

Another part of Structural Functionalism that I do not necessarily agree with is the impression it gives that there can be a good and/or perfect system. I do not think there is a type of government or leadership that would be completely and entirely satisfactory to EVERYONE. No matter how many times or ways people have tried to create the “perfect world,” someone always ends up unhappy. People have their own ideas and motives. That is part of what makes humans so fascinating. I do not think there will ever be a “perfect” society. It would be completely impossible to keep everyone happy and everything perfect. It can be argued that the word “perfect” is relative. What one person considers perfect may not be what someone else does.

Structural Functionalism also ignores conflict. The idea that conflict does not drive a system can be taken different ways. To some degree, I think I agree with that because people do typically fight with each other just to fight. I do, however, feel that people who have different beliefs or wants than other people and that may lead to conflict. I do not think conflict leads a system because I feel that it is usually stemming from an individual.

I also found it interesting to learn about ‘avoidance relationships.’ I heard about things like that, but I had never given it much thought. We are fortunate enough to live in a society where we can talk to and be around anyone we choose. It sounds almost old fashioned to think that people live in societies were one person in a family must avoid someone else in the same family. I was interested to hear about societies where women live with their husband’s family but cannot eat or sometimes speak to their father-in-law.

I am still not sure I completely understand British Structural Functionalism, but I am interested in learning more. This theory bring ideas that I had not thought about in depth, but I am glad I had the opportunity to learn some about it.

5 thoughts on “British Structural Functionalism

  1. I think you did an amazing job describing British Structural-Functionalism. So much more than what I could have done. Your blog post has helped me understand it better and I feel it is a really good reference post for someone like me to get the gears rolling on what this theory is conveying.
    You and I share the same thoughts, that individuals are shaped by their environment and cultural practices they are brought up in from childhood. Especially considering poverty struck communities (which I’ve written about before on canvas discussions), where it can be considered a separate culture from monetarily influenced homes (privileged homes). Although core values may be similar, the means of survival in a capitalist society are completely different and suffer major inequalities.

  2. I also think you did a really goos job describing British Structural Functionalism. Your post was really nice to read through and understand so thank you. I do think it was interesting about avoidance relationships, I wasn’t completely sure on this until we discussed it in class but I found it really interesting. I also agree with how people in a society still blame certain people for the negative things that have happened. I don’t think that is really fair to blame someone like that.

  3. I think that your post shows, Michaela, that British Structural-Functionalism just isn’t applicable to our kind of multicultural, plural, racist, and classist society! Marx seems to do a much better job of explaining things.

    And it is an odd assumption that there can be a ‘perfect’ society. In that assumption, I think that the BSFs are a lot like Durkheim. It’s a bit romantic and nostalgic – there were these societies that just functioned calmly and traditionally. Any potential conflict was pre-managed. Accusations of deviant behavior were a way of keeping people acting as they should.

    So, when Evans-Pritchard wrote about Azande witchcraft accusations, he assumed that there was no witchcraft (ok, I’ll accept that) AND that no one actually practiced witchcraft. Well, I think that in a culture in which people believe in witchcraft, they might well practice it! I certainly saw that among the Kwaio. There was my ‘uncle,’ Sulafanamae. The first time I met him, he rubbed his hands together gleefully as he told me that people were afraid of him because he knew tuberculosis witchcraft and could make people sick. Mind you, Sulafanamae was one of the sweetest, kindest, gentlest people I’d ever met! But he did have this ancestral power, and it doubtless affected some of his personal relationships.

    So, what’s the function of witchcraft? EP says that it’s the accusations of witchcraft that’s important. Fear of being accused of being a witch (male or female – it’s not gendered) was one way that people were taught to adhere to social norms. Remember folks – it’s not the DOING of it (such as committing a crime), it’s the FEAR OF BEING ACCUSED! It’s like a constant morality play that shows people how to be good in their own society’s terms.

  4. I have to agree with you on there never being a perfect society. You can’t have the good without the bad because without bad you don’t have anything to reference to for the good… Well I guess that can be seen to an extent but it can apply for many things.

  5. I found your analyses and thoughts on British Structural-Functionalism very interesting. I agree wholly with your example of how people view criminals. I, personally, am a huge supporter of trying to change the idea that someone is inherently bad or not. I also agree with your statement that this theory is ignorant of the fact that conflict exists. Whether inherent or not, a perfect society cannot exist. It probably cannot exist due to the fact that the ‘perfect’ human being does not exist. For me, I am not a big fan of Structural-Functionalism due to the examples that you gave. I do understand why the idea was created, but I do find the flaws rather important. Great job, though! I think most people were confused about the idea of British Structural-Functionalism.

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