Criticisms of Talcott Parsons” Structural Functionalism Talcott Parsons” sociological theory of structural functionalism was a dominant perspective of analyzing society until the 1960s.
It was particularly very influensive in English speaking countries, especially in the United States of America, since the end of the Second World War. However, its significance began to be questioned, in the 1950s, as a result of increasing criticisms labeled at its discovered inadequacies.Criticisms arose in critical attack of Structural Functionalism”s static and abstract focus on maintenance of social order, social stability/regulation and the structures within society and its lack of acknowledging social change and conflict.
In other words it was criticized of its conservatism to sustain status quo.
Thus, this paper will discuss the main reasons why Structural Functionalism was considered by critics as having a conservative bias in its analysis of society.According to critics, one of their significant arguments against Parson”s structural functionalism was its inability to approach historical situations effectively-ahistorical.
Eisenstadt Short, 1981:27 best explains this point; ..
.the charge was that in its explanation of concrete historical situations or phenomena, this school neglected past influence and processes in favor of a static or circular explanatory theory.Although structural functionalism to some extent deals with historical events, the argument was that its explanation was often speculative in the early stages and idealizations in the later phases of its elucidation of the evolution of society Ritzer, 1996:116, from a primitive to a modern society. It was speculative in the sense it was theoretically imaginative, incomplete and that its conclusions were not based on solid facts that can be proven.
Relatively, this school was criticized of portraying or representing society as perfect, regardless of what historical revelations of imperfections in society shows.Significantly another criticism of Parsons” structural functionalism was its inability to deal with social changes in the contemporary effectively. Because of its obsession and concern for static structures, critics argued that structural functionalism, Parsons” especially, failed to address social changes. In that it means that Parsons” was more into the maintenance of existing social structures, institutions or systems as evolving into a modern form.
This maintenance of society is extracted from the internal rules, norms, values and regulations of these various ordered and cooperative institutions. Thus he overlooked revolutionary changes but an evolution of existing structures.Relatively, Parsons has been criticised of overemphasizing the internalization of social norms and values. According to Dennis Wrong Abrahamson 1981:58, he argued that Parsons over assumed that people will behave accordingly with their interrelated standards.
He advanced on by saying that Parsons missed the fact that behaviour is a problematic outcome of internal conflicts between impulses and controls. This was an attack against Parsons” assumption that the establishment of a consensus order and its collective maintenance is an absence of social dilemma Ibid.Also in attack of this particular supposition that people internalized norms and values to which they act accordingly, Garfinkel argued that people are considered by Parsons as passive recipients of norms and values of their society Ibid. He pointed out that people confront situations and develop a meaningful course of situationally appropriate actions.
That is, without being totally restricted by pre-existing standards-people are not passive recipients. Furthermore, Parsons” structural functionalism faced the most important condemnation of the school. That is, its incapacity to provide an explanation based on conflict. Parsons systematically neglected conflict, partly because he viewed social interaction as typically involving equal reciprocity among participants, according to Alvin Goodner Ibid: 60.
He further argued that Parsons implies that people will continue to be locked into complementary roles and that they should be, regardless of obvious existing inequalities. According to the conflict school led by Dahrendorf, Parsons” structural functionalism fails to see power and coercion in the structures of society and the conflicting principles or workings of these structures Ritzer, 1996:129-130. This is because of its overemphasis on norms and values in maintaining social order which camouflaged power and its coercive nature in society. Dahrendorf maintains that society is in a state where there are those who have power and those who are controlled or the dominator and the dominated.
Thus, the dominator controlled the less powerful, according to their interests in order to retain their status. Dahrendorf did not actually rubbish the structural functional perspective of Parsons” but was, as he claimed, balancing the perspective on societal structures and their conflicting functions. Now let us reflect the short falls of Talcott Parsons” structural functionalism in terms of the South Pacific society. Thus, let us take the recent social, political and economic situations in Solomon Islands and Fiji as examples and show how this school fails to explain it.
First, let us briefly examine the two circumstances in these two former British colonies.Fiji stands in the clearing in terms of race or ethnicity as a social, economic and political tool in other words the dominance of race/ethnic politics. As such access to educational scholarships, land and political power is determined by race/ethnicity. This was exhibited during the coups of May and September 1987, and 2000.
Ethno-Political conflict in Fiji is mainly [but not solely] between Indo-Fijians and Ethnic Fijians. Thus, the rise of Indians to powerful political positions in the government was/is not fully accepted by some ethnic Fijians. As demonstrated by the recent coup d”Ã¯Â¿Â½at, September 2000, where by the democratically elected first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudry and his government was ousted by George Speight who claimed to represent Indigenous Fijians .Here it is obvious that some ethnic Fijians are not prepared for an Indian leadership.
Therefore, the enforced incorporation of alien ethnics into a colonized indigenous society for the colonist”s economic gain overtime is potentially problematic for the indigenes Horowitz, 2000:30. Remember the Indians were initially brought in by the British as indentured laborers to work in the sugarcane plantations in the late 1800s till early 1900s. In Solomon Islands” case the recent social political conflict between the two ethnic groups of Guadalcanal and Malaita has its immediate causes partly in the unequal distribution of wealth, land issues, resources, and internal migration, disrespect of cultural norms, values and government policies.The frustrations of the Guadalcanal Indigenous people resulted because of these underlying reasons, which they perceived as inequity and disrespect to them as landowners.
One good example, for their concern based on wealth was the meager share they received from the established oil palm plantation on the Guadalcanal plains. That is, they hold only 2 percent share in the company, compared to the Commonwealth Development Corporation”s [CDC] 68 percent and 30 percent owned by the government Kabutaulaka, 2002:6-7.Relatively more people from other provinces had moved in to work in the plantation and in Honiara, significantly, Malaitans. Thus, also increased the purchasing of land on Guadalcanal some legitimate and some not.
It was because of such circumstances that led the Guadalcanal people to politically seek and demanded by any means, what they think is rightfully theirs back. Thus, resulted in the two-year ethno-political tension, from 1998 to 2000.Noteworthy, the political situations in Fiji and the Solomons have colonial roots. Whereby, European constructed institutions, especially of British origin, were being imposed on non-European societies.
Resulting in political loopholes that remain to haunt former colonies as they left. These two situations in Fiji and Solomon Islands certainly provides the incapability of Parsons” structural functionalism in providing a sufficient explanation in the development of these two former colonized societies.In that it does not account for the historical changes British colonization has brought about into these two societies. Concerning new forms of social, political and economic structures introduced.
With these new structures new norms and values or culture were also brought about, which is not compatible with the indigenous local community”s.For instance, Indian and British structures into Fiji or the British into Solomon Islands or Malaitan norms and values introduced into Guadalcanal. These introduced norms, values and structures were certainly incompatible or disliked by the people who felt frustrated in these two societies. Thus, they did not internalized or fully internalized the norms and values of those they considered as foreigners.
As result manifest social and political conflict emerged in Fiji and Solomon Islands. Therefore, people in these two countries are not passive recipients but active people who act against structural and social conditions that did not satisfy them.Therefore, although Parsons” structural functionalism attempts to provide an explanation of society in terms of order and stability it failed to address the above discussed situations. In that, Parsons” to some extent was conservatively idealizing an imaginative or abstract society which does not exist.
Rather he was giving an abstract image of how western societies develop out of a primitive stage to a modern stage through evolutionary change. However, as the situation in Fiji and Solomon Islands show it does not apply to them.
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