What is functionalism theory

functional explanation

A: tafsīr waẓīfī. - E: functional explanation. - F: explication functionnelle. - R: funkcional’noe ob’’jasnenie. - S: explicación funcional. - C: gongneng de jieshi

William H. Shaw (TR)

HKWM 4, 1999, columns 1167-1173

FE is the explanation of a phenomenon in terms of its functional or useful effects. In the social sciences, the term is generally associated with the functionalist theory that emerged first in ethnology from Bronislaw Malinowski and Alfred Radcliffe-Brown (cf. Davis 1954) and gained importance in sociology primarily through Talcott Parsons. Functionalism assumes that all elements of social life combine to form an inseparable whole, that they mutually maintain each other and that each element is as it is by virtue of its contribution to the greater whole (cf. for differentiations Merton 1948). Although implicit functionalist assumptions (most recently with Niklas Luhmann, for example) continue to influence social science, the F, as an explicit program, saw itself subjected to thorough criticism as early as the 1950s and is hardly supported any more. Marxists in particular have complained that functionalist theory is conservative in its implications and ignores the extent to which society reproduces itself through conflicts, crises and contradictions.

FE can, however, be differentiated from functionalist theory and does not have to include any obligation to it. Gerald A. Cohen advocated the thesis that historical materialism itself must be based on a form of fE: "There is no coherent [well-stated] alternative to the view that important [major] Marxist explanatory claims have a functional character." (1978) This has sparked a methodological debate among Anglo-Saxon Marxists about fE and the alleged reliance of Marxism on it. While Cohen tries to rehabilitate the FA, Jon Elster in particular takes the view that Marxism has always relied too much and to its own detriment on FA and should consequently be freed from them.

➫ Analytical Marxism, articulation / structure, base, epistemology, formalism (Russian), function, functional-historical analysis, functionalism, whole, genesis, history, law (social), historical materialism, industrial reserve army, capital, class analysis, materialism, methodological Individualism, economism, production, relations of production, mode of production, productive forces, social system, structure / superstructure, technical progress, teleology, theory of social development, philosophy of science