# 3.3: Functionalism

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The roots of functionalism are found in the work of sociologists Herbert Spencer and Émile Durkheim. Functionalism considers a culture as an interrelated whole, not a collection of isolated traits. Like a human being has various organs that are interconnected and necessary for the body to function correctly, so society is a system of interconnected parts that make the whole function efficiently. The Functionalists examined how a particular cultural phase is interrelated with other aspects of the culture and how it affects the whole system of the society; in other words, cause and effect. The theory of Functionalism emerged in the 1920s and then declined after World War II because of cultural changes caused by the war. Since the theory did not emphasize social transformations, it was replaced by other theories related to cultural changes. Even so, the basic idea of Functionalism has become part of a common sense for cultural analysis in anthropology. Anthropologists generally consider interconnections of different cultural domains when they analyze cultures, e.g., the connections between subsistence strategies and family organization or religion.

The method of functionalism was based on fieldwork and direct observations of societies. Anthropologists were to describe various cultural institutions that make up a society, explain their social function, and show their contribution to the overall stability of a society. At the same time, this functionalist approach was criticized for not considering cultural changes of traditional societies.

Structural functionalism was a form of functionalism that arose in Great Britain. British anthropologist, A.R Radcliffe-Brown, was its most prominent advocate. In the structural functionalism approach, society, its institutions and roles, was the appropriate thing to study. Cultural traits supported or helped to preserve social structures. This approach had little interest in the individual, which contrasts with the approach advocated for by Bronislaw Malinowski.

## References

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