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Perspectives in Social Theory

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					                       Perspectives in Social Theory
                             Seminar Week 5
                        The reproduction of society

                                   Handout



Some critical evaluations of sophisticated functionalism

Strengths of Merton’s analysis

1. It does provide at least a persuasive candidate for an explanation of how
   capitalist societies have succeeded in reproducing themselves despite the
   relatively high prevalence of apparently dysfunctional and even deviant
   behaviour they experience

2. Arguably, social activities do have intended (manifest) and unintended
   (latent) effects

3. The extra complications introduced in the theory are justified by the way
   that they help the theory to analyse a rich and complex social reality

Critical reflections

1. Non conformity, such as ritualism is not really the same as deviance
   (with ritualism you do the actions but have the wrong thoughts, its nearer
   blasphemy).

2. The assumption of a cultural consensus is implicit in the idea of cultural
   goals, and ignores the possibility of sub-cultures and a pluralistic culture,
   where cultural goals might differ considerably.

3. It does not provide an explanation as to why some groups might adapt via
   rebellion and others by retreatism, innovation or ritualism.

4. It does not take into account that just as legitimate means to success are
   limited, that so to are the illegitimate opportunities. Not everyone has
   equal access to successful criminal careers. However, Merton didn’t ever
   claim that his typology was a total theory of deviance and many of the
   criticisms of his work were picked up on and improvements attempted by
   subcultural theorists.

5. The emphasis and tendency remains, as with all functionalist theory, on
   explaining how societies reproduce themselves. The paradigm continues
   to have problems with explaining how societies can undergo radical
   change. In Merton’s analysis, even dysfunctional social activity turns out
   to be functional, i.e., is analysed to show how it helps to maintain the
   existing type of society.

				
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