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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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