functionalism

functionalism

[fuhngk-shuh-nl-iz-uhm]
functionalism, in anthropology and sociology, a theory stressing the importance of interdependence among all behavior patterns and institutions within a social system to its long-term survival. It was supported by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in the late 19th cent., a reaction against the evolutionary speculations of such theorists as E. B. Tylor. Durkheim sought to comprehend the utility of social and cultural traits by explaining them in terms of their contribution to the operation of an overall system. Functionalism was promoted in England by B. Malinowski, who argued that cultural practices had psychological and physiological functions, such as the reduction of fear and anxiety, and the satisfaction of desires; and by A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, whose theoretical work contended that all instituted practices ultimately contribute to the maintenance, and hence the survival, of the entire social system. Functionalism was supported in the United States by sociologist Talcott Parsons, who introduced the notion that there were stable structural categories that made up the interdependent system of a society, and that functioned in such a way as to perpetuate a society. The functionalist approach has been criticized as an ideology that celebrates the status quo. Its detractors charge that it pays little attention to conflict and change as essential features of social life, and simplifies the relationship between individual agency and the structures of social action.
functionalism, in art and architecture, an aesthetic doctrine developed in the early 20th cent. out of Louis Henry Sullivan's aphorism that form ever follows function. Functionalist architects and artists design utilitarian structures in which the interior program dictates the outward form, without regard to such traditional devices as axial symmetry and classical proportions. After World War I, the German Bauhaus produced a number of influential architects and designers, notably Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who worked within this aesthetic. Functionalism was subsequently absorbed into the International style as one of its guiding principles.

In psychology, a broad school of thought that originated in the U.S. in the late 19th century and emphasized the total organism in its endeavours to adjust to the environment. Reacting against the school of structuralism led by Edward Bradford Titchener, functionalists such as William James, George Herbert Mead, and John Dewey stressed the importance of empirical, rational thought over an experimental trial-and-error philosophy. The movement concerned itself primarily with the practical applications of research (see applied psychology) and was critical of early forms of behaviourism.

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