Manifest functions and dysfunctions are conscious and deliberate, the latent ones the unconscious and unintended. Berger, 1963 While functions are intended (manifest) or recognized (latent), and have a positive effect on society, dysfunctions are unintended (manifest) or unrecognized (latent) and have a negative effect on society.[Brinkerhoff et al. 2004]
Latent functions are those that are neither recognized nor intended. A latent function of a behavior is not explicitly stated, recognized, or intended by the people involved. Thus, they are idenby observers. Latent functions are associated with etic and operational models. M.D. Murphy, 2001 In the example of rain ceremony, the latent function could be to reinforce the group identity by providing a periodic occasion on which the scattered members of a group assemble to engage in a common activity. Merton, 1957
Peter L. Berger describes a series of examples illustrating the differences between manifest and latent functions Berger, 1963: "...the “manifest” function of antigambling legislation may be to suppress gambling, its “latent” function to create an illegal empire for the gambling syndicates. Or Christian missions in parts of Africa “manifestly” tried to convert Africans to Christianity, “latently” helped to destroy the indigenous tribal cultures and this provided an important impetus towards rapid social transformation. Or the control of the Communist Party over all sectors of social life in Russia “manifestly” was to assure the continued dominance of the revolutionary ethos, “latently” created a new class of comfortable bureaucrats uncannily bourgeois in its aspirations and increasingly disinclined toward the self-denial of Bolshevik dedication (nomenklatura). Or the “manifest” function of many voluntary associations in America is sociability and public service, the “latent” function to attach status indices to those permitted to belong to such associations.” "
While Talcott Parsons tends to emphasize the manifest functions of social behavior, Merton sees attention to latent functions as increasing the understanding of society: the distinction between manifest and latent forces the sociologist to go beyond the reasons individuals give for their actions or for the existence of customs and institutions; it makes them look for other social consequences that allow these practices’ survival and illuminate the way society works.
Manifest dysfunctions are anticipated disruptions of social life. For example, a manifest dysfunction of a festival might include traffic jams, closed streets, piles of garbage, and a shortage of clean public toilets.
Latent dysfunctions are unintended and unanticipated disruptions of order and stability. In the festival example, they could include people missing work after being stuck in the traffic jam, or city workers going on strike to maximize their bargaining power.
In conducting a functional analysis, dysfunctions are consequences of structural elements that produce changes in their environing social system. The flame of the candle system flickers. The structural cause would be labeled dysfunctional. The candle’s steady state has been disturbed or changed. The concept affords the only relief to structural-functionalism’s inherent conservative bias. Dysfunction signifies the mechanism by which social change is evidenced within a social system. Whether that change is manifest or latent is a relatively simple empirical question. Whether that change is good or bad would seem to require interpretative criteria not afforded by a social scientific paradigm for functional analysis.