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What is an example of structural functionalism?

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Structural functionalism is a sociological framework that sees society as a number of complex parts that form a stable and functional whole, so a simple example could be extrapolated from the traditional view of the family unit, where the father works to provide money, while the mother nurtures the children. This leads to a strong and coherent family unit made of smaller parts, with the functioning family unit then going on to form the smaller parts of a wider community, society and so on.

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The history of structural functionalism and social stability

The foundations of structural functionalism were laid by an English philosopher, Herbert Spencer, in the late 19th century, and further developed by American sociologist Robert Merton (1910-2003).

The overall emphasis of structural functionalism is on stability. It states that society in general will always move towards social stability and solidarity, with a wide range of smaller social functions making up the greater whole. Furthermore, it is proclaimed that human beings naturally seek out and need this stability in all levels of social interaction. This might manifest as something as small as using a handshake as a greeting, to the multitude of impacts education, family units and religion can have on wider society.

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