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What is a structural-functional approach?

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Political scientists use a structural-functional approach to predict how any particular political group behaves inside a larger political system. Structural-functionalism provides a system for students and researchers to study the real effects of political activity separately from their intended effects.

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Structural functionalists argue that all political systems can be compared based on their means of addressing the need for universal political functions such as political interest aggregation and rule-making. The structural-functional approach provides a system by which differing structural systems can be compared based on their actual effects on the political functions for which they are designed. This approach provides a framework allowing political scientists to describe various political systems efficiently by comparing highly organized and well-categorized comparison data shared between them. This makes structural functionalism different from political science frameworks that focus more on intent than on real world results.

Structural functionalists use data-driven comparison to address four major challenges to political systems: penetration and integration, loyalty and commitment, participation, and distribution. Structural-functional theory describes these four challenges as happening simultaneously in third world countries, leading to violence and unrest. For this reason, structural functionalists use a systemic, comparative approach to identify political entities and predict the effects they are likely to have on their local or national political system.

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