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The Concept of 'Function' and Functional Analysis in Sociology

Philosophy of the Social Sciences , Volume 6 (3): 193 – Jan 1, 1976


Sage Publications
Copyright © 1976 by SAGE Publications
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The Concept of 'Function' and Functional Analysis in Sociology


The Concept of 'Function' and Functional Analysis in Sociology SAGE Publications, Inc.1976DOI: 10.1177/004839317600600301 Peter A.Munch Sociology, Southern Illinois University INTRODUCTION Almost from its inception, the 'functional analysis' of human society has been plagued with the ambiguities of the term 'function'. As Durkheim adopted the concept to discuss what he called 'the function of the division of labor', he felt compelled to explain in which of 'two quite different senses' he would be using the term ([1893] 1933, pp. 49f.), and Radcliffe-Brown, another champion of a 'functionalist' approach to the study of human society, sighed over the 'very great number of different meanings' attached to the word (1952, pp. 178- 87). The situation has not improved over the years. Approaching the field of functional analysis in sociology today is like entering a veritable jungle of semantic confusion. It is indeed a question worth considering whether one should agree with Kingsley Davis (1959), in his Presidential Address to the American Sociological Association over a decade ago, and simply abandon the whole approach of functional analysis in sociology, or whether one should take the more optimistic view of Robert Merton (1968, p. 73), who still seems to regard functional analysis as
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