In class we have been exploring the work of Emilie Durkheim, the father of sociology. Specifically, explored his explanation of social change from traditional to modern society. This led us to Durkheim’s typology of functions used when examining formal institutions. In this paper I will analyze playing baseball as a formal institution. I will start by defining and giving background information to demonstrate the role of formal institutions in modern society prior to analyzing the functions of playing baseball.
Durkheim claims that modern society is “inherently sick”. He theorized that today’s culture is the source of all social problems. He termed current culture, “the cult of the individual”, where everyone is focused on himself being unique, special, and different. We fail to see how we are interconnected. In reality we need others to do their jobs in order for us to successfully do ours. For example, when we eat a banana for breakfast there are the obvious banana growers and the banana shippers but also the laborers who built the roads and the truckers who transported the bananas to market. While eating this banana we are not thinking of all that went into getting us this banana. Durkheim coined this as “hidden interdependence”, because we do not see how every single person is dependent on each other but instead we are focused on ourselves causing the cult of the individual culture.
Durkheim believes the treatment of this sickness is to show society how interconnected we are through “formal institutions”. Formal institutions are laws, mandates, or anything that promotes collective behaviors. These institutions are made to help people integrate in society instead of working in isolation. The goal of a formal institution is to fight the cult of the individual culture that came upon society. As I mentioned above, I am going to focus on playing baseball as a formal institution.
Baseball is known as America’s pastime, with more than 2.4 million children participating in Little League. Playing baseball is a formal institution that exists for participants to learn teamwork and group communication. This is its manifest function, the formal institution’s way of fighting the cult of the individual. Learning teamwork and communication supports the collective behavior of cooperation and integrating people instead of working in isolation. Without baseball, or other sports, how would we learn to use teamwork and communication effectively in a group setting? Teamwork and group communication are key behavioral traits necessary to be successful. These traits are needed in baseball in order to be successful (win). You can put the most skilled players on the field but if they do not work as a team they are not going to succeed. Baseball fights the cult of the individual by teaching behaviors that promote working together instead of focusing on yourself to try to win the game.
Playing baseball not only has a manifest function but also latent functions. Latent functions are the unintended side effects that are produced when an institution is trying to fulfill its manifest function. These functions can be both positive and negative. A positive latent function promotes the collective even more while a negative latent function promotes the cult of the individual. An example of a positive latent function of playing baseball is exposure to diversity. Playing baseball brings people of diverse backgrounds together who may not typically interact otherwise. We play baseball with others who may not have the same kind of job as us or live in the same neighborhood as us but brings people together in a collective manner making it a positive unintended side effect.
Playing baseball also has negative latent functions, for example cheating. When someone cheats he is focusing on himself and being better than everyone else so he can win. Winning is not the manifest…