Structural functionalism, or simply functionalism, is a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. This approach looks at society through a macro-level orientation, which is a broad focus on the social structures that shape society as a whole, and believes that society has evolved like organisms. This approach looks at both social structure and social functions. Functionalism addresses society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions, andinstitutions. A common analogy, popularized by Herbert Spencer, presents these parts of society as "organs" that work toward the proper functioning of the
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If Durkheim made this distinction, then it is unlikely that Parsons did not. However Merton does explicitly state that functional analysis does not seek to explain why the action happened in the first instance, but why it continues or is reproduced. He says that “latent functions …go far towards explaining the continuance of the pattern” [cited in Elster, 1990:130, emphasis added]. Therefore it can be argued that functionalism does not explain the original cause of a phenomenon with reference to its effect, and is therefore, not teleological.
Another criticism describes the ontological argument that society cannot have "needs" as a human being does, and even if society does have needs they need not be met. Anthony Giddensargues that functionalist explanations may all be rewritten as historical accounts of individual human actions and consequences (see Structuration).
A further criticism directed at functionalism is that it contains no sense of agency, that individuals are seen as puppets, acting as their role requires. Yet Holmwood states that the most sophisticated forms of functionalism are based on “a highly developed concept of action” [2005:107], and as was explained above, Parsons took as his starting point the individual and their actions. His theory did not however articulate how these actors