Functionalism (social sciences)

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The term “ functionalism ” is used in sociology , ethnology and political science to denote various normative and empirical approaches.

Sociology and Ethnology

In sociology and ethnology, this term is used to describe theoretical approaches that attempt to explain social phenomena through their social function in or for the society or group in question . In sociological systems theory , this means that systems are assumed to have a function (with regard to their environment or other systems or suprasystems), and processes and structures in them can be analyzed with regard to this function.

Theories that deal with the necessary framework conditions to secure the current existence of social structures have become important. One speaks here of structural functionalism .

The most important representatives of social science functionalism are Bronisław Malinowski and Alfred Radcliffe-Brown .

Political science

Functionalism in the context of political science systems theories

The foundation of functionalism as a theoretical perspective for political science goes back to David Easton and Gabriel Almond and is sociologically shaped. The approach is often used in conjunction with systems theory . The basic assumption is that a function is the effect or the fulfillment of a task of a part within a system. The fulfillment of tasks of the individual parts within the system is a prerequisite for system stability within this theory.

Like the sociological theory, Easton is based on a model in which there is an environment-input-output-feedback network. The input in this model is to Almond formation of a political socialization , the clarification of the personnel issues that Represented by interest groups within the policy and political communication. As output a political system can be seen by Almond, which with legislative , judicial and executive features of the separation of powers united on and thus considered the "rule-making, application, and binding interpretation" as a result of this process in which some interaction of the individual Elements of the system is assumed.

Functionalism in International Relations

Functionalism also refers to a special theory of the political science sub-discipline international relations , notion of political formation oriented towards the function of politics, e.g. the merging of states or the abandonment of state sovereignty in favor of supranational institutions. This approach can first be found in David Mitrany and Ernst B. Haas . Individual policy areas will therefore be gradually merged - for example through international treaties and agreements. So-called spill-over effects play a decisive role here.

In contrast to the bottom-up process postulated in functionalism, a top-down process prevails in the theory of federalism , whereby these two concepts are clearly opposed as integration methods.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Reinhold Zippelius , Basic Concepts of Legal and State Sociology, 3rd edition 2012, § 6 II
  2. Lange / Waschkuhn 2002, p. 287.
  3. Quotation from Lange / Waschkuhn 2002.
  4. ^ Lange / Waschkuhn 2002, ibid.


  • Stefan Lange, Arno Waschkuhn: Function / Functionalism. In: Dieter Nohlen, Rainer-Olaf Schultze: Lexicon of Political Science. Theories, methods, terms. 4th updated and supplemented edition. Volume 1, Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-59233-1 , pp. 287-288.