What is neo-functionalism? Examine its strengths and limitations


Neo-functionalism thesis

A revival of interest in Parsons’ work, first in Germany and then in the United States. United States of America, led to the emergence of neo-functionalism. primary goal was to merge some aspects of functionalism, those that has stood the test of time, other paradigms have evolved better
critical points of view.

The goal was to build a “hybrid” that combines the strengths of other points of view so that we can deal with what is called opposing issues (such as consensus and conflict, balance and
change, collective and individual) in a balanced way.

a) Renaissance in Germany

Neo-functionalism in Germany is associated with Niklas Luhmann and Jurgen Habermas, who originally worked on the theory of social engineering. in modern society, but then worked separately.

Despite receiving a formal education in law, Luhmann studied sociology and in 1960 spent a year in Harvard, where he had the opportunity to interact with Parsons. He developed a sociological approach that unified some aspects of Parsons’ structure functionalism with general systems theory. He also introduced the concepts cognitive biology and cybernetics (Ritzer 2000: 185). However, he disagrees with Parsons about the options available to individuals as Person.

Parsons emphasized the consensus of values, believing also since the social system penetrates the personality system, the possibilities available to a person for social relations and behavior are limited. But this is not entirely correct, says Luhmann. It reveals personality social system in “society” – what can be called ” environment” which is much more complex and less restrictive.

He agrees people have more freedom, especially the freedom to do “irrational and immoral behavior” (Abrahamson 2001: 148). Abrahamson (2001: 148) says that if Luhmann left Parsons, then discovered the problems of the concept of value consensus, Habermas moved to Parsons. Habermas’ early work was heavily criticized.

Parsons, but later he gave space to culture, social and personal systems in his theory. His understanding of the relationship between these systems were fully consistent with the views of Parsons. It also gave rise Parsons’ concept of a “self-regulating system”, which was born when societies become more complex, resulting in structural systems separated from the “world of life”, i.e., the intersubjective realm of experience and communicate about culture, society and the individual.

The goal of the neofunctionalists is to create a more synthetic theory. There is no doubt that Parsons was an unsurpassed synthesizer of grand theory, and structural functionalism had a strong synthetic core from the very beginning. In his brand of structural functionalism, Parsons tried to include a broad
range of theoretical inputs. He was also interested in establishing the relationship between the various systems that make up the social world, such as cultural, social, and personal systems.

Thus, according to Alexander and Colomi, the beginning of structural functionalism was very promising, but gradually Parsons’ approach became too narrow and deterministic. He began to see the cultural system as defining other systems. Moreover, his excessive preoccupation with the “problem of order” has led to conflict and tension being given insufficient attention.

Neofunctionalism: problems to overcome

In neofunctionalism, the following problems must be overcome:

1) Anti-individualism – the individual in structural functionalism is passive and devoid of creativity, but is simply a product of social forces that they do not control and do not control;
2) Antagonism to change – structural functionalism – is a theory of social order, not change;
3) Conservatism – Structural functionalism worked to justify the system and its practices, often justifying inequality, exploitation and oppression.
4) Idealism – structural functionalism speaks of an ideal society where everything is in order and stable.
5) Antiempirical Bias – Structural functionalism is more concerned with abstract social systems than real societies.

Neo-functionalism can be seen as an “attempt” or “tendency” to overcome these problems. Alexander was skeptical about calling it a developed theory and rather an orientation sensitive to the critique of structural functionalism.

Strengths and Limitations of Neo-functionalism

Although some features of what has come to be called “neofunctionalism” can be found in the German interest in Parsons’ work, this theoretical “tendency” is primarily associated with the American sociologist Jeffrey K.

Alexander, and later his young employee Paul Coloma. A limited use of the term “neofunctionalism” is also found in ecological studies, where it essentially means giving priority to techno-environmental forces in the analysis of cultural adaptation processes (Bettinger, 1996).

Alexander does not like the use of the term “neofunctionalism”. He also believes that the term “functionalism” is not entirely appropriate to describe Parsons’ approach. Parsons himself tried to drop the term “structural functionalism” for his approach, but he knew it.
continue to be used for his sociology. Some of his associates preferred to call his theory “action theory”. Alexander (1985) also believes that, despite the inadequacy of the term “functionalism”, Parsons’ sociology will in the future be known by that name. Thus, dropping the term will do little; rather, you should cling to it and override it. Neofunctionalism is not a single theory, but a “trend”, characterized by the following provisions (Alexander 1985: 10):
1) An open and pluralistic description of society as a whole.
2) Fair distribution in relation to action against structure (or action against order).
3) Integration is seen as an opportunity; deviance and social control are seen as a reality.
4) The distinction between personality, culture and society.
5) Differentiation is seen as the main engine of social change.
6) The development of concepts and theory is considered independent of all levels involved in sociological analysis.


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