Sociology 250

November 4, 1999

Parsons (Continued)

6. Functional System Problems AGIL

Social systems have needs. In order to survive and continue, each social system or subsystem has four characteristics which must be met. These are functional needs of the system, "a complex of activities directed towards meeting a need or needs of the system." (Ritzer, p. 240). The first two are necessary for survival and continued operation, with the last two being a means of regulation of the social system. These functional needs can be remembered by the acronym AGIL.

a. Adaptation (A). Each system exists in an environment, and must be able to adapt to this environment. In the process of adaptation, the environment is also affected and may be adapted to the society. This is the mobilization of resources so that the system can survive and that things can be done to meet goals of the system. In the family or household, adaptation could include obtaining economic resources -- earning an income to support the family. For larger social systems, the economy is the system which allows the system to survive, grow, and change. The major institutions in the economic sphere, such as agriculture, industry and services provided through the market are the means by which adaptation takes place. These serve the function of allowing the system to survive and provide the goods and services required for society to operate. As economists describe the economy, there are many equilibrating mechanisms within the economy that produce order. The market mechanism itself can be regarded as a system that has some tendencies in the direction of stable equilibria. Some of the government institutions relating to the economy also help serve this function. Note also how the economy as a system modifies the natural environment.

b. Goal Attainment (G). Each system has certain purposes associated with it. The goals of the system must be defined, means of attempting to achieve these goals must be laid out, and then these goals must be achieved. Within the social system, the polity (political sphere and government) is an important aspect of this, setting and altering the goals for the society as a whole, and "mobilizing actors and resources to that end" (Ritzer, p. 246). The state bureaucracy and other organizations business and nonprofit all help to implement and achieve these goals. Smaller scale institutions also have goals, for example, the University of Regina as a system has the goal of teaching, research, and community service. Within a family or individual system, there will also be goals, although these may not be so clearly spelled out as in formal organizations. Each organization, as a subsystem, has certain goals, and within this there will be positions with roles to play in helping the organization achieve these goals. Within a business, there will be marketing, production, finance, etc. positions that each have specific roles within the context of attempting to make profits for the business and help the business expand. Within the family, husband and wife, parents and children are each statuses with roles for meeting family goals.

c. Integration (I). This is the means by which social relationships, and interrelationships among units or groups, are regulated. "By integration Parsons means the need to coordinate, adjust, and regulate relationships among various actors or units withint the system in order to keept the system functioning" (Wallace and Wolf, pp. 39-40). Parsons (The Social System, pp. 132-4) notes that there are two types of integrative functions that must be carried out: (i) Limits of Permissiveness with regard to individuals and groups in the context of change. This involves allocation of goods and services, responsibilities and people to. As society changes, there must be ways in which the changes in these are regulated and governed in order to maintain the integrity of the system. The second aspect is (ii) Institutionalization of the Positively Integrated Functions. This involves defining responsibility, leadership, and representation. Some of this is informal, although with more complex systems, these tend to become structured into a division of responsibilities and roles.

As various social processes functions occur, strains, tensions and conflicts may emerge. These are a result of the way that individuals relate to each other, and as different units carry out their tasks and roles that need to be done in a system. Means of managing these tensions, diffusing and resolving conflicts and ensuring that orderly means of carrying on activities can be ensured. At the level of society as a whole, there are a variety of institutions that do this. Religion, education, the media, the legal structures police and courts all play a role. Ritzer refers to these as societal community. Any institutions that help disseminate the shared culture, and reinforce "that culture through ritual celebrations of its values" (Cuff, p. 45) help in this. Sporting events could be seen in this light - anthems, rules of the game, common allegiances, etc. Where strains are great, there may be a need for social control, formal and informal sanctions, or discipline to enforce order. In general though, Parsons thought that systems develop automatic means of integration, and roles and organizations to help carry this out do develop. Within subsystems, there is a set of roles that do this, although these may not always be specialized. For example, in educational institutions, teachers carry out the roles of adaptation, goal attainment and integration as part of their activities.

d. Latency (L). This is the function of pattern maintenance and Parsons also refers to this as the cultural-motivational system (Sociological Theory and Modern Society, p. 261). These are referred to as latent because they may not always be as apparent as the A, G, or I functions. For Parsons, "All institutionalization involves common moral as well as other values. Collectivity obligations are, therefor, an aspect of every institutionalized role. But in certain contexts of orientation-choice, these obligations may be latent ... ." (The Social System, p. 99). Even though these exist they may not be readily apparent and thus are latent. The test of their nature would be to determine the actors reaction in a specific situation.

The organizations and roles that perform latent functions can be regarded as those that "furnish, maintain, and renew both the motivation of individuals and the cultural patterns that create and sustain this motivation" (Ritzer, p. 242). Parsons refers to these as fiduciary, that is, founded on trust. At the level of the social system, these are schools, educational institutions, and the major institution that is concerned with the latent function is kinship and family or other forms of personal relationships. Within this, leisure, affection, love, sex, and friendship, can all play an important function. People provide comfort, consolation and relief to each other, thus reducing tension or keeping it within manageable limits. In addition, socialization is a major function with respect to the raising of children, and also with respect to the ongoing socialization that occurs through over the life span. For Parsons, the role of women was key here, as will be seen in the following section on the family. Within organizations, there may be little of the latent functions as an explicit part of the organization, but people within any organization develop these themselves, or come to the organization with these functions developed.

While Parsons has a very conservative view of women and the family, at least he did recognize the importance of the latent function, and he puts in on a par with the other three functions that must be part of any system. For Marx, social reproduction serves a similar role to that of the latent function, but Marx spent little time analyzing this, more or less taking it for granted. Weber and Durkheim pay little attention to this function, although Durkheim appears to have recognized the problem, and may have treated it in a somewhat similar manner to that adopted by Parsons.

The AGIL functions must exist at all levels, in society as a whole, and in each subsystem. These may not be consciously worked out functions, and roles and functions can be shared among organizations or individuals. In traditional societies, most of these functions would have been centred in family and kinship structures, and in local communities. In these societies, there may have been little differentiation in functions, although culture and the integration function often came to be associated with religion. As societies have developed, these functions tend to evolve, with different institutions developing different functions, and with different functions developing within each organizations. Specialized functions and roles develop, and specialized institutions to carry these out also evolve, and it is best to have specialized roles and specialized institutions to carry out the functions of a modern, complex society. These may develop in an evolutionary fashion, without any conscious consideration, much like Durkheim's "natural" development of the division of labour. Or, as in bureaucracies, they may be consciously worked out organizational structures. Some of this can be seen by examining Parsons' view of change.

7. Equilibrium and Change

Parsons viewed social systems and subsystems as tending to equilibrium, with the various functional needs all being carried out, so that the system could achieve its ends in a relatively smooth manner, without major conflicts. That is, there is a tendency to order that exists in social systems. This is not consciously worked out by anyone, but is a characteristic of systems. Two analogies are systems of temperature maintenance in a building on the basis of a thermostatic control, and the market mechanism. In each there are strong tendencies toward an equilibrium, although this need not imply a static situation. That is, if there are external influences that disturb the system then there are forces which automatically begin to go into operation that begin to return the system to equilibrium. In the economy, a shortage of supply relative to demand induces price increases. The latter induces consumers to use less of the product, and producers to produce more of the product, thus returning the system back towards an equal supply and demand. Parsons seems to have something like this in mind in all of his systems, and social systems in particular.

In the social system the culture, shared expectations, roles, socialization, social interaction and social relationships are the means by which equilibrium is created. As long as much of the culture is shared among large numbers of people, there is general agreement concerning roles. These roles and expectations are learned in childhood through socialization, and further learning of these takes place throughout the individual's lifetime. When the roles match the requirements of the status or position, and the role is being properly filled, the function associated with that status is being carried out. Expectations are being met, and the system operates relatively smoothly. Where expectations are not met, social disapproval of the person may result. The individual who is not meeting expectations is sensitive to this disapproval, and modifies his or her behaviour. Through social learning, social approval and disapproval, and modifications of behaviour, the operation of the system tends to produce a relatively close match between function, status and role. Thus social approval and disapproval provide a regulating mechanism within the context of socialization, status, and role.

This could be interpreted in a very static sense if no change ever takes place, and there is a static equilibrium. Parsons has sometimes been criticized for having no theory of change, with the model describing a society with all the parts functioning together for the good of the system, with a set of common values about which there is consensus. In practice, a static situation is unlikely to occur for long in modern society, and change is likely to occur. Parsons does recognize this, and he is impressed with how many changes do occur: external change such as technological change, changes in one of the other systems that have external effects, or internal stress, conflict or unresolved tension. Yet actors, institutions, systems, and values all adapt to these changes in a relatively smooth manner. Parsons model would seem to be some sort of moving equilibrium. A teacher in an unfamiliar classroom situation might be an example.

If there is change, the role of the individual or small group, or the function of the institutions may no longer meet the functional needs of the system. Changes in roles and functions may be necessary, and this may require a change in expectations. With respect to the family, this is clear. Parsons' model of the stay at home wife, carrying out the latent tension management and socialization functions, obviously needs to be changed. As women have entered the labour force, this has created tensions and unresolved conflicts. But the various feminist movements and organizations, changes in laws and regulations, changes in services and institutions, changes in family forms, etc. are means that society adopts to attempt to meet the problems associated with these changes. Whether all these can be resolved in a manner that is consistent with order and a moving equilibrium remains to be seen, but it is possible to view the changes over the last thirty years as occurring in a manner consistent with a moving equilibrium. Families, businesses, politics and government all adapt to the change, although perhaps in too slow a manner.

One other characteristic of change for Parsons is the increasing differentiation of functions and roles. As society develops, it becomes more complex, and systems must adapt to meet new needs. The AGIL functions, which were originally carried out in some kinship or community groups, become separated, so that each of these functions becomes carried out by a different set of institutions, perhaps within a different action system. New subsystems with new roles develop through a process of adaptive upgrading (Ritzer, p. 250). Within the occupational structure, this means the development of the division of labour, in a similar manner to that described by Durkheim. But the other systems also develop specialized sub-systems as well, with changes in status and role as a result of these. This occurs even within the family, but is certainly apparent in formal organizations.

Within all this, there is a strong tendency toward equilibrium and stability. The interactions among individuals that are characteristic of the above features become institutionalized and form the social structures of society. In these interactions there is role taking, role bargaining, exchange, and so on. These create norms that guide action, and exist within the broad system of culture. The norms then provide guides to further interaction, giving stability to the forms of social interaction. These are the processes that create, maintain and alter institutionalized patterns. These "institutionalized clusters of roles" or "stabilized patterns of interaction" form a social system. (Turner, p. 58). While Parsons' model does have social change as a characteristic feature, it is definitely an evolutionary model with consensus as a primary feature, as opposed to the dialectical model of Marx with conflict as a chief feature. Both models are highly structural.

8. Parsons' Analysis of the Family

In traditional societies, where families were the basis for social organization, many of the societal functions (AGIL) were carried out in the family or in kinship-based groupings. Even in medieval times, there was little distinction between public and private, and the family and household served the function of producer, consumer and reproducer. As the division of labour developed in modern times, many of the functions formerly carried out in the family began to be performed in other institutions. The producer role generally became part of the economic structures of society and were detached from the household. Later, some of the socialization function became detached from the family and moved to educational institutions or the socialization and education functions became separated. While some analysts have looked on this as indicating a decline in the family, Parsons argued that social evolution and change has led to a change in the functions of the family. This is part of the separation of the AGIL functions from each other, so that separate structures, institutions, and statuses become responsible for carrying out each of these four functions. Parsons views this functional differentiation positively, arguing that specialized roles mean that functions can be better carried out. While this specialization may create problems of integration, there will also be new values, rules, and norms that lead to new forms of integration in a more complex and more productive society.


In the family, the public (jobs) and private (home) have become separated, with "the invention of romantic love and the development of the division of labour inside families along sex lines aids this separation. Economic organizations have to develop an authority system independent of kinship" (Knapp, p. 205). For Parsons, the family serves two essential functions in modern society, (a) the socialization of children, and (b) "stabilization of the adult personalities of the population of the society" (Morgan, p. 27). These can be considered to be essential functions of society primarily integrative (I) and latent (L) that create problems for society if they are not carried out. Too often the earlier, classical theorists had taken these for granted, and considered them to be outside the scope of sociological analysis.

The structure of the modern nuclear family could be illustrated as follows (from Morgan, p. 29). Note that there are two dimensions to family structure, neither of which can be reduced to the other.



Adult Male Adult Female

(Father) (Mother)


Instrumental Expressive


Male Child Female Child

(Son) (Daughter)



Source: D. H. J. Morgan, Social Theory and the Family, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975, p. 29.

The socialization process is on the vertical axis, and this generational axis is the main form in which Parsons views power as being exercised in the family. The father is the head of the family in that he represents the family unit, and power is exercised by the parents over the children. This is for the children's own good. Recall that power for Weber was often legitimate, and much power within the family is accepted by the subordinate as legitimate. Johnson notes that Parsons did not "depict the father as dominating his wife and children but only as having power by virtue of being their representative" (p. 124). As such, Parsons may have ignored the power that husbands have over wives, especially when the different activities of husbands and wives and the income differerences are considered.

With respect to the horizontal axis, Parsons claimed that the instrumental role should be carried out by the husband. In order to survive, the family needed the income from the husband's occupation, while the family also depended on the wife's expressive and integrative activity. This could involve attempts to respond to the psychological needs of the husband and children, providing nurturing and warmth, and taking care of the family and household needs. This was functional (a) for the whole family unit, and also (b) "functional for marital solidarity because it prevented potentially divisive competition between husband and wife." It was also functional for (c) society as a whole by providing a link of the private family to the society (through the husband). Johnson notes how this has been criticized by many, but feels that Parsons was correct to make power and instrumental/expressive functions as independent dimensions. Power could go with either instrumental or expressive, although in different forms. (paragraph based on Johnson, p. 125).

Parsons saw socialization within the family as having two different aspects: (a) it is the way in which the individual internalizes the culture of a society or group, and (b) it is the process whereby the individual learns and prepares to take on an autonomous role. Parsons is concerned with the whole social system, and the functioning of that system, at the same time that he is concerned with the family and the socialization process. Adults must be prepared for their roles within society if the society is to continue functioning, and the socialization process achieves this. The family is also an autonomous and isolated unit, and the socialization process prepares each child to form a new isolated family unit of his or her own. Morgan notes that this combines the views of Freud (development of personality) and Durkheim (internalization of culture). Each ignored the contribution of the other, and Parsons attempts to combine these. Socialization thus is not just a cultural process of internalization of societal values (cultural system) but is also one of developing a personality (personality system). The result of the socialization process is that the personality becomes a mirror image of the experienced social system. (Morgan, p. 30).

While the family is isolated and autonomous, it is also linked to the wider system through the father's instrumental role. The role of the husband and father is to have a status in the occupational structure (i.e. a job), and he would be subject to social disapproval if he did not have a job. The social status of the family as a whole is based on the occupation and income of the husband. This instrumental role serves the dual function of linking the family to the outside world and maintaining the family as a viable entity (adaptation function). There are strains for the husband within this role though, because (a) work itself may be unsatisfying, (b) there is little chance for real social relationships outside the family, and (c) the family and the outside activities may have conflicting demands.

By carrying out the expressive role, the wife is just as necessary for the proper functioning of the family. She not only cares for the children and socializes them, but also provides the emotional support for her husband. In doing this, her role is also to provide for internal maintenance of the family unit. She is linked to the wider society as well, through family and friends, and these undoubtedly provide guidance for assisting in the socialization process. At the same time strains do exist in her role. There are strains associated with (a) the socialization role as opposed to the emotional support for the husband role. There is also (b) a clash between the ideology of equality of opportunity and the role of wife and mother. Note also that an individual family member may perform more than one role. For example, the roles of wife and mother are often identified as a single role, when in fact they may more properly be considered to be different roles. As wife, the adult woman in a family unit may not have great power, perhaps not entirely due to male dominance, but due to the limited opportunities women faced to earn income. As mother, the adult woman in this unit may have considerable power and status. Johnson notes that "women as wives tend to relatively powerless compared to women as mothers" (p. 127).

In spite of these strains and conflicts, Parsons feels that the nuclear family, with this strict division of roles, is well suited to modern industrial society. The differentiation by sex is functional for the individual, the family, and the society as a whole. For Parsons, having definiteness of status is important, both for the individuals involved, and for children who are seeking role models. Uncertainty and confusion in sex role definition can be damaging to individual personalities and to the social system as a whole. (Morgan, pp. 30-38).

Criticisms of Parsons' theory of the family. Parsons' analysis of the family has been subject to much criticism. The fixed nature of roles, the static nature of the family, the rigid division between instrumental and expressive roles, the underestimation of the extent of power (usually male), and the inherently conservative and consensus nature of this approach, all have been subject to severe criticism. Many families today might be considered dysfunctional by Parsons, because they do not perform the functions described by Parsons. Some have argued that confusion concerning roles affect family and socialization negatively, thus weakening the whole society. The family of Parsons was a well established white family in North America in the 1940s and 1950s, usually of middle class or perhaps working class origin and status. Black, immigrant, poor or working class families, and even upper class families, are all considerably different from the ideal types described by Parsons. It is difficult to know how Parsons would have reacted to the changes in family and household structures that have occurred in the last 20-30 years decline in number of children, older age of marriage and childbearing, women entering the labour force, single parent families, blended families, same sex families, etc. Judged by the AGIL criteria, pattern variables, and social differentiation, it could be argued that these latter changes in the family have become necessary as a result of other social changes, and may be functional for and promote stability in the operation of the social system.

Parsons' Contributions. Parsons brought discussions of the family into the mainstream of sociology, and developed an analysis of the social system that has the family as an essential part, assisting in the latent and integrative functions. This is something that none of the classical sociologists recognized as necessary. The recognition of instrumental and expressive roles is a useful one, and if it is possible for these to be combined in the same person, with each individual carrying out different combinations of these, these concepts might be considered more acceptable. Johnson argues that Parsons was able to separate power as a concept from the instrumental-expressive concept, and that this multidimensionality of functionalism is a useful approach. In this sense, Parsons makes use of Weberian methodological approaches. Perhaps some of these concepts and approaches could be combined with feminist or other theoretical approaches to produce a more complete model of the social system.

9. Function

Parsons was concerned with society as a whole, and with the various institutions and structures within society. Parsons took the idea of function from anthropology "as a way of talking about the consequences of any given pattern of patterns of social interaction for the stability and ongoingness of systems of interaction." (Johnson, p. 117). These systems could be families or other small groups, or they could be the society as a whole. Parsons thought that social processes could be studied empirically and within a dynamic context to determine the outcome (function ?) for the system as a whole. That is, social action and social processes must be studied relative to the social system as a whole, to determine whether "consequences will be found to fit into the terms of the maintenance of stability of production of change, of integration or disruption of the system ... ." (The Social System, p. 21-22). This makes it possible to consider integration as one possibility, and deviance, strain, social control, and dysfunction as other possibilities. Also note that Parsons was concerned with groups, institutions, and processes, and was examining them empirically, to see what the results were in terms of each other and systems as a whole.

In terms of change, there were a number of evolutionary processes and where the new values and patterns of action became regularized, they could be considered to be functional for a given system. Johnson argues that Parsons' model was not teleological in the sense that the new processes came about because they were functional. On the other hand, Johnson notes that Parsons did not generally ask who things were functional for. In the latter sense Parsons generally had a conservative orientation, looking on values and processes as functional for the whole system, rather than merely being functional for a small group or for some at the expense of others. (Johnson, pp. 117-119) In general, focussing on function would seem to imply a conservative orientation.

Merton's discussion of function (Wallace and Wolf, pp. 48-55). Robert Merton (born in 1910) was a student of Parsons, an interpreter and friendly critic of Parsons, who became a professor at Columbia University in New York. Merton subjected function to considerable scrutiny and modified Parsons' view of function.

While Merton adopted a functionalist approach to the study of society, Ritzer notes that Merton criticized some forms of functionalism. These criticism involved questioning (a) functional unity, (b) universal functionalism, and (c) indispensability. Merton argued that not all parts of modern, complex society work for the functional unity of society, that some values and customs may not be functional for society as a whole (or even for groups within society), and that some aspects of social organization may not be necessary.

What sociologists need to do is to examine each of the processes, groups, values, and institutions empirically, and see how these affect each other. Some of the processes, values or institutions may have dysfunctional aspects to them. Wallace and Wolf (p. 49) note that there are two possibilities here. One is that the adaptation or adjustment of the system is impaired. For example, a poorly managed bureaucracy or business, where roles and tasks are confused and not carried out may prevent the bureaucracy or business from carrying on its tasks, and may mean that the normal adjustment mechanisms do not function. If this is in a for-profit enterprise, the business may fail and go bankrupt as a result. War would appear to be dysfunctional for whole societies.

As second type of dysfunction is associated with the question "Functional or dysfunctional for whom?" (Wallace and Wolf, p. 49). While social actions and organizations may function well for some parts of society, they may function to the disadvantage of others in society. For example, the bankruptcy of a corporation like Eatons appears to be dysfunctional in that jobs are lost and services provided by the corporation disappear. But one of the consequences of bankruptcy may be to protect the wealth of many of the owners, and prevent that wealth from being further eroded. In the case of the Eaton family, they are still wealthy, but many stockholders have lost large sums of money, and former employees have lost their jobs.

Such an approach moves the functionalist theory toward a conflict approach. For example, the two class model of Marx, could be described in functionalist terms, with the activities of the bourgeoisie oriented toward the function of making profit, and the activities of the working class oriented toward the function of improving the lives of workers.

Merton also argued that some aspects of society may be nonfunctional in the sense that they are relics from earlier systems, or have few consequences for other parts of the system. That is, not all social action need be associated with function, at least in terms of meeting the needs of the system, or having consequences for the system. Organizations which once had a purpose, but no longer are relevant may have no function with respect to the overall system, although they may have some function for members.

Identifying and distinguishing manifest and latent functions is another of Merton's major contributions. Manifest functions are those that are intended, directly observed, or expected. These are the functions that are usually considered by functionalists as serving the system needs. At the same time, any social process is likely to have a number of unintended consequences, and Merton calls these latent functions. These are consequences of a social process that are unintended, not so directly observed, or unexpected. For example, computerization and email is aimed at speeding up communication and making it possible to organize activities more efficiently. However, there have been many unintended consequences of this, some of which could even be regarded as dysfunctional, such as waste of time when files are lost or equipment does not work, extra work for people, or the Y2K problem. Other unintended consequences may be functional for some people, for example, the incredible expansion of ecommerce and stock-market etrading has produced incredible profits for some people.

Weber emphasized some of the unintended consequences of social action, so the latent function is not just Merton's theoretical invention. For Weber, the protestant ethic had, as an unintended side effect, the promotion of the capitalistic spirit.

One further modification of functionalism by Merton was to note that there may be functional alternatives. Parsons tended to look on the institutions that currently exist, such as the nuclear family, as being functional for the society as a whole. However, there may be alternative processes, institutions, and organizations that can meet the functional needs of society. For example, in North America today there is a great variety of family and household forms and structures. Some of these have been considered dysfunctional by some social analysts. Others have noted that many of these different family and household forms may carry out similar functions to those of the nuclear family. For example, in terms of socialization, there are likely many alternatives to that of the mother in a nuclear family. Single mothers, fathers, other relatives, and day cares may be functional in meeting the socialization needs for children. The need for stabilization of adult personalities may be met in a variety of ways -- friends, room mates, associates, professional counsellors, same-sex couples, etc.

In summary, Merton contributes to functional analysis by requiring the sociologist to focus on the consequences of each type of social action, process, organization, or institution. By doing this, the sociologist may be able to consider the function or dysfunction, and what are the manifest and latent functions of the social process. At the same time, alternatives can be considered and the functional nature of those alternatives considered. Further, by asking who a social process may be functional for, Merton's modified functionalism can allow for social conflict and different ends. It is some of the latter approach that neofunctionalist analysis has developed.

Conclusions about Parsons and Structural Functionalism

Structural functionalism as an approach has been generally discredited. Critics argue that it is unable to explain change, it may be tautological and teleological, it is conservative in that it defends the existing order, and puts too much emphasis on function. In terms of change, change is generally slow and non disrupting, with social order and consensus being the norm. Conflict theory has been able to provide a better basis for explanation of many types of dissent, conflict and change. At the same time, conflict theory is unable to explain social order except in terms of domination, and this may also be inadequate.

As description, structural functional approaches may be useful, although it is too static in its approach. Using the functional approach, it is difficult to separate the existing structures and systems from what would be needed for survival. That is, there may be many alternative arrangements that allow systems to survive and prosper. In terms of female and male roles, and the family, there are many such possible forms and structures. There seem to be no ways of judging what is necessary for survival, or even what survival is. In that sense, as an overall theoretical explanation, something is missing.

Some examples of this come from Parsons' analysis of the family. For Parsons the shared values and norms that are part of social order and integration are first established with socialization of the child in the nuclear family. This is where these norms and social values of society were first internalized. As the individual ages, other forms of socialization occur, and "age, sex and kinship were socially constructed and did not mean the same thing from one culture to another." (Johnson, p. 117). Parsons viewed families as functional within modern society, socializing the child, connecting the individual to the society as a whole, and "stabilization of the adult personalities of the population of the society." (Morgan, p. 27). Parsons viewed the normal sex roles characteristic of the North American family as functional, and perhaps the only way to achieve stability in modern society. These theories of the family remained influential even after his other theories were no longer so generally accepted. At the same time, Parsons recognized that there could be strains in the family -- the "feminine role" being a "pseudo role" of housewife, and not a true role within the occupational structure and society.



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Morgan, D. H. J. Social Theory and the Family, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975. HQ728 M574

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Turner, Jonathan H., The Structure of Sociological Theory, fifth edition, Belmont, Ca., Wadsworth, 1991. HM24 T84


Traditional and Modern






Mechanical Solidarity


Organic Solidarity




(Close personal bonds)





(Personal and informal)


(Impersonal and formal)


Last edited on November 9, 1999

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