Psychology student, Azima Zaman
Looks at the social mirror from a Functionalist Position (FP)
1.The organic analogy: The best known of functionalist analogies
is the organic analogy associated with Emile Durkheim. Society
is seen as an organic whole in which the various parts work
to sustain the others. The comparison with a human body makes
this clearer. The body has various organs, each organ has
a particular task to perform to maintain the body in health.
In a society there are various institutions, each of which
performs a particular task that helps to sustain the society.
2.The watch analogy: Like a body a watch s made up of numerous
parts. But also like in a body these parts have to be arranged
in the ‘correct’ order. For example, if you take a watch apart
you still have the parts but it will not do the one thing
that it was designed for-tell the time. Thus the analogy points
both to the inter-relatedness of the parts and the necessity
that they work together.
Determinism: Functionalism has been accused of being unable
to explain the existence of change and conflict. This is because
the whole premise of functionalism seems to be the idea that
if some institution exists then in must both be beneficial
and required. The approach is thus essentially conservative,
and serves to justify prevailing arrangements as functionally
This can, of course, be taken too far, but clearly we are
strongly influenced by the society of which we are members.
We do ‘internalise’ the values, beliefs and norms of our society
to a greater or lesser extent and these constitute the boundaries
of our everyday thinking. However, f unctionalism tends to
simplify the relationship between individual agency and the
structures of social action. We end up with what Dennis called
the ‘oversocialised’ conception of humans. What he implies
is that functionalism seems to deny the importance of human
agency (free will) and that we are pictured as creatures of
the system into which we are born.
Recently, feminist approaches have attacked functionalism,
arguing that the structural functionalists provided a justification
for male privilege and ignored the past and potential contributions
2. In terms of Cooley’s Mirror functionalism is a situation
in which the social mirror dominates and determines the individual.
People who reinforce the functionalist way of looking at social
life are those who are malleable, allowing themselves to be
shaped and guided by social pressures in a mere functional
product. They tend to resist change because their see themselves
as a cog in a mechanism – so if they left that mechanism their
whole life would fall apart, like a clock with a cog removed.
Also they tend to attribute causes to their current circumstances
(good or bad), which lie in the broader social context and
therefore cannot be changed by them.
In the following BE-ME clip, we see a respondent who conforms
to the functionalist model of the social mirror. Notice how
she accepts her position, without resistance.
See clip sk02