Difference Between Structuralism and Functionalism

Structuralism vs Functionalism

Structuralism and Functionalism are both theoretical perspectives between which a lot of differences can be identified. Structuralism emphasizes that different elements are connected and are a part of a greater structure. This structure can be observed within the society, in cultures, and even in the very concept of language. However, functionalists, on the other hand, highlight that every element of a society has its function. It is this interdependence of different functions that lead to the successful maintenance of a society. Both structuralism and functionalism are considered as theoretical perspectives in a number of social sciences such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and so on and so forth. This article attempts to highlight the differences between the two approaches by presenting a description of the two.

What is Structuralism?

First when examining Structuralism, it can be understood as a theoretic perspective that stresses the necessity of a structure of which all elements of a society are a part of. Structuralists understand the society by paying attention to the different links and relationships that contribute to the establishment of the structure. Claude Levi Strauss and Ferdinand de Saussure can be considered as pioneers of this approach. The application of structuralism can be seen in a number of social sciences such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and also linguistics. In linguistics, structuralists such as Saussure highlight how language possesses a structure. In other disciplines such as anthropology, also this can be understood through the study of human culture, lifestyles, and behavior. Structuralism is subjective and is more philosophical.

Difference Between Structuralism and Functionalism

Anthropology has its own structure.

What is Functionalism?

Functionalism, on the other hand, is based on the idea that each element of the society has a function of its own and it is the interdependence of each element that contributes to the social order and social stability. For example, take the different social institutions that exist in a society. The family, economy, religion, education, and political institution, each has a role of its own. These roles are unique and cannot be fulfilled by any other institution. For instance, if the education institution does not exist, the secondary socialization of the child does not occur. This results in the creation of individuals who have not internalized the culture, norms and values of a society and also individuals who are unskilled because the child only gets education from the family. This then affects the economy of the country as the labour force is unskilled. This highlights that according to functionalists each institution or else element of the society has a unique role that cannot be fulfilled by another. When a disruption occurs, it not only affects a single institution but affects the equilibrium of the entire society. This can be understood as an instance of instability of a society.

Structuralism vs Functionalism

School has its own function.

What is the difference between Structuralism and Functionalism?

• Structuralism emphasizes that different elements are connected and are a part of a greater structure. Functionalism highlights that every element of a society has its function.

• Both structuralists and functionalists emphasize that elements are interconnected, but the manner in which they are connected, is analyzed differently.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Anthropology by Gary2863 (CC BY 2.5)
  2. School by woodleywonderworks (CC BY 2.0)