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3. Criticisms of Functionalism

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we think about some of the key criticisms of functionalism, focusing in particular on: (i) the social and political context of disorder in the 1960s and 1970s which undermined Parsons’ emphasis on order and integration; (ii) the conflict theoretical approaches which developed in this period and argued that Parsons underplayed the roles of disorder, conflict and inequality in society and social change; (iii) criticisms of Functionalism on the grounds that it neglects agency, from the perspectives of individualism and interpretivism.


In this course, Professor John Holmwood (University of Nottingham) explores functionalism as an approach within sociology. In the first lecture, we think about the emergence of functionalist ideas in the work of Émile Durkheim and their influence in anthropology. In the second lecture, we consider Talcott Parsons’ efforts to create a more systematic functionalist method within sociology, and how Parsons sought to overcome the issue of agency within functionalism. In the third lecture we look at some of the criticisms of functionalism. Next, we look at how Robert Merton attempted to create a new approach which could address these criticisms. In the fifth and final lecture, we explore the ways in which functionalism can help us to understand society and politics through the example of feminism and the family.


Professor John Holmwood is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham. He researches sociological theory and issues around education and schooling. His recent publications include (with Gurminder Bhambra) Colonialism and Modern Social Theory (2021), (with Therese O’Toole) Countering Extremism in British Schools? The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair (2018) and (as co-editor) A Handbook of British Sociology (2014).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Holmwood, J. (2021, August 23). Functionalism - Criticisms of Functionalism [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Holmwood, J. "Functionalism – Criticisms of Functionalism." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Aug 2021,

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