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1. The Development of Functionalism in Sociology and Anthropology

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we think about the early development of functionalism as an approach within sociology and anthropology, focusing in particular on: (i) Émile Durkheim’s early functionalist method, particularly his understanding of society as sui generis, and his explanation of the reproduction of practices and institutions in terms of the functions they serve; (ii) some of the key criticisms of Durkheim’s approach, such as its neglect of individual agency and its alleged conservatism; (iii) Durkheim’s comparative functionalist method, which argued that there are universal functions which all societies across the world need to perform and which create similar practices and institutions that can be analysed comparatively; (iv) the influence of Durkheim’s approach in anthropology.


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 - The Development of Functionalism in Sociology and Anthropology [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Holmwood, J. "Functionalism – The Development of Functionalism in Sociology and Anthropology." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Aug 2021,

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