Structural functionalism is a direction of sociological thought, a sociological paradigm, the essence of which is to identify the elements of social interaction, determine their role and place in a more extensive social system or society as a whole, and their social functions. This approach largely contributed to the institutionalization of sociology as a science, to its transformation into an academic discipline and profession. Nevertheless, while asserting social ties as essential elements of any interaction system, the structural-functional approach did not consider many other factors that determine this cooperation.
Seeing deviant behavior as the result of structural drawbacks and the lack of moral unity in society, structural functionalists treat society as a stable system. They do not consider changes that may provoke some forms of deviant behavior in these or those times. Treating society as stable, functionalists do not acknowledge the historical evolution of society regarding different actions as “normal” or “deviant.” Moreover, any crime is the result of social interaction processes and internal processes of an individual psyche, his desires, needs, and perceptions, which the structural-functional approach does not consider.
Concerning family life, the functional approach sees family relations as a social phenomenon and dwells on the interrelationships of socio-cultural roles associated with marriage and parenthood. Durkheim directly influenced the search for mechanisms of solidarity and cohesion inherent in the family, focusing on the role of men and women in family anomie, which he understood as a specific type of family balance disorder. Functionalists believe that the family has certain specific functions such as sexual, reproductive, educational, and economic. They claim that today’s family becomes less stable due to the voluntary nature of marriage and that a decrease in the number of members of the modern family reduces family solidarity.
While determining the functions of the family, functionalists regard the family as a cohesive system and do not take into account differences occurring among family members. Moreover, some functions attributed to the family may nowadays be performed by other institutions. For example, the function of socialization and education may be carried out by schools and kindergartens. The roles of men and women in family life may change and not always align with their roles in the broader social system.
Concerning health and medicine, functionalists divide the functions performed by healthy people and those performed by the sick, claiming the sick people should be exempt from other functions except getting well. The disease is seen as anomie that weakens society; responsible behavior on the part of the sick presupposes calling the doctor and fulfilling his instructions. If a person does not want to consult a doctor, his behavior may be labeled as deviant.
Functional theories do not leave much choice to the patient regarding the choice of treatment and medicine. He should follow the doctor’s advice by all means without seeking another opinion; it seems wrong to give so much power to a doctor who, after all, may be wrong. Moreover, chronic diseases cannot be cured, and it is not right to deny people with chronic diseases their social functions as they may lose a stimulus to get treatment altogether.