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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Functionalism: the basic anthropological idea

MALINOWSKI AND RADCLIFFE-BROWN: a comparative analysis of their functionalism

Definition (what is functionalism):

 1. An ethnographic methodology distinctive of cultural anthropology. 
 2. A historical school of anthropology (also known as British school).
 3. A school of sociology, which attempted to integrate sociology, psychology, and anthropology. 
 4. A philosophy of social sciences in the Anglo-American philosophical tradition.
Premises:  
Underlying functionalist theory is the fundamental metaphor of the living organism, its several parts and organs, grouped and organized into a system, the function of the various parts and organs being to sustain the organism, to keep its essential processes going and enable it to reproduce. 
 
Similarly, members of a society can be thought of as cells, its institutions its organs, whose function is to sustain the life of the collective entity, despite the frequent death of cells and the production of new ones. Functionalist analyses examine the social significance of phenomena, that is, the purpose they serve a particular society in maintaining the whole (Jarvie 1973). It is one of the oldest and still dominant theoretical paradigm in many other social sciences. This perspective was built on twin emphasis: # application of the scientific method to the objective social world. ## the use of an analogy between the individual organism and society.
  Functionalists with the emphasis on the scientific method to the objective social world as “Objectively real”, “physical” as observable with such techniques as social surveys and interviews.
FUNCTIONALISM IN BRIEF:Its legacies are now an everyday anthropological common source.# It asks how a particular institution/belief is interrelated to others, and to what extent #it contributes to the persistence of the system as whole.  So, it focuses on theINTERCONNECTEDNESS         between different institutional and discursive parts of society.##Doesn't look at evolution or history, but at what people do 'here and now' and describes the meaning of activities.##Even the strangest practices are rational in their own terms once the context and social function of them is properly discerned.##Informed by Durkheim who stated that the social could not be reduced to the motives of individuals and exerts pressure on them through collective representations.##Sustains a tension between [1] commitment to context (holism) and problem oriented comparison, and [2] focus on beliefs, motives and meanings [out of which came interpretative anthropology], and the impossibility to reduce social facts to  ind. needs, cognition and desire [structuralism ]
Best known for: Its fieldwork was its crucial discovery and key contribution. Functionalism emerged as a sharp methodological break with the facile and de-contextualised comparisons of evolutionary anthropology and grand narratives illustrating the progress of reason (Frazer).##Required a comparative method: looking at what institutions/beliefs mean for people in a socially interconnected way [e.g.how myth regulates and codifies behavior].##Commitment to sociologically contextualised comparisons and refusal to allow theoretical Categories of the West to pass as unexamined universal parameters.
  
Two versions
functionalism was the name Adopted by Bronislaw Malinowski, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, and their students. With Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski pushed for a paradigm shift in British anthropology, a change from the speculative, historical to the ahistorical study of social institutions. This theoretical shift gave rise to functionalism and established fieldwork as the constitutive experience of social anthropology (Kuper 1973, Young 1991). 
 
  Two versions of functionalism developed between 1910 and 1930: biocultural (or psychological) functionalism, the approach advocated by Malinowski, and structural- functionalism, the approach advanced by Radcliffe-Brown. 
 
Biographies in brief 
Radcliffe-Brown(1881-1955) :                                                                                                           Born 1881 # Educated at Cambridge #Fieldwork 1906 - 1908, Andaman Islands#Influenced by Durkheim--rewrote his thesis#Published The Andaman Islanders in 1922#1910 - 1912  Western Australia#1916 - 1919  Tonga, then South Africa and Australia#University of Chicago, 1931.        B. Malinowski (1884 - 1942):                                                                                                          Polish, intellectual, aristocratic family#Doctorate in math & physics 1908, age 24#Inspired by Frazer's Golden Bough#1910 London School of Economics#Ph.D. with C.G. Seligman (Torres Straits expedition)#1913, The Family Among Australian Aborigines#Age 30, 2 doctorates, a book--no fieldwork#1915 - 1918  Trobriand Islands.

BASIC APPROACHES TO THE THEORY OF FUNCTIONALISM

A. R. Radcliffe-Brown: Radcliffe-Brown focused attention on social structure. He suggested that a society is a system of relationships maintaining itself through cybernetic feedback, while institutions are orderly sets of relationships whose function is to maintain the society as a system. Radcliffe-Brown, following Auguste Comte, believed that the social constituted a separate "level" of reality distinct from those of biological forms and inorganic matter. Furthermore, he believed that explanations of social phenomena had to be constructed within the social level. He believed that individuals were replaceable, transient occupants of social roles. Unlike Malinowski's emphasis on individuals, Radcliffe-Brown considered individuals irrelevant (Goldschmidt 1996:510).

Bronislaw Malinowski: Malinowski suggested that individuals have physiological needs and that social institutions develop to meet these needs. There are also culturally derived needs and four basic "instrumental needs" (economics, social control, education, and political organization), that require institutional devices. Each institution has personnel, a charter, a set of norms or rules, activities, material apparatus (technology), and a function. Malinowski believed that uniform psychological responses are correlates of physiological needs. He argued that satisfaction of these needs transformed the cultural instrumental activity into an acquired drive through psychological reinforcement (Goldschmidt 1996:510; Voget 1996:573).

APPROACHES TO THE HISTORICAL DOCCUMENTS

Both Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown averse to “speculative history”. It was an attempt to move away from the evolutionism and diffusionism that dominated British anthropology at the turn of the century(lesser 1935, langness 1987). There was a shift in focus from the speculatively historical or diachronic study to of customs and cultural traits as “survivals” to the ahistorical synchronic study of social “institutions” within bounded, functioning, societies (young 1991:445).

Radcliffe- Brown argued that “in the primitive societies that are studied by social anthropology there are no historical records. We have no knowledge of the development of social institutions among Australian aborigines for example. Anthropologista thinking of their studies as a kind of historical study, fall back on conjecture and imagination and invent “psudo historical” Or “psudo causal” explanations. We have had, for example innumerable and sometime conflicting Pseudo historical accounts of the origin and the development of the totemic institutions of the Australian aborigines. The view taken here is that such speculations are not mere useless but are worse than useless. This does not in any way imply the rejection of historical explanations but quite the contrary.

For malinowski history of a particular custom not useful. He argued that myths reflect present more than past (justify present). Anoter important thing for him is function--What a custom does. And another vital thing is that he contend that“Primitives” act rationally.

POSITIVISTIC INFLUENCES
Both Malinowski and Radcliffe-brown shares interests and ideas developed by the positivistic methodologies especially the approaches suggested by Emile Durkheim. In 1895, Emile Durkheim's Rules of Sociological Method, argued that the function of a Social Institution is the correspondence between it and the needs of the social organism. 
Durkheim defined, and devised very many analytical concepts that was borrowed and viewed by these theorists. He defined Social structure as the network of existing relations between individuals. Function for Durkheim  fulfills a need (bio & cultural) and humans have to organize to fulfill that function.(structural functional?).In order to provide for individual needs humans have to organise, so there are integrative functions for certain institutions which ensure that the society is able to fulfill individual needs.                                                                                                         Radcliffe-Brown  drawing influence from Durkheim sets his goal of investigation as Compare social structure cross-culturally. He investigated what principles account for different structures which in turn Leads to function which is to investigate How do structures maintain society? For him Function is the role of structure in social continuity. He stated that Social system (society) has a functional unity:All parts work together well enough to maintain society.
Malinowski  on the other hand does have this analogy implicitly by reference to the context [which requires certain institutions and functions, and how things are related functionally], but his is a more individualistic and utilitarian functionalism. Sees the basic function of culture and society as being the satisfaction of human needs (both material and spiritual) and suggests that individuals have physiological needs, and that social institutions develop to meet these needs. His interest is not limited to rules and norms but extended to individual responses to them. Thus, he makes a distinction between belief, words and action. 
APPROACHES TO THE ANTHROPOLOGY 
Further differences between these two great functional theorists is in their approaches to the subject matter of social anthropology.
Radcliffe-Brown argued that Social Anthropology should be a sub-discipline of comparative sociology. His approach was to search for general laws of society (nomothetic). He was of the opinion that the investigation must incorporate cross-cultural regularities between structure and function that relevant to all cases. Radcliffe-Brown’s concepts of Social unity, harmony, consistency is very much aligned to Durkheim's solidarity.
For Radcliffe-Brown society takes precedence over economic, ideological (cultural) facts. Social systems are rational, logical (even “primitive” ones). He contended that Society is only an abstraction (organismic analogy).
For Radcliffe-Brown spects of society can't be studied in isolation. He furthered his argument about the concept of structural functional analysis that when society is healthy, all functions well. Social structures however, are NOT abstractions they can be observed and include all interpersonal relations
Malinowski however,   suggested to forget the abstract idea of overall social structure. His functionalism was to look for function in down-to-earth terms: Culture. He contend that people faced with fundamental problems of living, there fore it is more important and relevant to look at what people do to meet these basic human needs. He posed a greater interest on individuals and for him individuals are conscious of self-interested, not automatons. For Malinwoski Customs are rational, or they would disappear, and they are rational as they serve a function. 
In points
Radcliffe-Brown                                                                                       
Malinowski 
Structural functionalism
Functionalism
Structural functions                                                                          
Bio-psycho-social needs
Theory of society                                                                             
Theory of culture
Society as a whole
Individual needs
Abstraction of society
Real people & behavior
Society takes precedence
Ecology, psychology
                                                               Ecology, psychology

APPROACHES TO SOCIEY AND INDIVIDUAL

Radcliffe-Brown focused on social structure and saw anthropology as a global, cross-cultural comparative sociology, closely modeled upon natural sciences. He argued that social structure was the essential framework for social analysis. He suggested that a society is a system of relationships maintaining itself through cybernetic feedback, while institutions are orderly sets of relationships whose function is to maintain the society as a system. Following Comte, he believed that the social constituted a separate "level" of reality distinct from those of biological forms and inorganic matter. Furthermore, he believed that explanations of social phenomena had to be constructed within the social level. He believed that individuals were replaceable, transient occupants of social roles. Unlike Malinowski's emphasis on individuals, Radcliffe-Brown considered individuals irrelevant (Goldschmidt 1996:510).
Malinwoski was quite different,  for him Sees the basic function of culture and society as being the satisfaction of human needs (both material and spiritual) and suggests that individuals have physiological needs, and that social institutions develop to meet these needs. His interest is not limited to rules and norms but extended to individual responses to them. Thus, he makes a distinction between belief, words and action. He sees myth as bridging gap of uncertainty and legitimating magic. In describing the KULA,he sets his position vs. the utilitarian man (therefore contradicting his theory). He demonstrates: the sophistication and realism of the natives, difference in the exchange system, priority of social and cultural context to understanding any form of life and brings to forefront key political relations of hierarchy, honorific standing and social recognition. Unlike Durkheim's individual, Malinowski's was calculated and not robotic, weighting the options available to him within his culture. 

METHODOLOGIES

Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski formulated distinct versions of functionalism, yet the emphasis on the differences between them obscures their fundamental similarities and complementarity. Both viewed society as structured into a working unity in which the parts accommodate one another in a way that maintains the whole. Thus, the function of a custom or institution is the contribution it makes to the maintenance of the entire system of which it is a part. On the whole, sociocultural systems function to provide their members with adaptations to environmental circumstances and to connect them in a network of stable social relationships. This is not to say that functionalists failed to recognize internal social conflict or other forms of disequilibrium. However, they did believe that societies strongly tend to maintain their stability and internal cohesion as if societies had homeostatic qualities (Broce 1973:38-39). Malinowski made his greatest contribution as an ethnographer (studied around 30 societies);    his work became a canon for continual reanalysis. He emphasized the importance of studying social behavior and social relations in their concrete cultural contexts. His ethnographies became new textual models with their realist style that unpacked the “native point of view” and involved the reader in an experience of “being there”. He considered it crucial to consider the observable differences between norms and action, that is, between what people say they do and what they actually do. It was his methodological argument that he devised as “participant Observation”.  His detailed descriptions of Trobriand social life and thought are among the most comprehensive in world ethnography and his Argonauts of the Western Pacific is one of the most widely read works of anthropology. Malinowski's enduring conceptual contributions lay in the areas of kinship and marriage (e.g., the concept of "sociological paternity"); in magic, ritual language and myth (e.g., the idea of "myth as social charter"); and in economic anthropology (notably the concept of "reciprocity") (Young 1991:445). He envisaged a method of collecting data as vernacular in a community.
CONCLUSIONS:  both Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski made the paradigm shift in anthropology from Speculatively historical to ahistorical study. Both of them had a great fieldwork background. Their differences lies in their mutual exclusive backdrop of ideas. Both of them contended the natural science methodology and contended that social is a separate domain, but Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown have approached the society and individual with great deal of differences. Both settled on the centrality of comparative sociology.  

2 comments:

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  2. Fix your shit website, man!

    I came here for comparative analysis of Malinowski's structural functionalism vs. Radcliffe-Brown's and instead I get a discombobulated, crap-tastic blogspot website with text all over the place, making it extremely hard to even see the content.

    What a waste of my time. Remove your website from Google's search engine, asshole! Two thumbs down!

    ReplyDelete