Structural Functionalism, Structuralism, and Post Structuralism are three important theories that have influenced socialists and philosophers over the last two centuries. In this regard, the following essay provides a comparative analysis of these three to present their relative usability and effectiveness in determining the social structure and its elements.
According to functionalism, society is an integration of different parts that are structured in a specific way to meet the social as well as biological needs of the individuals living in it. The theory originated in the nineteenth century from the work of English biologist and philosopher, Hebert Spencer (King, 2011). His main argument is that society functions in the same way as our body do where its different organs collectively work to perform to keep it alive. In the case of society, these parts are the social institutions, behavior patterns, or particular set of beliefs such as education, religion, healthcare, government, etc. that formulate, determine, and meet the social needs. However, the theory is mostly criticized for its inadequacy to provide comprehensive details of the factors that cause social change. The circular nature of the theory that assumes repetitive behavior pattern as functions, while some dysfunctions may also be present without serving any purpose, make it problematic to apply on a macro-level. However, the theory is still significant for micro-level analyses.
In comparison to functionalism, structuralism, developed in the twentieth century in Europe, emphasizes that “structure”, not the “function” is the fundamental element of the identification in society. Therefore, all parts of society can only be recognized in relation to this particular structure because it do not have any independent reorganization (Han, 2013). Therefore, according to Hawkes (2005), structuralism does not address the surface reality of the system but its underlying structure determined by the basic and universally appliable elements of the human mind. Structuralism uses the metaphor of language to explain the “structure” as it can only be understood as a system with reference to itself because no metalanguage is available to comprehend its meanings. However, despite its significant evaluability in explaining the structure of a system, the theory provides no information about the historical background of the system. Furthermore, it is duly criticized because of its deterministic nature that undermines the role of persons’ will to act in a particular. Therefore, the theory is less popular as compared to Post-structuralism.
Post-structuralism was developed in reaction to structuralism as its logical outgrowth that many commentators call as ‘structuralism of structuralism’ (Flecha et al., 2003, pp. 30–35). It completely rejects the primary idea of structuralism arguing that excess to founding knowledge on systematic structures is impossible. Because human biases and misinterpretations always delude the precise detail of underlying structures subjected to specific historical and cultural conditions. Therefore, many post-structuralists argue that a complete understanding of an object is not possible without studying the object itself and the system of the knowledge that produced it. Thereby, post-structuralism goes beyond the rigid inner logic of relationships that structuralism proposes to describe any social reality. In contrast to both functionalism and structuralism, it explicitly describes the process of social change (Barker, 2010). However, the theory is over-determined by the student movements of the 1960s for democracy, non-oppressive social relationships, and non-exploitative economic processes.
Structural Functionalism, Structuralism, and Post Structuralism are significantly different from each other and focus on a particular element. However, they all are important on macro or mid-level to understand the functionality of a society and its underlying factors that influence its behavior.
Barker, C. (2010). Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and Cultural Studies. The Encyclopedia of Literary and Cultural Theory. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444337839.wbelctv3s010
Flecha, R., Jesús Gómez, & Puigvert, L. (2003). Contemporary social theory (pp. 30–35). Peter Lang. Pub.
Han, S. (2013). Structuralism and post-structuralism. Routledge Handbook of Social and Cultural Theory. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203519394.ch3
Hawkes, T. (2005). Structuralism and semiotics. Routledge.
King, A. (2011). Functionalism and Structuralism. The SAGE Handbook of the Philosophy of Social Sciences, 429–444. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781473913868.n22