Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton
Talcott Parsons (1902-1979). perhaps the most influential contemporary advocate of the functionalist perspective, stressed that all societies must provide for meeting social needs in order to survive. Parsons (1955) suggested, for example, that a division of labor (distinct, specialized functions) between husband and wife is essential for family stability and social order. The husband/ father performs the instrumental tasks, which involve leadership and decision-making responsibilities in the home and employment outside the home to support the family. The wife/mother is responsible for the expressive tasks. including housework, caring for the children, and providing emotional support for the entire family. Parsons believed that other institutions, including school, church, and government, must function to assist the family and that all institutions must work together to preserve the system over time (Parsons. 1955).
Functionalism was refined further by Robert K. Merton (1910-2003), who distinguished between manifest and latent functions of social institutions. Manifest functions are intended and/or overtly recognized by the participants in a social unit. In contrast, latent functions are unintended functions that are hidden and remain unacknowledged by participants. For example, a manifest function of education is the transmission of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next; a latent function i:. the establishment of social relations and networks. Merton noted that all features of a social sys l’m may not be functional at all till full tills are the undesirable consequences of any clement of a society. A dysfunction of education in the United States is the pn pctuarion of gender. racial ethnic, and class inequalities. Such dysfunctions Illay . threaten the capacity of a society to adapt and survive (Merton, 1’J6l\).