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Structural Functionalism: Manifest and Latent Functions

Structural Functionalism: Manifest and Latent Functions

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the social functions and various consequences that can take place in a given system.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Gears; Public Domain Football Stadium; Public Domain:

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on the Structural-Function Approach, specific looking at manifest and latent functions. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward, to make sure you get the most out of this story.

So today we're looking at the Structural-Function Approach. And just a reminder that the structural-function approach is this idea that societies is really complex machine, and it all is about the different parts working together to maintain itself. And everything at society can be considered a part of the machine, even things that we would label as bad.

Now, I went over this really briefly. If this concept is new to you, and you haven't watched the tutorial, or that didn't make sense, please check out the structural-functional approach to tour on its own.

Today specifically, we're focusing on two different aspects of that. And that is the latent and manifest functions.

Now, to really understand what those are, you have to learn about Robert K. Merton. Now, Robert K. Merton is a relatively modern sociologist. He just died in the early 2000s, and he's an American sociologist. He, actually, was the first to win the US National Medal of Science for Sociology. Now, he did the structural-function approach, he added a couple more concepts to really expand on what it was looking at.

Now, the first thing he thought about was manifest functions. Manifest functions are the intended and recognized consequences of any social pattern. So if we think back to the structural-function approach, we have the functions and the social structures. Now the functions are the reasoning why the thing exists. Well Merton thought it was important to break down different categories of why these things exist.

So again, manifest functions are the intended and recognized consequences of any social pattern. So that's what society says. Yep, this is why we have this thing. We do it and we know it, and we know that's why it exists.

Now latent functions are unintended and unrecognized consequences of any social pattern. So it's kind of the opposite of manifest functions. Manifest functions are, we know for sure that this exists for these reasons, and we understand that. Latent would be the unintended and unrecognized consequences of a social pattern.

So let's look at an example, to really help explain this. College sports. The manifest function of college sports. Somebody might argue is to provide an education for college athletes. You get a scholarship, you get to be a student athlete, and you play some collegiate sports, and by the time you leave, you have a degree, and it's good for everyone.

Now a latent function of college sports you could say is, it works as a minor league system, where you don't have to pay the players to join the NFL, or NBA. So the manifest will be the explicit, you know, we think college sports exists for these reasons, because it's good it's good for society, because it allows athletes to get a free education. And latent would be the unintended consequences, ones that aren't really recognized in society.

Now there's a third classification which Merton added, and that one it's called social dysfunction. Now, social dysfunction is something that has a chance to disrupt society.

So all three of these things you could say well, but if I think it's a manifest thing, couldn't someone else come through and say, no, that's actually an unintended consequence? The fact of the matter is yes.

This whole area has a bunch of gray zone. Different people are going to classify different social structures as having different functions. So for what for me what may be a manifest function for something, the intended function of a social structure, someone else might define that as a latent function, urban or social dysfunction.

So for example, if you look at the banking industry in the 21st century. Some people might say the manifest function is to reward intelligent people to fund investments in society, and that would be a manifest function for some of these high profits for Wall Street executives are a good thing. And that's the intent of the system.

Now someone else might say that's a social dysfunction. And in fact, those high profits are disrupting society, because people are losing their livelihood in their investments in the stock market, or because of the housing crisis, it was all about the search for those high profits for those executives. And so it end up hurting a lot of the average workers in America.

So today's takeaway message. Robert Merton is a famous sociologist, and he greatly furthered the structural-function approach. And did this by adding 3 different terminologies. First one is manifests functions, those are the intended and recognized consequences of any social pattern. Next is the latent functions. And these are the unintended and unrecognized consequences. And lastly is social dysfunction. And that's any pattern that may disrupt society.

So that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Latent Functions

The unintended and often unforeseen consequences of a system, institution, or society.

Manifest Functions

The known and intended consequences of a system, institution, or society.

Social Dysfunction

Factors that lead to the breakdown of a system, institution, or society.

Social Function

An act that contributes to the maintenance of a structure, such as system, institution, or society.

People to Know
Robert K. Merton

American sociologist who won the National Medal of Science and contributed the idea of manifest and latent functions.