The structural-functional paradigm
views society as groups of stable systems with fixed social structures
(patterns of social behaviors). These social structures have social
functions or social consequences that are intended to hold society
together and preserve it in its current form. Therefore, social structures
work together to maintain society. This broad (large) focus on social
structures is called a macro-level orientation to sociology,
which examines how these social structures shape society as a whole.
According to the structural-functional paradigm, every social
structure has more than one social function. Besides the observable and intended (desired)
social functions, called manifest functions, of every social structure, there are
also latent functions (functions that are not intended or considered to be a result
of the social structure). Let's take the social pattern of women holding jobs as an example.
The role of women in society has changed greatly over the last century. The traditional woman
who stays at home and raises children has increasingly been replaced by the modern woman who
works outside the home and assumes equal financial responsibility with men. The financial
contribution of employed women to the household income is a manifest function because it is
an expected and obvious consequence. A less intended consequence, hence a latent function
of this social pattern, is the redistribution of gender roles and gender power. Since employed
women have now much less time to devote to rearing children and managing the household, men
need to take on some of these responsibilities, which traditionally have belonged to women.
Also, in the workplace, though men are still dominant, women are increasingly making claims
to leadership positions, threatening to undermine men's power supremacy. The struggle of women
for power, just like the redistribution of gender roles, is not an intended or direct outcome
of women’s presence in the workplace.
In addition, the social functions of a social structure affect
different members of society differently. For example, the traditional patriarchal family
is a good structure for raising children, so it has a positive impact on the children. The
traditional family also has a positive impact on men, who tend to be freer and more independent
because they are the ones who work outside the home. However, it has the negative effect of
pressuring women to stay at home to raise the children.
Lastly, social structures are not always beneficial to everyone
in society. They can have negative consequences called social dysfunctions that interfere
with the operation of society. However, what is beneficial for one category of people might
be harmful to another. If we take divorce as an example, we can see that divorce usually has
the dysfunctional (negative) consequence of making a single-parent family poor. However, divorce
can also have the functional consequence of stopping an abusive situation from continuing.