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Manifest functions are those recognized and intended consequences that people observe or expect in a social pattern or social institution. Let’s examine these concepts further and test our knowledge with a quiz.

Social Structure and Social Functions

Structural functionalism is one of the main perspectives in sociology. This approach sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. Important aspects of this perspective are social structure, social functions, and manifest and latent functions.

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The focus of this lesson will be on manifest functions, which are those recognized and intended consequences that people observe or expect in a social pattern or social institution. Let’s examine these concepts further and illustrate them through a few examples.Two concepts surrounding structural functionalism are social structure and social function.

Social structure is any relatively stable pattern of social behavior. Social structure includes arrangements in society, such as various social classes (upper, middle, and lower) or various governmental levels (federal, state, and municipal). Functionalists also look to social functions, which are the consequences of any social pattern for the operation of society as a whole. Consider the social structure of religion – a functionalist would argue it exists to benefit society as a whole.

Manifest and Latent Functions

Robert K.

Merton expanded our knowledge of social functions by pointing out that while many social functions are obvious and intended, others are unrecognized and unintended. Manifest functions are the recognized and intended consequences of any social pattern, while latent functions are those unrecognized and unintended consequences.To analyze the manifest functions of any social institution, we have to study its contribution to the continuation of a group, community, or society. We recognize several intended consequences of various social institutions for the operation of society as a whole. To help illustrate manifest functions, let’s use religion and education as examples.

Example: Religion

The most obvious manifest function of religion is to provide meaning and purpose for a society. Religious beliefs offer people the comforting sense that our lives serve some greater purpose.

Religion also promotes social cohesion by uniting people through shared symbols, values, and norms. Finally, every society uses religion to promote social control. Many are taught that by following ‘God’s rule,’ we will be rewarded in the afterlife. Those who do not obey the norms and rules of their religion will face various punishments.

Example: Education

A manifest function of education is socialization. In more complex societies, such as the United States, members look to trained professionals to pass on knowledge and skills to children and adults alike. Similar to religion, schools also promote social cohesion and integration by molding a diverse population into one through the use of mandatory education laws. Social placement occurs as schools identify and match instruction to student ability. Finally, schools also promote social control by teaching values such as compliance, regulation, and respect for authority.

Lesson Summary

Structural functionalism focuses on the positive and negative functions of social structures. Manifest functions are those consequences that are beneficial for the operation of society as a whole. Manifest functions of religion include providing meaning and purpose, promoting social cohesion, and promoting social control.

Manifest functions of education include socialization and promoting social integration.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define structural functionalism and the two concepts associated with it
  • Interpret manifest functions with examples of religion and education

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