Herbert Spencer's functionalism

Robert George Perrin
The aim of the study is to make a contribution to the empirical history of sociology by supplementing and revising the current critical literature on Herbert Spencer. It is contended that Spencer's sociology can be interpreted as a thoroughgoing functionalism. It is shown that this is not generally recognised, and, where recognised at all, not systematically demonstrated. The essay, then, provides an original and systematic analysis of Spencer's sociology as functionalism and, in so doing,
more » ... cts much of the current critical literature on Spencer. The main argument, which is developed throughout the study, is that Spencer's sociology can be characterised by the following elements: (1) a holistic orientation; (2) an assumption of multiple and reciprocal causation; (3) an application of an equilibrium model in respect of the problems of social order and social change; (4) an assumption and identification of functional requirements common to all societies; (5) an hypothesis that total societies tend to differentiate into subsystems corresponding to these requirements; (6) an identification of types of societies and a corresponding structural- functional requisite analysis; (7) an interpretation of sociocultural traits in their contexts and by their functions; (8) the use of the functionalist explanatory form, where consequences are part of the causal elements; and (9) a view that, at bottom, societies hold together by common beliefs, traditions, and values. These general tenets or ideas, it is pointed out, can be found as important elements in the current functionalist literature, and an important future study would be one which provides a genetic history of functionalism, from Spencer to modern exponents. In the main body, it is initially argued that Spencer's basic approach to social phenomena consists in a synthesis of social structuralism and culture-and-personality, and of a methodological individualism and collectivism (in respect of the essential focus of determinacy in social origins). It is [...]
doi:10.14288/1.0093500 fatcat:rgaumoioubcpjieoh4r2mj4yta